On Fashion Magazines & the Over-Mystification of Style

A Love/Hate Relationship

I like fashion. Actually I love fashion. I see it as a medium by which to express myself as an artist. But I am merely a novice, slowly learning the language of style and putting together visual sentences with care and apprehension.

In my quest to learn the language of style, I turn to what most would consider to be the dictionary, the Fashion Magazine. There I hope to learn the definitions of words, the visual signifiers that describe what clothes and accessories are and do. For instance: What is a bias cut dress, and why does it look good on some women and not others? Why does bright green look good on me and beige make me look sick? What is matte jersey, and why do I hate it? Why do most models have the bodies of 12-year-old boys? Why are tiny purses with long straps suddenly back in fashion? Who is Vivienne Westwood?

But instead of finding the answers to these questions, I encounter more words and images of which I don’t know the definitions, and other words to describe them that make no sense. My least favorite and the most overly-used word in fashion magazines: effortless. This is apparently the holy grail of what all women want in clothes. That “throw it on and leave without looking in the mirror” mystique that only Audrey Hepburn and Kate Moss seem able to achieve. Fashion virtuosos aside, I doubt even the most stylish of celebrities achieves their look without some good, hard work at some point. Discovering one’s body type, color palette, and taste takes work. I don’t care who you are.

All this to say, the very place I turn to discover what fashion means to me only serves to over-mystify the entire concept. I want to know how a one-shouldered dress is made or why a designer was inspired by Greco-Roman themes, not how Pantene Pro-V is going to help me wear a one-shouldered ensemble with confidence. That’s ridiculous. That kind of propaganda makes me think I can only be fashionable if I look like a five-foot-ten-inch model with long black or gold tresses, or get liposuction, or just have more money. The writers of fashion magazines and the advertising that supports them want me to be in a state of constant dissatisfaction with who I am so that they can make money. And who can blame them? It’s a clever strategy. But it is dishonest and ultimately makes me mistrust everything they say.

I think fashion magazines would do better to teach their readers about the fashion industry and give them the tools to achieve their own personal style. Just because the archetype of the beautiful figure has changed over the past 100 years from plump and womanly to anorexic and emaciated doesn’t mean you can’t look good in what designers are putting in stores these days. It just means you need to arm yourself with the right information and devices to make them work for you–e.g. your body type, your color palette, your most flattering fabrics & fits, and your most important weapon, a tailor.

Armed with these tools, I know that bias cut dresses don’t usually look good on me because my Latina pear-shaped-ness makes the fabric fall weird. Matte jersey seems like it’s always cut on the bias, and I don’t like its gritty feel. My winter complexion means I look best in jewel tones. Tiny purses are back because the powers-that-be said they were. Vivienne Westwood made punk a style. And I look awesome in high-waisted, tailored jeans.