Sunday, 19 October 2014

Nothing New Challenge: Formal Dinner

It's not often that I go to a vintage stall or shop and immediately find something I want to buy. I'm sure other second-hand enthusiasts will agree that the rummaging is all part of the fun. However, on Thursday I happened to have a fairytale moment at a weekly market. I went over to a stall which I've visited before, and which I have previously bought a lovely velvet jacket from for just £5. This time around, I immediately spotted the crazy pattern of the coat above.

I spent a few minutes looking around the rest of the stall, still clutching this beauty in my hand, but nothing could come close to grabbing my attention. I was a little unsure whether to buy it at first: would I look silly? what would I even wear it with? But, at just £12 (£10 after I bartered slightly), I decided it was worth the risk.

Already, I know I made the right decision. I've received several compliments on it, worn it both casually and to events, and am generally very pleased with it. On Friday night, I wore it as part of an ensemble for a formal dinner in my college. It turns out, I do have plenty of things which I can wear it with, mainly because I seem to own a lot of maroon things. The dress is something I bought curing my shopping trip to Chichester in a charity shop, and I think it makes for quite a nice contrast to have the different textures of the dress and the coat together. The shoes were a charity shop buy from many years ago.

Have you ever just seen something straight away which you were drawn to? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Friday, 26 September 2014

I Want It! The Grand Budapest Hotel - Mendl's Box Necklace

So I haven't quite refined the rules of my Nothing New Challenge yet, but I'm pretty sure they'll include not being able to buy new jewellery. However, it's not like I can exactly help it if people buy me new things as gifts right?! Well... anyway. Just on the offchance, I may have started building up a little fantasy Christmas list, and this little Etsy beauty is right at the top.

For those of you who haven't seen Wes Anderson's latest film, the little boxes on these necklaces are modelled after the containers for exquisite pastries from the fictional Mendl's, which appear throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel. Saoirse Ronan plays Agatha, who bakes these beautiful treats (called a 'courtesan au chocolat' - you can watch a video about how to make them here). At just £8, this necklace is not only an affordable and adorable addition to an outfit, but also an easy conversation-starter when you meet other people who have seen the film.

I think if I had one of these adorable necklaces, I would try to put together an outfit a bit like Agatha's; the sugary-sweet pastels are just perfect for this confectionery-themed accessory! Perhaps searching for an outfit like this will be another mission to incoroporate into my Nothing New Challenge.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Places for second-hand shopping: Dublin

In writing this series of places for second-hand shopping, there will inevitably be a mixture of towns and cities I know well (stay tuned for Winchester and Oxford), ones I've managed to thoroughly explore in a day (like Chichester) and others which really are too vast for me to accurately cover everything. That's the case with this post about Dublin, and I'll have a similar problem when I get round to talking about London.

However, even though I'm sure a local would be more aptly-equipped to tell you about Dublin's vintage/second-hand hotspots, I hope I'm in a good position to advise short-term visitors. Most of my shopping took place on one day, so if you're planning a whirlwind trip, maybe I can be of use with my recommendations, inexpert as they may be.

As a starting point, I searched the fashion blogosphere for information, and came across this post on Dandelion Dreamer. It's from awhile ago, but she recommended the shop Harlequin, and it sounded like there were others in the vicinity, so off we headed to Castle Market.

Before we even made it to our destination, we came across a fashion show - the second one we'd seen in our few days there. As it happens, Dublin Fashion Festival had coincided with our trip. The night before our shopping trip, we had stumbled across the final of Young Designer of the Year at the Bank of Ireland, and clung on to the railings at the edge of the private event in order to watch it! The second show was a public one, and as actually happened to feature an outfit comprised of clothes from Harlequin! Now doubly excited, we continued on.

Characteristically though, Dublin threw up plenty of distractions. For a start, there was a branch of Oxfam nearby, where I ended up buying a red dress (more on that and other charity shops later). Then there was a place called the Powerscourt Centre. Here you can find several (mostly quite expensive) shops in the gorgeous setting of a renovated Georgian (?) building. We didn't stay long enough to have a proper look around (mainly because I was distracted by the lovely stationery in Article, one of the first shops we came across) but if you're interested they have several antiques stores, as well as a rather lovely-looking range of places to eat.

