(9) Haute Couture & Fashion
Formed in America in 1980, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has grown to become a global pressure group for animal rights. Its campaigns encompass a number of fashion-related issues, as it forces people to confront the uses made of animals to produce, for example, fur and wool. A 2007 campaign showed British pop singer and model Sophie Ellis Bextor clad in an elegant black evening dress. Her face was perfectly made up: scarlet lips, pale skin, and smoky eyes.
This femme fatale styling was then rendered literal: in one hand, she held up the inert body of a fox, its fur flayed to reveal the red gore of its flesh, its head lolling grotesquely to one side. The tagline ‘Here’s the Rest of Your Fur’ reinforced the message of the cruelty that underpins the fur trade. The campaign’s aesthetic drew upon a nostalgic, film noir image. However, 1940s cinematic heroines were frequently shown wearing a fox fur stole draped over their shoulders as a signifier of luxury and sexuality. PETA subverted the viewers’ expectations to confront them with the deathliness and horror of fur.
Other print and billboard campaigns have used a similar combination of famous faces, familiar imagery, and the shock of juxtapositions that reveal fashion’s underside. The organization’s aim is to force consumers to understand what goes on behind the sensual façade of fashion photography and marketing, and to examine the way clothes are produced and the processes involved. PETA’s slogans use the punchy, direct language of advertising to create memorable taglines that will enter the popular vocabulary.
Examples have included ironic double entendres that expose the contradictions at the heart of the fur trade: ‘Fur is for Animals’, ‘Bare Skin, not Bear Skin’, as well as ‘Ink not Mink’, which focused on tattoos as an alternative fashionable status symbol.
PETA’s focus on skin itself means the connection between the living animals that provide the fur is continually restaged. Its famous ‘I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur’ campaign that started in the mid-1990s brought together supermodels and celebrities, who stripped and stood behind a strategically placed placard. These images were styled like fashion shoots. Despite the lack of any clothing, participants were groomed and lit to emphasize their ‘natural’ beauty. By using models, actors, and singers as ‘themselves’, a direct link could be made between their cultural status and value, and the status of PETA’s campaign.
The message was that if these hugely popular professionals rejected fur, then so should the consumer. Lapses, such as Naomi Campbell’s late 1990s defection from PETA and subsequent avocation of fur wearing and, indeed, hunting, have done little to diminish the power of its message. In the early 21st century, a new selection of names, including actress Eva Mendes, signed up to the cause. Images included ‘Hands off the Buns’ featuring naked celebrities carrying white rabbits.
PETA has raised animal rights’ profile within the fashion industry. Its members have invaded catwalks, thrown paint, and famously a frozen animal corpse, at those the organization perceived to be responsible for fur’s continued place within fashion, and pushed for new regulations on the treatment of sheep in the wool trade. Its activists’ work has not just underlined the needless cruelty involved in the fur trade; it has also shown how fur is often misunderstood as a ‘natural’ product to wear, despite the fact that most fur is farmed and, once obtained from the animal, goes through various chemical treatments to remove the flesh and prepare it to be used as fabric.
Although PETA’s aims are admirable, their approach raises further ethical questions. The group’s appropriation of the visual language of fashion and, indeed, wider youth culture has led to accusations that it continued to sexualize and exploit women in the name of animal rights. This is a familiar charge: British-based Respect’s 1980s campaign ‘One Fur Hat, Two Spoilt Bitches’ depicted a model with a dead animal stole and was also seen as positioning women as dumb, sexualized objects. This tension problematized the campaign’s message. It can be read as another means to grab the viewer’s attention, confront her with the thoughtlessness of wearing fur, and shock her into taking notice.
However, to do this, it deployed the highly sexualized visual codes that dominate much contemporary advertising. This controversy highlights the contradictory impulses present within such campaigns. While great focus is placed upon one ethical problem, another equally significant moral issue is accepted, and arguably embraced, as the status quo.
The fashion industry’s status is ambiguous. It is a hugely profitable international business and source of pleasure to many, yet it also incorporates a range of moral tensions. From the way women are depicted to the way garment workers are treated, fashion has the ability to represent both the best and the worst of its contemporary culture. Thus, while fashion can be deployed to shape and express alternative as well as mainstream identities, it can equally be repressive and cruel. Fashion’s love of juxtapositions and exaggeration can frustrate and confuse, or even reinforce, negative practices and stereotypes. Its focus on appearance has led to its continual condemnation as superficial and narcissistic. Los Angeles-based T-shirt manufacturer American Apparel is another case in point.
