‘Fashion – Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking with Style‘ is hard to pin down. On one hand, it’s an exhortation to people to think more about the implications of what they and the world at large wears. One the other hand, it’s also about several splinter topics, all of which would make compelling books in themselves; the impact a Barbie doll has on a persons sartorial sensibilities, the singular influence of perfume and an incredibly logical line of thinking about what exactly makes something fashionable (an unexpectedly sticky question).
The book is part of the Philosophy for Everyone series, fashion being the newest addition. Previous instalments include books on Mad Men, beer and college sex, only one of which I believe merits further thinking about (go on, guess which). Nevertheless, anything that encourages a person to deeper examine their life gets a big thumbs up from me. After all, examination and dissemination is at the root of all philosophy and really should be at the root of all our lives.
It’s not philosophy as the vast majority of us would have it either. No lofty proclamations, no plinths, no togas, no latin, no ghost of Sartre blowing Gitanes smoke from Les Deux Magots. It’s philosophy in its purest form – just having a good, long think. This form of reflection is something that the fashion industry is running woefully low on.
It’s not an authoritative source on fashion and some essays stand out more than others. Luke Russell’s essay on tryhards and effortless cool is entertaining, funny and thought-provoking while, in the same section, Nick Zangwill’s piece on fashion, illusion and alienation is a spare five pages and at that, just as messy as his conjecture. Likewise, the reader might find some sections more interesting than others. The latter section on how to be ethical and fashionable exposes philosophy (and consumerism) at its worst, at one of those rare moments when to think too much about something is to waste time because action really has to be taken.
All in all, this is a valuable text not just because of the marriage of the academic with the everyday, but because of the diverse issues that it touches on. It’s a well-rounded effort and even the most jaded fashion person will find something new between its covers.
The negatives are few. If this book is indeed philosophy for everyone, then the tone should be treated as such. Even after studying philosophy in university, I found a few of the essays to be loaded with dense academic terminology. Also, fashion is a visual medium and should be treated as such. It’s almost impossible to illustrate a point in fashion without a picture, although valiant efforts are made. Pictures would make the text much more accessible and (dare I say it?) enjoyable to read.
Nevertheless, if you want to truly think about fashion, this book would be a glad addition to your bookshelf.
Fashion – Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking with Style is published by Wiley-Blackwell and is out now.