Eight people smiled at me on Monday morning. (Yes, I counted them). Why? Because I was engaged in an act of fashion kindness. It was the start of another working week and the world was 50 shades of grey, from the sky to the suits to the glum countenances of the commuters, and in the midst of this I was Technicolor.
Yep, I was wearing a turquoise cropped cardigan, trimmed on the shoulders and neck with ostrich feathers AND SEQUINS! The feathers danced in the breeze as I walked, while the beads caught the weak sunlight and bounced it back twice as bright.
“You look like something out of Fraggle Rock,” said the barista, breaking into a happy grin.
“Thank you,” I said, and fluttered off down the street making people laugh the whole way.
(Here's the cardi in question on the catwalk, it's by my fab friend Marnie Skillings)
I get cranky when people say clothes don’t matter. Of course there are weightier concerns, Middle Eastern politics, for example, or the carbon tax, but just because there are other things to care about doesn’t mean style matters diddly-squat. Hello! Look at the title of this column. Fashion isn’t frivolous because it is not engineering or neuroscience (and actually, brain doctors take note: the sight of a red-soled stiletto has a direct effect on my frontal lobe).
A recent New York Times article documented the changing style of female execs in Silicone Valley, suggesting they are increasingly choosing luxury labels over geek chic. One interviewee said she was sick of the stereotypes: “How can she care about dressing well and run a billion-dollar company?” Of course the answer is that she can. Another told the newspaper that if people don’t take her seriously in a frock, that’s their problem. She’d “rather wear a nice dress” than worry about it.
Wearing a nice dress can be empowering. Just as wearing a vile one can make you feel like a miserable mouse. Knowing you look great is a confidence booster, giving you extra sparkle as you move through your day. Your clothes say something about who you are, how you feel and how you want others to react. If you’re a fashion chameleon like me, that might mean Fraggle one day and undercover agent the next. Fashion can be a way of fitting in or standing out. It can intimidate, invite, delight – and it is a significant industry, employing nearly 50,000 people in Australia, and contributing $9.6 billion to the economy.
Employing women, feeding families and keeping traditional cultures alive is another fashion story. Sometimes the clothes on our backs really are as meaningful as all that. Inspirational Sydneysider Caroline Poiner knows this. Two years ago, after visiting India on holiday, she set up an organization to support vulnerable beaders, embroiderers and craftspeople there. Poiner persuaded 25 Australian designers, including Alex Perry, Camilla Franks and my fellow Instyle columnist Rachel Gilbert, to join Artisans of Fashion, then she produced an exhibition and a book. In August the garments that resulted from these collaborations were auctioned for Indian charities. I’ll bet those artisans think clothes matter. And they’d be right.