Its mission statement has, from the company’s inception in 1997, sought to move away from outsourced manufacturing to create a ‘sweatshop-free’ production line. Unlike other brands that focus on basic wardrobe staples, it has refused to have its garments made up in developing countries, where it can be hard to maintain control of workers’ rights and factory conditions. American Apparel instead uses local people, and thus contributes to its community. Its shops include in-store exhibitions of locally and nationally known photographers and its cool, urban basics have become hugely popular internationally.
Its advertising campaigns reinforce its ethical credentials and focus on its workers, frequently using its own shop assistants and administrative staff as models.
However, once again the mode of representation used has caused widespread comment. Dov Charney, the owner of American Apparel, favours a photographic style that is akin to snapshots - candid images of young women and men, often semi-clad, their bodies twisted towards the camera. As Jaime Wolf wrote in a New York Times article:
…the ads are also highly suggestive, and not just because they are showcasing underwear or clingy knits. They depict young men and women in bed or in the shower; if they are casually lounging on a sofa or sitting on the floor, then their legs happen to be spread; frequently they are wearing a single item of clothing but are otherwise undressed; a couple of the young women appear to be in a heightened state of pleasure. These pictures have a flashbulb lighted, lo-fi sultriness to them; they look less like ads than photos you’d see posted on someone’s MySpace page.
This aesthetic is not new; it draws upon Nan Goldin’s and Larry Clark’s graphic images of youth culture from the 1970s. Nor is it unusual to see it used within fashion imagery: Calvin Klein has, for decades, used a similar combination of arresting shots of young models to promote simple designs. It permeates style magazines and online social sites, as well as American Apparel’s own website, which presents the images as collections to flick through. They therefore used a familiar set of visual codes in their unstaged-looking set-ups and their casual sexuality.
American Apparel’s imagery used a fun, sexy aesthetic that might be expected of a youth-orientated company, but which jarred with traditional ideas of the way a ‘worthy’ company concerned with ethical issues should be presented. As with the anti-fur campaigns, when a product or cause is positioned as ethical, the use of potentially dubious, sexualized imagery is particularly open to be judged. If one aspect of contemporary morality is being addressed, this sharpens awareness of other possible issues contained within every aspect of an organization or brand’s output. While the imagery American Apparel uses chimed with its target youth audience’s tastes, it simultaneously exploited an amateur porn aesthetic that had come to pervade early 21st-century culture.
Since fashion’s own moral status is so fraught, and its role in constructing contemporary culture can be so problematic, it is perhaps unsurprising that ethical messages and practices can be perceived to be undermined by communication methods and representational styles.
Identities and transgressions
While ethical issues that relate to how fashion is produced have gained in significance since the late 19th century, it was the ways in which fashion could be used to change someone’s appearance that drove earlier commentaries. Moral concerns centered on the ways that fashion can play tricks, enhancing the wearers’ beauty or status, and confusing social codes and acceptable ways to dress and behave.
Fashion’s close connection to the body and garments’ ability to disguise flaws, while also adding sensual fabrics’ allure to the figure, added to moralists’ fears about both the wearers’ vanity, and the effect fashionable clothing had on onlookers. Historically, more was written by those who felt fashion implied narcissistic tendencies, pride, and foolishness than by those wishing to praise it. In the 14th century, for example, text and imagery depicted over-emphasis on appearance as sinful, since, for men and women, it signaled a mind focused on surfaces and materialism rather than religious contemplation.
Wearers’ uses of fashion to create new identities or to subvert conventional expectations about how they should look meant it could challenge social and cultural divisions, and confuse onlookers. Such anxieties have remained central, where transgressions from the norm have potentially brought moral outrage upon fashion and its adherents.
Although respectable women and men were expected to demonstrate awareness of current fashions in their dress, too much attention to detail was open to question. Fashion was also judged as inappropriate to older people and to the lower classes. This did not, however, prevent fashion’s spread. In the 17th century, Ben Jonson’s play Epicoene, or The Silent Woman included comments that reveal some of the key issues that made fashion dubious. In the play, plain women were deemed more virtuous, while beauty was claimed to entrap men. It also chastized older women who sought to follow fashions in dress and beauty. The character Otter asserts that his wife has:
A most vile face! And yet she spends me forty pounds a year in mercury and hog’s bones. All her teeth were made i’the Blackfriars, both her eyebrows i’the Strand, and her hair in Silver Street. Every part of the town owns a piece of her.
