I was once asked, rather bluntly, “What is fashion?”

“Fashion…” I said. “Fashion is… Well. Fashion is…like…?” In that moment, nothing remotely reminiscent of coherent human dialogue left my mouth. Cue: uncomfortable silence. This was embarrassing, but not because I stumbled on my words (that happens all the time). How could such a simple, straightforward question leave me stranded in a painfully awkward Rick Perry moment? Did I having nothing to say about fashion?

Naturally those three little words bugged me, so in an effort to clear my head, I decided to pass the dilemma onto others. I brought the question to a successful fashion blogger who, when prompted, focused her fashionista gaze, leveled her giddy tone and — with all seriousness — said, “Fashion. Is. Life.” Now, while there were a few ridiculous answers, most responses were along the lines of “self-expressionism” with various nods to glamour, creativity, art, cultural identity, etc. And OK, sure. These are all boring politically correct reactions, but let’s be honest… Such nonchalant, obvious replies make fashion sound about as interesting as a beer-bellied Elvis impersonator.

Fashion is completely nonlinear and totally unpredictable, thus it deserves much more than a simple question and answer. It’s a conversation.

In the early 1900s, wearing an elaborate hat, often adorned with feathers or birds, represented an elite place in society. Fedoras in the 1950s, sometimes accentuated with a feather, embodied Frank Sinatra “cool cat” status. Today, any feather-decorated-hat (unless in a desperate attempt to pay homage to the ’60s rebellious phase) symbolizes stupidity. History constantly reminds us that clothing goes beyond basic function; a wardrobe sends a message and style showcases personality. Just ask any drag queen, or pick up a copy of Lamott’s Bird By Bird. Or head to your local Urban, buy a Tee with the word IDIOT across the font and save everyone from the pretentious scrutiny for meaning. The power of fashion over character cultivation is endless.

It’s all very poetic, but I’m not going to lie. The idea of someone throwing illicit judgments towards me based on my clothes seems awkward. I work hard, focus on a career and still… I take my denim cut-offs very seriously! I’m comfortable in my street clothes, but while everyone is telling me to “Express yo’self, girl!” They’re also pointing at me the next day going, “Oh no! Hot Mess in the room.”

The theory of “fashion as a freedom of expression” is confusing. I’m no rock star (yet), so I can’t really wear whatever I want. When I get dressed in the morning, how do I know my selection is genuinely free choice rather than a decision underlined with pre-conceived, subconscious expectations?

Unfortunately, it’s becoming clear — especially during this social web era — that not every fashion problem can be solved with the zip of a black, Chanel dress. *sad face* When the fashion market grew into a serious form of commercialism, consumers (in my opinion) became ongoing minions of the publishing/advertising spectra. But with new media, shoppers are developing unique voices and becoming part of the story.

Until recently, the aforementioned dilemma might have led straight to the glossies for answers, provided by fashion’s trusted trio: designers, editors and retailers. Oh my. As the industry struggles to connect social Internet interactions with sales, the trio can no longer operate on their own terms. Consumers are talking back. Consumers are talking to each other. Brands are creating personal relationships with shoppers. Digital content is interacting with readers. Editors are tweeting. Bloggers are annoying. All of a sudden… fashion is always talking.

Fashion will not shut up.

Fashion is talking shit.

No good hype comes without a healthy dose of backlash. While a large conversation is progressive and productive, if everyone talks at once, nothing is truly heard. Our already established fashion industry, combined with new media technology and online shopping, pretty much sums up the fact that we’re living in a mess — in the best possible way, of course.

With this “Fashion Talks” issue of SHK, we ask that, despite overloads of white noise, you remember to consciously consume, appreciate good quality and speak up about what you love, hate or love/hate.

Welcome to the 3rd issue of SHK digital magazine. We’re happy to have you.


Rachel Eleanor Sutton