What is the point of fashion?

Fashion has never been simple. It’s easy to think of fashion as a way for bored women to spend money, or a way for capitalism to spin a quick dime. Fast fashion has, quite rightly, a terrible reputation. If clothes are cheap, labour must be too. The industry has been lampooned for attitudes towards weight, race, sexuality and gender.

This is not going to be an op-ed about why we should all tear down our closets brick by brick and start wearing charming, but itchy, potato sacks. And yes, I do think the way that we think about fashion needs to change. But to change it, we need to understand what it really means and why the fashion industry has spaces in which negativity can flourish.

What you choose to wear on your body is seemingly an attempt to manifest your insides on your outsides. And not in a Lady Gaga ‘meat dress’ way, but in a ‘I feel sassy today so I’m gonna wear those platform sneakers I love’ kind of way. I love fashion, maybe a little too much. I put a great deal of thought into what I wear, all the way down to my knickers. As they say, the high waisted thong maketh the woman.

Fashion, done right, can be empowering and freeing. There’s something really spiritual about walking into a charity shop and coming out with a vintage pair of Italian leather cowboy boots. There’s something magical about your friends sending you pictures of clothes you would like, saying ‘it’s just so you.’ I dress up for no reason, other than the way it makes me feel when I catch sight of myself in a shop window.

But, fashion as empowerment needs to be examined carefully. I am a size 6, medium height, white woman. According to the systems of race and gender that dominate much of the world I’m right up there at the top of the woman stakes. Of course I feel empowered by fashion; fashion was made for women like me. How different it must feel if you aren’t able bodied, or if you aren’t white, or if you feel like crying whenever you go to Topshop because their sizing was made for Gigi Hadid and no one else.

Luckily, conversations regarding fashion’s place in society are becoming more and more nuanced. Take the Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show, for instance. This year; it’s chosen charity is Penumbra, a mental health charity. In a world where suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 35 and more young women are reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression than ever before, Penumbra is a fantastic choice, especially as the fashion industry in its wider forms arguably contributes to issues of self esteem and social alienation.

We need to make sure that the empowerment that I feel when I buy new clothes, or when I waltz down the street in a vintage silk dress, is accessible to everyone. Fashion has the power to make us all feel like the best versions of ourselves. It’s up to us, as consumers and young people, to make sure it uses that power wisely.