The idea that beauty could be bought, in this case including mercury to turn the face fashionably pale, underlined fashion’s inherent duplicity. Mrs Otter’s shopping trips meant her appearance belonged to fashionable retailers rather than to nature. She was not just tricking her husband, therefore, but foolishly spending money to recapture her youth.
This theme was developed in sermons, pamphlets, treatises, and imagery in subsequent periods. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, caricaturists, most notably Cruickshank and Rowlandson, showed elderly women transformed by wigs and beauty preparations, their bodies remolded by padding and hoops that defined the figure and brought it in line with contemporary ideals. In the 1770s, it was towering wigs topped by foot-long feathers that were most mocked; by the following decade, it was the padding added to the back of dresses; and by the turn of the century, thin women were ridiculed for looking even skinnier in newly fashionable column dresses, while plump women were taunted for looking fatter in the same fashions.
Such criticisms reflected attitudes to women, their bodies, and their status in society. While women were certainly viewed as less important than men, moralists policed their clothing, gestures, etiquette, and deportment. Class also played a significant role, with differing standards and expectations for elite and non-elite women. Importantly, all women were expected to uphold a respectable appearance, to distinguish themselves from prostitutes, and avoid bringing shame upon their families.
Women therefore needed to think carefully about how they used fashion; too much interest was problematic, but too little interest could also render women dubious. Fashion’s role in shaping gender meant that it was a significant element in people’s projection of their individual and group identity. Men were far less criticized for their choices, but they still had to maintain their appearance in relation to their class and status. However, younger men who were too interested in fashion did come in for strong moral condemnation.
In the early 18th century, The Spectator magazine described foppish students as ‘vain Things’ who, just like women, ‘regard one another for their vestments’. This was perhaps the last period when fashionable menswear was already flamboyant in colour, decoration, and style, and therefore greater effort was needed in order to be transgressive. As The Spectator indicated, to do so was to challenge expectations, and risk being regarded as feminine.
Doubts were cast about the sexuality and gender of many such men. In the 1760s and 1770s, Macaronis, like Fops, who were their most direct predecessors, drew ridicule from caricaturists and commentators. Named after Italian pasta, these young men flaunted their associations with the Continent in their brightly coloured clothes. Their clothing exaggerated contemporary fashions and featured oversized wigs, which were sometimes powdered red or blue instead of the more usual white.
They wore coats that were cut extra-tight and curved towards their backs, and were often depicted posing in an affected manner. Macaronis thus offended masculine ideals on a number of counts; they were deemed effeminate, unpatriotic, and vain. Various loosely formed groups of overly fashionable young men superseded them, each of whom used dress to flaunt difference and transgress social ideals. These included the Incroyables of the French Revolution and, in the 19th century, Swells and Mashers in England and Dudes in America. In each case, exaggeration, ‘foreign’ fashions, and close attention to grooming and accessories distinguished their style and brought claims that they were threatening masculine ideals, and therefore the status quo.
From 1841, Punch magazine took pleasure in ridiculing fashions, as well as showing women in crinolines, corsets, and bustles contorted into elaborate shapes in the name of fashion. Alongside these satirical comments were more serious complaints from doctors that women risked their health when they wore whale-boning, but these did little to deter the popularity of such garments. Gender continued to be a major issue.
Women needed to wear such underwear in order to be perceived as feminine, yet they were accused of irrationality for wearing such restrictive garments. This double bind extended to clothing that could be seen as too masculine, even if it was more practical than high fashion. In the 1880s, when women began to enter white-collar jobs, the so-called tailor-mades that they wore, based on a male suit but worn with a skirt, were seen as turning women into men. Indeed, as in all these examples, dress was seen as a signifier of the wearer’s gender, sexuality, class, and social standing, and any ambiguities could lead to misunderstandings and condemnation.
This is apparent in the lingering idea that women should not wear trousers, which were felt to disrupt gender roles and imply that women aimed to take on men’s powerful status. These concerns extended well into the 20th century. In 1942, the number of women wearing trousers that she saw in Paris appalled actress Arletty. Despite the hardships of the war, she felt there was no excuse for such behaviour, and that:
It is unforgivable for women who have the means to buy themselves boots and coats to wear trousers. They impress nobody and their lack of dignity simply proves their bad taste.
