Oscar Wilde once said that fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months. This is certainly not the case if I look at the trends in fashion and design, of my own generation, in the environment I grew up in. I am no fashion connoisseur, but In terms of design trends, it seems like we have been stuck in Groundhog Day for the last 30 years.
I remember the fashion my older brothers followed back in 1997. The death of Kurt Cobain, the king of grunge, didn’t mean an end to the grunge era. On the contrary, the fashion he incited flourished. Torn denims and dirty All Stars were seen everywhere. Then there was Tony Hawk – the pioneer of vertical skateboarding and a fashion icon to any high school kid who managed to pull off an ollie. Skateboards were carried around everywhere and it was the status symbol of anybody who was against status symbols.
When I started high school, I realised not much had changed. The worn out look of the grunge era was still abound. After I finished school in 2007, I hoped for a radical change in fashion. However, it seemed like it only slightly inched to an earlier, brighter era- the shocking neon 80s.
Now that I’m married and have two little kids, I don’t have any time to ponder or be concerned about fashion. I’ve been wearing the same non-descript clothing for years and I realised that my peers, who also have children, are stuck in the same mode. But then I looked at the younger gen-z, I saw that the fashion has shifted back to the 90s. This time around, the pop-culture of the 90s, rather than grunge, is the in-thing – high-waisted jeans, crop tops, parachute pants and bowl cuts seem to be the uniform of our time. It also appears that there is even a slight aversion towards modern technology. A few years ago, vinyl records made a comeback. And last year, the US saw a sharp increase in sales of the antiquated cassette tape.
There is no fashion inspiration from anytime earlier than 30 years ago, but this wasn’t always so. Maybe we feel that there is nothing new under the sun. That everything is just a copy of a copy. That there is not a single new idea to be explored in the world of trends and fashion.
If this is the case, then we should probably leave the past in the past and looks elsewhere for inspiration – the future.
And I know what the more pessimistic (and perhaps more realist) among you might think – what future? David Attenborough has made it clear in his recent documentary, A Life on our Planet, that the planet is in deep trouble and the earth would become uninhabitable if we don’t collectively pull up our socks and start cleaning up our act. And the movie Don’t look Up showed us that this is unlikely to happen since we are too caught up in frivolous nonsense to be concerned about the survival of the planet. But, life on earth was never a garden of roses. No matter how gloomy the times, there has always been a handful of glass-half-full visionaries, who were future-inspired in their fashion sense and designs.
After World War II, people lived in fear of a nuclear Armageddon as countries were pointing their biggest missiles at each other during the cold war. But instead of shying away from the paranoia of the age, trendsetters, artists and designers embraced the power of the atom to fuel their own work. Nuclear war was not just a dangerous possibility – it was exhilarating and fun, as encapsulated in the title of Stanley Kubrick’s satirical black comedy Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
So, the bottom line is that nostalgia is getting us nowhere. If we want to move forward, we actually have to look forward. Our inspiration does not have to be based on the doings of the past. Looking forward can be scary, since we don’t know what lies around the bend. Neil Gaiman, an English author, uses a beautiful analogy that describes the process of how he writes a book:
“Writing a novel is like driving through the fog, with one headlight out. You can’t see very far ahead of yourself, but every now and again the mists will clear.”
I think this is applicable to all walks of life – look forward and know the mist will clear.