Although by now we were on William Street South, and therefore just a few steps from Castle Market, where Harlequin is located, we still managed to find something to be diverted by. this time it was another vintage shop. From the outside, The Dublin Vintage Factory, a basement store which you have to go down an iron staircase to reach, looks like it could be a bit weird (and not in a good way). However, once inside, it's a haven. Neatly organised with a front and back section, it's a pleasant store to browse. I'd almost say that they've gone too far in terms of ease of access, and don't actually have enough stock on show; although I find some vintage stores too cramped, I also enjoy the rummage through racks of items to find that one hidden treasure. This shop is still certainly worth a visit though, as it's very cool and also quite affordable.

After this, we at last ventured into Harlequin. It did not disappoint. Not only is there plenty of stock, there's also a lot of space. Spanning two floors, they hold a huge range of dresses, tops, jackets and sunglasses. On that particular day, everything upstairs was half-price, so I bought this cute white top for €10. As you can probably see it has a slightly odd hem where I think someone has (badly) shortened it at some point, so I'm considering either unpicking and re-doing that or even cropping it a bit more.

Now onto Drury Street, we went to another shop recommended by Sorcha of Dandelion Dreamer: Jenny Vander. This has some lovely pieces, and a lot of gorgeous jewellery, but it isn't really the kind of place I would shop at. It's probably more of a destination for serious collectors and those with high budgets for special occasions. After a brief look around, we crossed the street and went to Om Diva. 

This was a lot more my kind of thing. Upstairs they have new clothes with a distinctly retro feel which, though they are off-limits to me because of my Nothing New Challenge, were nice to have a look at. Then downstairs is a girly paradise of a vintage shop. There are a lot of pretty lampshades and pastel tones around, to the extent that you might be worried it would look tacky. I can assure you though that, for me at least, the effect was just comforting and fun, like you're in the living room of a particularly artistic old lady.

The pieces ranged in price from everyday buys to very special occasions, and the changing-rooms were so pretty I just felt I had to try something on, so I went for a €220 beaded dress. Although it was a couple of sizes too big and way out of my price range, I think an important principle of vintage shopping is trying on things you think you'll never buy. It can just help you to get a feel for what styles do and don't suit you, and figure out whether you'd be comfortable wearing a heavy 1920s gown or leather 1960s miniskirt. Plus it's always fun to fantasise about the day you'll be able to afford that stunning piece.

Ambling along, we came upon George Street Arcade. This was nice for a wander through, and we had a look at some of the vintage-sellers set up on stalls here. We also went to a self-service fro-yo place, the likes of which I haven't been to since I was in Tacoma, Washington! This was a good place for us to stop, recharge, and use the arcade's free Wi-Fi to share the news of our fro-yo discovery with the world.

Once on the other side, we didn't have much idea of where to go next, so just continued up South Great George's Street, then went back along Exchequer Street to the top of Drury Street. On the corner we spotted another cute-looking shop called Carousel. At first it looked like it just sold pretty retro-style new clothes, which really tested my resolve since a lot of them were just my kind of thing. But then, as my travelling companion Holly was going downstairs to find the changing rooms, she popped back up and called me over: "There's lots of vintage down here!"

And so there was! In fact their range was mainly dresses of all different colours, but mostly of the same price (usually €49). Much like Om Diva, they had a lovely atmosphere for trying things on, with plenty of changing booths and a chaise longue on which to recline in the middle of the room. This is probably a really good place to go if you are a little daunted by the thought of vintage, because it's all very nicely laid-out, with nothing too outlandish, but still with that unique air you can only get from second-hand clothes.

Now that I've rounded up the choicest stores in that area (basically the streets which you can find leading off from Exchequer Street), I'll say a little bit about charity shops. We didn't come across a whole lot of variety, but there were several well-stocked branches of Oxfam. I bought my red dress from the one on King Street South, and we tried on various items in the one on South George's Street. We even visited a branch in Malahide, when we visited the castle. Although you may well find a lot of the stock is fairly similar to other charity shops, there's still a chance you'll find something interesting, which you can then confidently proclaim you "bought in Dublin".

My red dress, second-hand A-Wear
Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter. I'd love some suggestions for other towns and cities I can explore in search of excellent second-hand finds, so get in touch!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Nothing New Challenge: Private View

Something I'm already learning from my Nothing New Challenge is that, even if you think you've got nothing to wear, you can still probably find something. Taking away the option of popping into Primark or H&M to grab a new dress from the rails means you have to be more ingenuitive.