This not only revealed the horror with which loss of femininity could be perceived, but stressed the social element of such moral judgments. Working-class women in certain occupations, including mining and fishing, had worn trousers or breeches since the 19th century. However, they were effectively invisible – literally, unseen by most people outside their immediate environment, and metaphorically, since the middle classes and the elite did not value them.
Class has been a persistent theme within moral concerns about the ways in which fashion can disguise someone’s true status, or indeed flaunt it as defiance against authority. In the 20th century, establishment mistrust of dress that defied middle-class ideals of respectability and decorum was compounded by the rise in the number of deliberately provocative sub cultural groups. In early 1940s France, ‘Zazous’, both male and female, caused consternation with their elaborately detailed suits, sunglasses, and American-inspired hairstyles and cosmetics. Public and media outrage at their fashions brought together a number of familiar issues.
Foreign styles were seen as unpatriotic, particularly during wartime restrictions, even if the Americans were Allies. Exaggerated garments and make-up broke class-based notions of good taste, and paraded Hollywood’s overblown style of self-presentation. Although their styles remained confined to a small number of youths, Zazous’ emulation of film-star fashions and love of jazz music was a visual and aural confrontation with French culture, at a time when it was already under threat from Nazi occupation of the country.
In subsequent decades, youth culture presented a continued disruption to social codes of behaviour and display. In Britain, class played a significant part in shaping subculture’s nature. In the 1960s, Mods aped middle-class respectability in neat, sharp suits, while Skinheads toughened up this style to assert a strong working-class identity, based on work wear. In each case, youth style was driven by a combination of its members’ search for excitement and devotion to particular music styles. In the early 21st century, a more diffuse group within working, and unemployed, youth emerged. ‘Chavs’ were condemned as tasteless, for their unselfconscious flaunting of obvious branding and disregard for middle-class ideals of style. Media coverage exposed embedded class prejudice, as the term quickly became associated with criminality amongst teenagers on council estates. Chavs’ aggressive sportswear styles were connected to negative stereotypes of the working class, as an easily grasped visible incarnation of inner-city lawlessness.
Media outrage at each new incarnation of youth style demonstrated the impact that such breaches of the status quo had. In Japan, Tokyo’s Harajuku area has, since the 1980s, been a focus for street fashions, as young people evolved new ways to wear and combine garments. Teenage girls upset traditional ideals of femininity to create spectacular new styles which freely combined elements from a range of sources, including high fashion, past subcultures, cartoons, and computer games. Indeed, their composite styles mirrored the fantasy self-styling of computer avatars, which are hugely popular in the Far East. Harajuku’s street fashions defy parental expectations that girls should present a demure and restrained image.
Pop singer Gwen Stefani’s creation of a team of four ‘Harajuku Girls’ dancers, who appear in her videos and live performances, added another layer of controversy to these styles. Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho has criticized Stefani’s appropriation of this Asian fashion style and her use of these ‘Harajuku Girls’ as offensive, and stated that ‘a Japanese school uniform is kind of like a blackface’. This suggested that the dancers represented a stereotype of ethnic identity, used to enliven a white performer’s show. Stefani’s fashion is itself influenced by Japanese street style, but her dancers take this further. They literally embody concerns not just about foreign inspirations in dress, but more seriously, who has the power to make such appropriations, as well as ethical concerns about ethnic stereotyping.
Another, very different incarnation of this is the confused and often excessive response to young Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab as a symbol of religious and ethnic identity. Post 9/11 fears of Islam, combined with public and media perceptions of such displays of difference as transgressive, have led to girls being banned from wearing the hijab in some French schools. This has caused outcry, and hardened some Muslim women’s belief in the importance of the hijab as a symbol of not just their religion, but also to question Western ideals of femininity and exposure of the body in contemporary fashion.
This issue sharpens the way specific examples of moral outcry concerning the way ethnic minority groups are presented and treated in relation to dress and appearance. The underrepresentation of non-white women within the modeling world is a major problem within the industry. Despite media protests and one-off editions, such as Italian Vogue’s July 2008 edition, which used black models throughout its editorial pages, white women dominate on the catwalk, as well as in fashion photography and advertising. As leading model Jourdan Dunn, who is herself black British, remarked, ‘London’s not a white city, so why should the catwalks be so white?’ Fashion’s persistent disregard for diversity is symptomatic of inherent racism within the wider culture.
