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A pile of 'Stuff'

As once said by the formidable Miranda Priestly, ‘"This...Stuff"? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you.’

Typically, detachment from fashion is marked by statement-making silhouettes, eccentric colours, and at times even words like "luxury" plastered on an elevated ramp. We think we don't have anything to do with all of that. The privileged and rich are entitled to it. Yes, it could be the case that most of us will not have the opportunity to wear and experience the forefront of fashion. However, if we believe that we are not a part of it, we will be entirely wrong.

Usually, luxury brands are only associated with steep price tags. Yet what matters more is their ability to create and shape history. There was a time when each garment and accessory we now wear would have been made by hand, led by purpose and discovery in the ateliers and workshops and factories of what we call luxury. A creator somewhere in the world makes a decision, and every other retailer copies it and sells it in the places we love largely because of close proximity.

I'm curious about why we as a community denounce fashion when, in fact, it has had a profound effect on governance, war, culture, tradition, and economics. Women in the spotlight have come a long way since the days when they wore back-breaking corsets to the present day when they flash "Tax the rich" graffiti on tailormade gowns. Despite this, we don't yet see the connection between the actions made through fashion and the gravity of these actions on our lives. Fashion symbols associated with these actions will always remain synonymous with change.

A perfect example of such a change is the quintessential pair of jeans we wear without thinking. San Francisco-based Levis Strauss founded a wholesale business for jeans in 1853. Since jeans were made out of canvas at first, and were sturdy and more sustainable than ordinary pants, the 501 series was designed for western workers, miners, and cowboys. Its texture determined that it was ideal for people who participated in manual labor. Denim later replaced canvas, which was a sturdy cotton warp-faced textile that was also firm. Therefore, it makes sense when looking at their physical characteristics and their original uses. The waist overalls were not invented by them. They took men's work pants and riveted them to create a new style of workwear. Those traits have influenced the many avatars and jeans we now see, including the embroidered or the frayed amongst many.

The popular garment that goes with jeans is the comfortable, loose-fitting t-shirt with a pattern, most commonly stripes. From as far back as 1067, the village of Saint-James on the Mont Saint-Michel bay in France bred sheep which provided the wool for sweaters, hats and nautical equipment. 1850 marked the beginning of the village of Saint-James as a brand, providing knit and dyed wool to dry goods and hosiery shops. In 1858, the Saint James created the striped Breton shirt which was adopted as the French Navy's uniform. Each of Napoleon Bonaparte's victories is commemorated by a stripe on the original Breton shirt. In addition to identifying wayward sailors who fell overboard, the stripes helped catch them. French Navy sweaters are still supplied by Saint James. The striking aspect is that stripes, formerly associated with renegades, were now seen as a positive influence on mainstream clothing for the first time in history. One of the most comfortable garments ever created, there are countless versions of this classic available today.

An outfit is never complete without an accessory. However, the idea that not all accessories are made to fit the needs and capabilities of their users contributed to the most iconic accessory of all time. A British actress based in Paris, Jane Birkin became the muse of the iconic bag in 1984. This bag was the result of an exchange between Birkin and Jean-Louis Dumas on an Air France flight from Paris to London in the early 1980s. Birkin, who had been upgraded, sat next to this executive. Dumas suggested she needed a bag with pockets when the contents spilled out of her bag. This led to a conversation about her ideal accessory. It was on an airplane sick-bag that she and Dumas drew the design and later, this "collaboration" manifested itself as the Birkin bag that we know now. As working women, when we walk into a store and ask for a work bag to hold all our knick-knacks, we typically gravitate toward the familiar rectangular tote shape as first seen in a Birkin. The trickle-down effect of one of the most rare and iconic fashion items is even greater than one might imagine.

Shapes are important, but so are fabrics and textures. The fabric called gabardine was invented by Burberry in 1879. Tielocken was Burberry's first trench coat designed using this material. The coat was popular during World War I, and the light gabardine fabric and khaki colour made it an excellent choice for soldiers in the trenches. In the postwar era, the coat was regarded as a fashion statement for men and women alike due to movie stars wearing the coat in films. Lightweight fabric and weatherproof finish remain hallmarks of the coat. Utility, distinction, and recognition are encapsulated by the coat.

Some items were born of utility, others of happenstance. Louboutin opened his own store in Paris in the early 1990s. A red outer sole became his trademark in 1993. "My assistant was painting her nails red while I was coloring my soles. I decided to add a splash of color to my footwear this season," he said. In another instance, some of the trench coats at Burberry had their hems facing out, showing off the "house check" pattern. As soon as the check appeared, customers flocked to purchase merchandise featuring it. A few hundred umbrellas were made and sold immediately, and shortly afterwards, the store began manufacturing cashmere scarves. A pattern begins to emerge in the most unlikely of places with chequered designs sprouting everywhere.

In conclusion, I suggest that claiming fashion has no relevance to us or that we are too serious to care is naive. Therefore, let's pay a little more attention to this evolution and see how we're a part of it. Or to paraphrase from a very hard-hitting dialogue by Miranda Priestly in 'The Devil Wears Prada' - Every fashion choice you make represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how we think that we've made a choice that exempts us from the fashion industry, when, in fact, we're wearing a piece of clothing that was selected for us by the 'fashion people' in those rooms from a pile of 'stuff.'

Thank you for reading my version of the Cerulean Sweater Monologue.


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