My friend Issy recently hosted a small viewing of her art project - entitled 'Fledge' - in her garden. This was a chance for her to create a piece and show it to friends and family before flying off to Central Saint Martins later this month! Although there was no dresscode and it was a very casual evening, I wanted to make an effort for the occasion.

Everything in this outfit was already in my wardrobe, but it also happens that all the components were from second-hand sources anyway! The skirt was a random buy from my local charity shop in Oxford, Sobell House. It's a fantastic place because it's so nearby, has plenty of stock, and once something has been there a few weeks it gets marked down and goes on the sail rail. Initially I didn't think I'd be able to wear it with anything other than black, but when I tried matching it with this top I was pleasantly surprised; I think the beaded pattern works nicely with the jacquard on the skirt. I bought this a few weeks ago from Fab Vintage in Winchester - a frequent stop for me and my friends when we're in town. It has a £5 box where I found this lovely thing! It's a little delicate but has already served me well for a couple of wears, including this event and a friend's birthday party.

All monochrome so far, I decided to add a bit of colour with a yellow clutch bag. Unfortunately, I can't remember for the life of me where I got this from! I know it was a few years ago and am pretty sure it was about £3. I don't get to use it an awful lot, because I find clutch bags quite impractical (it ought to have a chain but at some point before I bought it this has been lost).

L-R Holly, me, Issy
You'll also see in the picture at the top that there are two little crochet birds. These were part of Issy's installation but could be untied at the end, and each of us were allowed to take one or two home. She said that the bird motif symbolises taking flight and leaving home, so I'm going to take mine with me when I go back to university in a few weeks.

If you're interested in seeing a little more of the piece, Issy has a video up on her Youtube channel (embedded below) and you can see some more of her art on her Facebook page.

That's it for now. I've just got back from Dublin so I'll be posting about my vintage-shopping adventures soon and will also be lining up a few things aside from this challenge.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Places for second-hand shopping: Chichester

A great thing about my Nothing New Challenge is that it gives me an excuse to search out new places to go shopping, all of them far more interesting than my all-too-frequent Primark/H&M/Zara haunts. In the course of my quest, I've decided to share with you some little guides to the best places for charity and vintage shopping. This time, it's the lovely Sussex city Chichester.

This turned out to be a very good place to get my challenge off to a good start, and I suspect that this may be due to the fact that the whole city seemed to be preparing for Glorious Goodwood Revival. In case you haven't heard of it, this is a weekend at Goodwood race course (near Chichester) celebrating all things vintage. Everyone is expected to don their best vintage fashions, so it makes sense that most places in Chichester are readying themselves to provide whatever the retro-seeking attendees are after. This mean that even the charity shops tended to have separate vintage corners and had placed their best 50s frocks enticingly in the windows.

Now I have to confess something: I think I actually prefer charity shops to vintage shops. Sure, you are far less likely to find a 70s fur stole or a 20s flapper dress, but what you will find will be much cheaper. There are also so many treasures to be found in charity shops and, although they don't have quite the same atmosphere as vintage stores, with their warm 'shrine to the past' air, you may well find what you're after.

In Chichester, you can hardly walk ten metres without coming across another charity shop. The selection includes Cancer Research, British heart Foundation, Oxfam, two branches of Barnardo's, and local charity St Wilfrid's Hospice. It amazed me that you could have so many second-hand stores in one place and for them to all be quite so well-stocked; perhaps the big ones are sent stock by head office. Cancer Research had a really good section at the back where they had gathered together big coats and clothes in dark tones to form an Autumn/Winter collection. Some of it was a bit pricier than you'd expect to pay in a charity store, but in fairness, I spotted a few brands (LK Bennet, Coach, etc.) which you would hand over a lot of money for if they were new, and these were all in pretty good condition.

Most of these shops can be found on South Street, East Street or North Street. However, we found a particular lane which was just a second-hand paradise. Crane Street, off North Street, not only has FIVE charity shops but also a vintage store called One Legged Jockey. I didn't buy anything this time round, though did really enjoy the feel of the emporium, with classic music playing and huge amounts of stock. It reminded me a little of my favourite vintage shop, Radio Days in London, where you can hardly move for leather jackets and ballgowns!

I visited one other vintage store, Vintage@Chi. Another small shop, but with rather more room to move, this one had more the impression of catering to the woman who is after a special outfit for a party, whereas One Legged Jockey has a lot more everyday stuff.