Representation, in terms of actual models and their images within magazines, requires a shift in attitudes within the fashion industry and a recognition that it is unacceptable to continue to focus on white models.
Regulation and reform
Alongside protests against the ways men, and particularly women, are represented in fashion imagery, there have been various attempts to control or manage the ways in which fashion is produced and consumed. During the Renaissance, sumptuary laws continued to be imposed to try to maintain class distinctions, by limiting certain fabrics or types of decoration to particular groups, or to impose ideals of modesty on the population. For example, in Italy, legislation was passed that sought to regulate attire worn for rituals such as weddings, as well as to limit the amount of décolletage women of different classes were permitted to display.
Such laws were regularly instigated across Europe, although they had limited success, since they were difficult to police. As Catherine Kovesi Killerby has written in relation to Italian laws that expressed social concern about excessive display in dress, ‘by their very nature, [they] are self-defeating: to curb luxury by the outlawing of one form that luxury happens to be taking itself generates new forms as the way to avoid persecution’. Since fashion continually mutates, albeit at a slower rate during this early period, it is hard for the legislature to keep up with these changes, and as Killeby notes, wearers are equally inventive, changing styles to dodge laws and create new incarnations of a style.
Sumptuary laws declined during the 17th century, although they were resurrected with greater success during the Second World War. While earlier periods had seen bans imposed on importation of foreign goods for economic and nationalistic reasons, the length and extent of this war meant any such laws were compounded by severe restrictions on international trade due to widespread sea and air warfare. Shortages led to rationing in many of the countries involved. In 1941, Britain regulated production and consumption of clothing, by issuing coupons that could be exchanged for garments throughout the year.
The number of coupons issued to each person changed over the course of the war and post-war period, but imposed a serious limit on access to clothes. Regulations in Britain, America, and France also stipulated how much fabric could be used in clothing production, and stripped back the amount of decoration that could be applied. This stark shift in access to fashion was tempered by the British Utility scheme that employed well-known fashion designers, including Hardy Amies, to design outfits that followed the legal limitations while remaining stylish. The lack of new clothes meant it was hard to circumvent wartime restrictions, though, and public and media attitudes hardened towards excess, which was seen as unpatriotic and against the war effort.
After the war, Soviet bloc countries were able to continue this limit on fashions and attempted, with varying degrees of success, to condemn fashion as anti-socialist. In East Germany, Judd Stitzel writes that:
…officials sought to channel and control female desire by connecting women’s rights as consumers with their roles as producers and by promoting rational ‘socialist consumer habits’ as an important component of citizenship.
Work-inspired garments including aprons and overalls had limited appeal, however, and, as in other socialist countries, including Czechoslovakia, an uneasy coalition of state-sanctioned fashions and fashion imagery was developed alongside more functional styles. These attempts to reform fashion and strive for a more ethical form of dress harked to 19th-century dress reformers such as Dr Gustav Jaeger who had encouraged men and women to reject fashion’s excess and adopt natural-fiber clothes, and feminists in Europe, Scandinavia, and America who called for greater equality and rationality in clothing.
Late 20th- and early 21st-century versions of these impulses to regulate and create clothing that does not harm animals, people, or the environment have begun to make inroads into mainstream as well as niche fashion. Spurred on by the Hippies and connected movements in the 1960s and 1970s towards more natural fashions and concern for ethical issues, at the turn of the 21st century designers as well as bigger brands tried to reconcile developments in consumerism with the need for more thoughtful design and production practices. Since the early 20th century, moves were made to regulate wages and conditions for workers.
This was prompted by disasters such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911, when 146 immigrant workers were killed. The factory contained an unknown number of subcontracted, poorly paid workers in an overcrowded, cramped environment, which meant that many could not escape the blaze that broke out on the top floors. Although such incidents brought widespread protests against sweatshops and calls for a minimum wage, these practices still have not been eliminated.
As rents rose in major cities, mass production moved further out, and eventually migrated to poorer countries in South America and the Far East, where labour and property was cheap. So-called ‘Fast Fashion’, where brands strive to provide the latest fashions as soon as they have been seen on the catwalk, has led to strong competition to introduce new styles throughout the year, at the cheapest prices possible.
