I spent the last four weeks in Brussels doing a teaching course. It was the first time since my move to Europe that I ventured into doing something non-fashion. Even though it would indirectly add to my fashion career, more or less, it was fascinating to be removed from the fashion bubble and observe consumers.
While my stay and course were stimulating in every sense, it was a complete 360 from Antwerp, which has a very creative, relaxed vibe attached to it. Brussels isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. However, I didn’t mind being in a place that had a utilitarian approach to fashion. It helped me to appreciate the cause and effect of why we make certain choices.
Observing women on their way to work was the most interesting thing for me, well apart from the course. From women in well-tailored dresses paired with sneakers to women running around in kitten heels with cabin-sized luggage, it was impossible to not notice the impact feminism has had on the way we dress and how functional everything has really become.
It was also interesting to compare myself to these women whom I saw every day. I started to look at my value system and how much my Guyanese upbringing had affected my choices. There is a certain stereotype that is filtered down on the things you should and shouldn’t like if you are a girl. While it wasn’t the first time coming across pairings of such nature, the frequency of seeing them really made me think of how designers design and who they design for.
While I can understand a woman’s rationale behind pairing sneakers with office clothes, I still found myself pondering why someone would want to spoil an entire outfit with something that is so unfeminine. Then it dawned on me. In places where women do much more and the need for equality between the sexes is recognised, women value fashion differently.
While I am not a pro-sneaker person, even though I wore mine on my last day of the course, it’s safe to say that I am possibly a man pleaser. Man pleaser in the sense that what is comfortable is not what is necessarily attractive. To be quite honest, I favour being liked. I reflected on the choices that I made in the past and while majority of them was my sartorial independence, a great deal of my purchases were purely based on the belief that I would come across attractive to the opposite sex in whatever it was I was purchasing.
I am very fervent believer in equal rights between the sexes, so I started to question the integrity of my belief. If I begin to think that the outlook of a woman should be standardized in certain contexts, doesn’t this impinge somewhat on the reliability of such a statement. Woman should be allowed to wear and do as they please.
The rationale behind such clothing choices, my tutor during the course said, is built around women wanting to do more and also being able to do more as well. She said that more or less feminism has contributed to us attracting a more utilitarian approach when it comes to fashion. She said there is a generational gap that we must appreciate and with that gap comes the change. She said her mother would never wear sneakers. And she used that to highlight the difference and a true representation of how far we have come.
What we can conclude is that the needs and choices, when it comes to fashion, have evolved. While culture has influenced fashion we can see the effects of feminism on it and this in turn this should reflect in the designers’ creative process.
While we must consider culture, it is important to monitor how the society in which you design in or for is evolving. Therefore more brands these days must consider changing trends in consumers’ behaviour if they want to remain relevant. From Net-a-Porter to ASOS to Forever 21 carry utilitarian, non-sexy clothing for the average woman.
While I haven’t casually supported sneakers before my move to Europe, I know for sure influence and pressure aren’t things that creatives in the fashion industry should take lightly. Take it from the person who never endorsed them before.
I also think there needs to be a shift from brands consistently referencing the ‘like-a-lady’ aesthetic. We must realise that fashion needs to play its role in highlighting changing trends and growth of the consumer.