In the end, I bought two dresses, both from the same branch of Barnardo's. It would have been three, but a particularly cute tea-dress didn't fit me; that's one of the major drawbacks of second-hand - you can't just ask if they have the next size up. I'm sure I'll have the chance to show them off properly in future posts, but for now here's a shot from my Twitter, in which they are laid out like the spoils of war on my bed.

I'd say that Chichester is the place to go if you're up for a good rummage through the charity rails, and have the patience to search for that hidden special piece. It's also worth visiting in the run-up to Glorious Goodwood, because everyone seems to have amped up their vintage/retro game. One other thing is that, if you're in Sussex, Chichester makes for a slightly subversive alternative to Brighton's famous lanes, and you can tie it in with a trip to the cathedral or Priory Park as well!

I'll be posting more updates soon, so stay tuned! If you think there are any particular places I should go while I'm doing this challenge, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Nothing New Challenge: Party Dressing

And so it begins.

In case you missed it, I've taken up the challenge of not buying any brand-new clothes; as in, I can buy 2nd-hand and vintage, but no designer or High Street. Last Saturday was my first big event to dress for: a friend's birthday party.

This was not however an ordinary party, it was on a docked boat in Southampton, and the dress code was "tropical". Now I love dressing for parties. Whether they have a theme or not, I like hunting down that perfect outfit which I'll always recall as being "what I wore to 'X' event". But of course, my options were restricted this time. Ordinarily my first port of call would probably be ASOS, and indeed their customised adverts have become increasingly enticing now that I know I can't click on them. Instead, however, I headed for the charity shops.

In a branch of Age UK, I stumbled across what may well be one of my favourite second-hand finds ever. It's a floaty maxi dress with an elasticated waist and a cutout section in the back. Originally from Papaya, I don't think this would have been particularly expensive when it was first on sale, but I'm pretty pleased with the price I got it for (£8.99). It's really easy to wear, and is perfect for taking on holiday because it doesn't crease at all!

On board with my friend Livvy 

The dress has this subtle but also quite striking print, somewhat reminiscent of grasslands, which I thought made it fitting for the theme. On its own, however, it didn't look greatly tropical. I added some wedge sandals which I've had for years and originally bought from a British Heart Foundation shop! Then I went in search of some jewellery to brighten things up. After a little bit of rummaging in shops around town, I found a fun necklace with parrots and watermelons on it in the same branch of BHF. It was just £3.99.

After that, things quickly came together. I added a couple of rings and bracelets from my collection, and the flower in my hair was actually cut from a plastic orchid I got from Ikea a while ago! To top it all off, we were presented with Hawaiian-style flower garlands once we got there. Perfect.

So all in all, a grand total of just under £12 went into this outfit. Not bad at all, especially considering that the dress is so versatile I'm definitely going to wear it a lot. This is looking like a pretty auspicious start to the Nothing New Challenge.
With Ed, whose shirt also came from a charity shop!
Stay tuned for more posts about my progress with this challenge, and make sure to follow me on Twitter where I'll be doing brief, instant updates on the hashtag #NothingNewChallenge

Monday, 18 August 2014

Links a la Mode: The Nothing New Challenge

My newest post 'The Nothing New Challenge' has made it into IFB's Links a la Mode! I'm really excited about this challenge now, as the reaction has been very positive; from friends I see most days to other bloggers in the online community, everyone seems very supportive. I'll be posting some updates on how I'm doing, and also putting together the tips I'm gathering along the way, so if you're interested in making a move towards buying more second-hand, stay tuned. Make sure to follow me on Twitter as well, as I'll be tweeting new purchases and shop recommendations under the hashtag #NothingNewChallenge

But for now, enjoy the rest of this week's roundup. As ever, it's a fantastic collection. My particular favourites are Fierce in the City's 'How to wear backless clothes' (useful for me, since one of my new 2nd-hand purchases is a backless maxi dress) and Madame Ostrich's 'Let's Talk About Leather'.


What Really Matters

This week has been rough for a lot of us. The news is full of terrible things. Sometimes it's hard to focus when the world seems to be descending into chaos. But, at the end of the day, we all have to show up to our regular lives. Family, friends, work, creating the best life possible. Sometimes fashion seems, well, not the highest on the list of priorities, so sometimes you just have to return to the basics, the classics to work for you while you get your life on track. It's not all about the clothes.

