In the 1940s, high fashion belonged exclusively to the well-heeled city types. They could afford Christian Dior or Norman Hartnell. We oiks loped around in WW2 army surplus, and only saw what the toffs and debutantes were wearing on the weekly Pathé newsreels at the cinema.
However, a decade after the war, the teenager was invented. We ceased being carbon copies of our hard-up parents and developed a distinctive sense of fashion.
It began with denim. We knew jeans existed because we’d seen James Dean and Elvis wearing them, but the word ‘jeans’ didn’t exist in British shops. The British word was ‘overalls’. If you’d mentioned the name Levi Strauss they’d have thought you were referring to a waltzing Rabbi. So when I bought my first pair of genuine American denims in 1959 I had to go to Copenhagen to get them. They were hefty Wranglers, still made in those days in Greenboro, Carolina, not Taiwan. My first pair of rugged, Frisco-made Levi 501s, bought in New York in 1960, cost me a week’s wages and lasted fifteen years. Today, I can buy a pair of Levi-styled jeans at Tesco for £8.
However, if I was stupid and rich enough, I could buy a pair of Gucci jeans at £2,500 or D&G’s for about £250. Fashion today is no longer about how good it feels to wear something fairly priced, well-made and stylish. Today, it’s about the brand, and how much you’ve paid.
From the 1960s onwards, fashion began to expand across class boundaries, but one element the upper crust had always valued remained - exclusivity. And exclusivity goes with branding, and that means big, big prices. Today, a new kind of ‘fashion insanity’ infects everything, and its catch-all word is ‘designer’. Every item we buy, the way we use it, from our clothes to a cup of coffee, is some kind of ‘statement’. Today the most important thing is not quality, but price. Even a simple cup of coffee is now a ‘premium product’, and you’re paying well over £2 for a cardboard cup not because it’s deliciously exquisite but because it’s Starbucks or Costa. Like £1 plastic bottles of water (surely the most profitable con-trick of century), holding your coffee in one tattooed hand and your I-Phone 6 in the other as you dash to the office all combines to make a five star fashion statement. Look at me! I’m hip, cool, and busy.
The materials used to make a Luis Vuitton handbag can’t be too different to one you’d buy on Mansfield Market for a tenner. But these bags have been endorsed by Bono and his friends Tony and Cherie Blair, (for a six figure fee) so you’d better get that bank loan. Women are usually more sensible, but not when it comes to exorbitantly priced footwear by Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo.
Giorgio Armani said that “The difference between style and fashion is quality.” I think he got that wrong. I’ll take a charity shop, Primark and TK-Max over a ‘designer’ bankruptcy any time.