Popular high-street names have been accused of using suppliers that rely on child labour. In October 2008, a report by the BBC and The Observer alleged that three of low-cost brand Primark’s suppliers used young Sri Lankan children from refugee camps in India to sew decoration onto T-shirts, in appalling conditions. Primark sacked these suppliers as soon as it was made aware of the situation, but the report suggested that there was a problem at the heart of the contemporary fashion industry. Cheap clothing’s easy availability democratized access to fashion, but also encouraged consumers to view garments as short term and throwaway, and, combined with fierce competition to produce the cheapest lines, makes exploitation a potential consequence. Mass-market fashion chains have stated that their huge sales volume meant that their clothes could be inexpensive. However, there can be an ethical cost to this approach, as well as a human cost, as supply chains become increasingly diffuse and difficult to track. Journalist Dan McDougall has stated that:
…in the UK the term ‘rush to the bottom’ was coined to describe the practice of international retailers employing developing world contractors, who cut corners to keep margins down and profits up for western paymasters.
Primark is not the only chain store to face criticism; others, including American-based Gap, have also had problems with their suppliers. Labels such as People Tree in Britain have therefore sought to distance themselves from this approach, and have established close ties with their suppliers, to seek to create sustainable production patterns that can benefit local communities in the countries where their clothes are made. Bigger brands including American Apparel have taken action to prevent sweatshops by using local employees. Both brands have also worked to use fabrics with a low impact on the environment.
The poisonous bleaching and dying processes used in denim and cotton production have prompted organic and unbleached ranges to emerge at all levels of the market. What distinguished the clothes produced from earlier ranges in previous decades was manufacturers’ recognition that consumers expect fashionable design values even from ethical goods. Smaller labels such as Ruby London, which included a selection of fashionably skinny-cut organic cotton jeans in its range, and Ekovarnhuset in Sweden, which sells its own line as well as other eco-fashion labels, have created clothes that are fashionable as well as environmentally conscious. Even big brands including H&M, New Look, and Marks and Spencer introduced organic cotton lines.
High fashion incorporated a growing number of ethical labels too. Stella McCartney refused to use fur or leather, while Danish designers Noir combined cutting-edge fashion style with a strong ethical company policy that included support for the development of ecologically sound textiles.
Other designers promoted the idea of buying less, but investing in more expensive pieces that would last longer. This ‘Slow Fashion’ encompassed ranges such as Martin Margiela’s ‘Artisanal’ line of handmade garments. The New York Times’ Armand Limnander broke down the relative cost of these luxury designs to calculate that, for example, a Raf Simons at Jil Sander made-to-order man’s suit at $6,000, which took 22 hours to make, was therefore priced at $272.73 per hour. While this did not estimate the cost per wear, it advocated a shift in attitude that rejected quick turnover of styles and seasonal purchases of the latest trend. Not everyone, though, can afford the initial investments needed. However, Slow Fashion identifies one of the core issues within making fashion ethical: that consumption itself is the problem. Fashion’s environmental impact spans a wide range of issues from production methods and the practices involved in growing natural fibers such as cotton, to mass consumerism and the public’s desire for new fashions.
Japanese chain Muji’s recycled yarn knit range suggested one solution; Paris-based Malian designer XULY Be¨t’s designs made from reused old clothes another. These clothes rely upon secondhand textiles and garments, and can be seen in conjunction with the shift towards vintage and flea-market fashion shopping since the late 20th century. These fashions have less impact on the environment and reduce the production process, but they are unlikely completely to replace the existing fashion industry, especially given its huge international reach and the amount of finance tied up in its production and promotion. There is also a danger that ethical shopping itself becomes a trend.
As a global economic downturn set in during the first decade of the 21st century, reports questioned the idea of ‘recession chic’ and ‘feel good consumerism’, based on people’s sense of virtue when they bought organic and ethically produced clothes, even if their purchase was actually unnecessary. The question remained whether consumers were willing to own less and to rely less on shopping as a source of leisure and pleasure, and whether ethical brands can assert a new approach to assessing what to buy and remain viable businesses.
Counterfeit markets across the globe which sell copies of the latest ‘It’ bags demonstrate the continued allure of status symbols, and fashion’s ability to seduce consumers eager for an object associated with luxury and elite style. As fashion’s reach has spread across the social spectrum and incorporated internationally known brands, it has become increasingly difficult to police its production or regulate its consumption. This could only be achieved by a major realignment of social and cultural values, and a change in approach from a global industry that had grown up over centuries to lure customers and satiate their desire for the tactile and visual allure of clothing.