Links à la Mode: August 14

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Saturday, 9 August 2014

The 'Nothing New' Challenge

It's summer, and I'm bored.

Of course, there are productive things I could be doing, like actually reading The Faerie Queene, or getting a paper round, or starting up a small greetings card business. But typically, my mind has been wandering, and I've come up with a little project for myself.

I've decided that I'm going to give up buying brand new clothes. By that, I mean anything straight from the High Street or online, anything newly-made and unworn. Shopping is by no means out though, as I'll be scouring vintage shops, markets, charity stores and several other places whenever I feel my wardrobe needs a refresh.

But why? Well there are a few reasons:
  • Firstly, and most importantly, I am worried about the effect that fast fashion is having on our environment, our culture and our world in general. With the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh just the latest in a series of tragedies, it's getting harder to ignore the conditions in which our clothes are produced. I'm hoping that by stepping back from the temptation of abundant and cheap clothing in the biggest stores, I can re-evaluate the way I shop, and maybe become a better consumer.
  • I've been watching This Old Thing, a new programme on Channel 4 hosted by Dawn O'Porter. It's not really anything groundbreaking, following formulae which were invented by Trinny & Susannah and honed by Gok Wan, but it's really fun and promotes vintage. Unlike Dawn, I don't have a team of expert seamsters at my disposal, but I can take inspiration from the show for my challenge of finding vintage gems and making the best of what I already own.
  • Shopping second-hand is so much more satisfying. The other day I went into town with a goal: to find a dress which I can wear to an upcoming party for under £10. I also decided to start my search in charity shops. It happened that in the first one I looked in, there was an ideal dress for £8.99. Knowing that there was only one dress like this - rather than a whole rack of them - and that I had found it, was just a fab feeling.
  • The Monday afternoon "I know what I'll do - buy a dress from Primark/Topshop/Miss Selfridge!" sessions really need to stop. I'm not sure how this started, but it's definitely a thing.
  • Once upon a time, this blog was very vintage-focused. I'm not sorry that it moved away from that a bit because I think I would have become too bored with just that one area to blog as much. But I'm kind of looking to go back to my roots here. I mean, even the clothes in the header are outside an antique shop in France, plus my first ever published-in-print article was about places to find vintage clothes. It should be fun to keep my readers updated on how the challenge is going.

I'm sure there are some more reasons but those are really the main ones. Anyway, the point is: I'm going to keep going with this for as long as I can. I'm not going to set a particular time-frame because you just don't know when your only good pair of leggings will break, or you'll need a fancy-dress costume, or you'll be invited to meet Prince Harry (it could happen). But let's say, as a vague guide, that I'll be starting pretty much straight away (just as soon as my winter boots from Fat Face arrive...) and trying to stick to this for the next academic year, so until June/July 2015.

Just for clarification, I'm not going to include underwear or hosiery in this (though there do seem to be an odd number of unopened packs of tights in charity shops). Aside from that, I will be trawling vintage & charity shops, eBay, ASOS marketplace, my own wardrobe and, if necessary, the wardrobes of friends (with their permission of course). What's more, I'd really like all of you reading this to help me out if you have any advice. Know a good place to find cool second-hand clothes? Have a trick for revamping old things? Let me know by commenting on this post or getting in touch with me on Twitter: @fashionmoriarty

All images are mine except top one which is from here

Friday, 11 July 2014

The silent protest of apparel

Protest pins by Sedef Isim
Activism comes in many forms. From writing letters to occupying the streets, boycotts to strikes, I'm fascinated by the ways in which people take matters into their own hands to make a change. Some of these can be vocal, but others require no speaking at all. One of these silent methods is that of literally wearing our hearts on our sleeves; t-shirts, badges, ribbons and other pieces of apparel can play a huge part in gaining widespread support for a movement, and I'm going to use this post to explore a few examples of this and what they mean for their causes.

