The Role of Travel in Today’s Fashion.
“The role of fashion is popularly perceived as an identity-forming act; an element of shameless self-promotion”
By Lizi Woolgar, University of Bristol
A few years back, I remember having a chat with a lovely girl who was asked the following question during her Oxford interview (or something along these lines):
“How might we trace the movement of populations?”
One of her responses (amongst an array of highly intelligent replies) was to study the movement of clothing trends. That really got me thinking about how much tracing material goods can tell us about cultural exchanges and, ultimately, was the inspiration for this very article.
Today, the role of fashion is popularly perceived as an identity-forming act; an element of shameless self-promotion. What you wear arguably says a thousand things about you; how wealthy you are, how confident you are in expressing yourself through clothes, and how much you care about what you wear. What is of greatest relevance to this article though, is that clothes, in a way, portray how well-travelled you are.
Ever had that irritating experience of asking a friend, colleague or acquaintance where they got their gawjy, delicately tasselled bag from? Much to your dismay, you only ever seem to receive “Oh this old thing? Goddd got it from Mozambique when I was like eighttt” in response. It’s always these inimitable pieces that do stand out from the crowd and you find yourself hopelessly lusting after. Even more so once you find out that it’s right off the exotic-alternative scale! There certainly is a lot of truth in the phrase “you always want what you can’t have”.
Debatably, this might have been the case in the past, with intrepid explorers finding themselves a little envious of natives’ clothing, so have slowly but surely adopted it. I would argue that jealousy and desire are some of the strongest motives for dress, with ever-increasing travel facilitating the migration of such trends. Travel of people, ideas and innovative material usage has gradually allowed the dispersal of fashions further and further from the source.
Today, cultures are merging more than ever before. Even the world of fashion, formerly dominated by very western-oriented resources, is a prime point of reference for East and West fashions unifying through travel. The rise of Eastern designers has bought about new delicate prints and pattern-cutting techniques that the Western world would never have adopted, had such ideas not been conveyed via hearsay. In particular, Japanese designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake and Yoji Yamamoto are now world-renowned for the fresh style they have introduced to the European fashion scene.
It’s funny because, although nearly everyone will plan out a holiday wardrobe and likely go on a shopping spree specifically for this, we never end up wearing half of it when we’re away. When travelling, people seem to inadvertently adopt the local style – to an extent – almost trying to pass themselves off as a local. That is, if the local style of EVERY country is a pair of ill-fitting harem pants and a slouchy vest top. Let me tell you Brits, you ain’t foolin’ no-one. The glowing, pasty skin is an inescapable giveaway.
But the weirdest thing has got to be ‘travelling style’. This is in terms of intentionally dressing in a different way JUST because you’re getting on a train. It’s totally legit if you’re getting a 24 hour flight to take it in PJs. But why would you go half-hearted on, say, a 2 hour train journey, and deliberately plan to dress in an entirely different way to any other day? There’s some real pre-meditated effort that goes on here. We purposefully choose outfits to achieve the acceptable balance of ‘stylish’ + “comfort” + ‘I literally just threw this on this morning’ = “TRAVELLING CHIC” (as far too many magazines will tell you).
I don’t know about you, but the more I think about it, I’m sure that fashion and travel are inextricably linked. Just think about those privileged designers who spend weeks upon end globe-trotting just to find that perfect ‘burnt-carrot-meets-coral’ shade or to sponge leather tanning tips from the Orient with their already over-saturated minds. Either way, I wholeheartedly encourage the harmonious friendship between the two. Travelling makes the world go round and the exciting mish-mashing of styles means we can look our darndest best whilst we do it.