Wearing something which indicates which side you're on is a fairly ancient concept. Think of the Wars of the Roses, or the contrasting dress of the roundheads and cavaliers. As well as being a practical indicator of who to avoid killing in battle, having a symbol of your ideology can be a key part of expressing identity, and goes right up to campaign T-shirts worn today. When I was Fashion Editor of The Oxford Student last term, we had an ethics-themed issue which featured this great piece about Katharine Hamnett, whose political t-shirts played a huge role in popularising slogan-emblazoned clothing. She even wore an anti-nuclear shirt when she met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

More recent causes to use this form of getting their point across include the No More Page Three campaign - whose distinctive t-shirt has been worn by Green MP Caroline Lucas in the House of Commons - and No More Fashion Victims, yet another project involving Hamnett, which promotes organic cotton. This second one is particularly important to the fashion industry, which has huge problems with the ethics of clothing production; supporting better methods of creating fashion through fashion itself can get across a vital message. This is also something which Who Made Your Pants? is doing, with the support of big names like Caroline Criado-Perez, Lucy Anne Holmes (of No More Page 3), and my friend Rosalind over at Clothes, Cameras & Coffee. The brand aims to make pretty, high-quality underwear in good working conditions, as well as being an actively pro-women business. What's not to love?

Read more about the brand on The Vagenda
When clothing brands and designers turn their attentions towards good causes, they can make some real constructive change. But what really makes a difference is the number of ordinary people who take up a piece of apparel and wear it proudly, promoting the cause as they go. Some of the most successful charity campaigns are the ones which use a simple badge to raise awareness and sometimes funds, such as the British Legion's poppy appeal. I've had some reservations about this appeal before, in part because I'm not all that comfortable with the way wars are commemorated to the extent that they become glorified in this country. However, the benefits of the appeal are obvious, and it is tremendously successful, raising millions of pounds every year.

Similarly, awareness ribbons are becoming increasingly popular. The most well-known are probably the red ribbon for AIDs awareness and pink ribbon in support of those with breast cancer, but there are all sorts of different ones now. Sometimes these are sold for a small profit which can then go back to relevant charities, but in other cases they are given out for free, as the aim is simply to spread the message as far as possible. This was the case recently in Oxford, when the Women's Campaign began handing out white ribbons to be worn as a pledge never to commit, condone or remains silent about violence against women. This is a movement which originated in the early 90s in response to the École Polytechnique Massacre and has since seen various resurgences around the world, often due to an extreme case of violence against women. It shows solidarity and a willingness to push for change, all without saying a word.

Wearing my white ribbon with a white carnation for first-year exams
This form of activism really interests me, especially when it spreads throughout somewhere like a university campus. A similar statement was made by the No Red Tape campaign at Columbia University when, frustrated with the administration's handling of sexual harassment cases, students wore red tape on their graduation mortarboards. An anonymous email encouraged this and outlined what the message would be: "By placing a piece of red tape on your cap (ideally parallel to the right side), you will demonstrate and signal to the University that you do not accept your degree lightly, that you understand the culture that they have been complicit in perpetuating, and that you will not stand for it, and that you demand justice and support for all survivors, even as a graduate of this institution." The tape was also put up around campus in various places including the iconic Alma Mater statue.

Red tape around campus
Something like this is so simple, and yet it creates striking imagery which shows that the activists are serious about their concerns. It also, perhaps not merely by coincidence, provides the media with a good photograph to accompany a report on the protests; after all, what large institutions fear most is bad press, so what better way to take a stand against them? It's no wonder that the use of red tape soon spread to other universities. Brown graduates used their tape to mark 'IX' on their mortarboards, referencing the federal gender equality law Title IX.

But there are drawbacks to all of this. The first is that, when you start using fashion to fight inequality, you risk turning a cause into a trend. If people end up wearing a campaign's T-shirt simply because it's the cool thing to do, then in all likelihood they'll stop wearing it when it's become passée. It can't be beneficial for a cause to be seen as something which can be cast off when the next big thing comes around. Another problem is that we might be in danger of tokenising a campaign; just because you're wearing your white ribbon or your red tape doesn't mean that the battle is won. Symbolic stands like this are important, but so is further action. In the middle of writing this post, I noticed that Brooke Magnanti had published an article noting that this attitude could well be wrapped up in the Who Made Your Pants campaign. She doesn't say that the idea is necessarily harmful, but criticises "an approach that never moves past symbols to address anything systemic, that retreads the same category errors people make when they congratulate themselves for buying an organic apple from halfway around the world swathed in layers of plastic." I'm not sure how far I agree with relevance to WMYP, but this is definitely something which can happen when we boil a cause down into one particular item; people get hold of the item and then feel no need to do anything more.

Symbols are important, and if you have the chance to wear something which expresses your solidarity or desire for change, definitely do it. Incorporate it with your usual style or let it clash unabashedly with your outfit. Maybe we sometimes attribute too much importance to a piece of symbolism, and end up tokenising a campaign, but these little bits of fabric and plastic and tape can also be the catalyst of wider change. It really is quite remarkable what you can do with just a bit of ribbon.

Let me know what you think about all this in the comments or on Twitter

Monday, 30 June 2014

The Ethics of Excess

Last Thursday, as I emerged from a three-hour exam into the June sunshine, I knew I was about to experience something which pretty much every Oxford student will encounter in their time at the university: trashing.

The idea is fairly simple: when you finish your last exam (not just for your finals, but also for first-year Prelims) your friends come and cover you with everything from silly string and confetti to champagne and chocolate sauce. All the while, you're still wearing the compulsory 'sub-fusc' exam uniform: white shirt, black skirt or trousers, velvet ribbon or white bowtie, and a gown. It's a tradition of revelry which gives you a chance to let your hair down at the end of a stressful period and maybe snap a new cover photo while you're at it.

I think there's a little something in my hair
However, the practice has been criticised by some who see it as wasteful and destructive behaviour. The Mail ran this article which juxtaposed the plans to regulate student union bars with Oxford finalists celebrating - a slightly odd link, considering Oxford has no student union building, let alone a bar. Yet the tone is clear: what on earth are these supposedly intelligent people doing getting drunk and dishevelled in the middle of the afternoon? For many, the ruined formal wear and seemingly copious supply of alcohol is indicative of elitism, arrogance and excess, leading to some of the harsher comments on the article such as "This rubbish should have their degrees (assuming they got them through study and daddy did not buy them one, by giving the university a huge donation) taken away from them. That is the only way this rubbish will learn."

These are understandable grievances, and there are also counter-arguments (namely, the relatively low cost of sub-fusc, cheap prosecco and silly-string, not to mention the need to celebrate and relax after exams) but I won't turn this into a debate about trashing. I actually want to explore something wider: why do we enjoy the aesthetic of expensive things being destroyed?

Think about it. There's a certain cathartic satisfaction to watching a rockstar smash up their state-of-the-art guitar, or in the scene of a film where the heroine dramatically tears a pearl necklace from her neck. It's a dramatic enactment of a destructive drive which we all have in us, but rarely express. Yet it is also, in many cases, a statement of wealth and power; it says "I am rich enough to do this and for it not to bother me much." I think this is very well summed-up in Naomi Alderman's novel The Lessons, when the narrator notes a distinctive feature of those who are born rich: "The key is the possession of objects which are clearly tremendously expensive but are treated with disdain and often held in surroundings of squalor." When you haven't had to work to attain something, you don't feel the need to take care of it.

Mario Testino
So why is this on my fashion blog? Well it's because I think that this aesthetic - one of excess and destruction - is one which runs through all kinds of art and media, including fashion. I think it's at the heart of Fun's We Are Young Video, and in our enduring fascination with the raucous exploits of the Bullingdon Club, continued this summer in the new film The Riot Club, and in the ideal of the fashion lifestyle. Glamourous and destructive parties in which little heed is paid to expense are considered almost as essential as runway shows.

Whether it's trashing or a trendy party, we seem to simultaneously enjoy and revile this imagery of excess and carelessness. The thought of someone throwing champagne everywhere is both attractive and out-of-touch. Where did this come from? I guess it's a product of the way we would all like to be rich, and yet note all the flaws in the way privileged people behave. We want to be them but we hate them. It's a curious paradox and one which I think the fashion industry in particular feeds on, creating luxurious images in which designer clothes are flung about and designer jewellery is treated like it came free with a Happy Meal.

Mario Testino

Essentially, we buy into this because, as with much fashion, it's aspirational. But one can't help but wonder what the implications of this excess might be. In a world where 'fast fashion' and the huge wastefulness (not to mention unethical status) of consumer culture, might we be better off not glamourising this kind of wilful destruction? It's certainly worth contemplating, but on the other hand, fashion is so often about fantasy and escapism. The same is true of trashing; it can certainly be viewed as wasteful, but in truth its essence is merely a celebration of having made it through exams and marks the start of time off.

Let me know what you think about excess and glamourous destruction in the comments section or on Twitter @fashionmoriarty