Is it just about the ruffles, or does it reveal a deeper social trend?
For his Fall 2007 collection, influential Paris designer Yohji Yamamoto showed an unusual combination of bedouin-inspired headgear, 80s punk Doc Martens, and serious Victorian layers & ruffles…and somehow made it all work. While his mashup of historical periods and cultures is uniquely Yohji, the layers and oversized silhouettes aren’t; in fact, they are a major trend. So is this newly supersized silhouette merely a case of the fashion pendulum reacting to the lolita’ish body-baring boho aesthetic that has dominated the last decade, or is there a more interesting undercurrent at work?
In our sex drenched, bare-it-all, F-word mad new millennium, why would the runways showcase fashions from a time period known for such excessive concern with modesty that they covered table legs? A peek beneath the tablecloth reveals that we actually had something quite fundamental in common with our prim Victorian forebears. “Conflicts between the upper, middle, and lower classes is a central theme in the Victorian period,” explains Peter Schweighofer, author of “Why Victorian Games Fail” (DestinyRealms.com). “Our society still has different economic classes, but they tend to insulate themselves fairly well and avoid pointing out and dwelling on class differences.”
As we self-righteously cloak ourselves in political correctness, we love to pretend – particularly in the US – that class distinctions no longer exist. However, I would argue that we are actually in the midst of a massive upheaval and redefinition of class. Successful music moguls, sports figures and entertainers are steadily creating a new emerging class comprised of extremely wealthy – and non-white – individuals, including heavy hitters like Oprah, Tiger Woods, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Spike Lee, Michael Jordan & Russell Simmons. “Media mogul Russell Simmons is conspicuous for his refusal to don the symbolic attire of the ruling class – suit and tie – and adherence to “street” clothing – baseball caps, tee shirts and jeans,” explains Cynthia Lucas Hewitt, assistant professor of Sociology at Morehouse College and author of “Limits to Conspicuous Consumption in the African Community? Alienation, Spirituality and Nationalism.” By flaunting the old rules, and creating new ones, this new emerging power class is, thankfully, turning tradition on its ear.
In his hilarious stand-up routine “Chris Rock: Never Scared,” the comedian takes on the topic of whether white America is attempting to prevent everyone else from becoming truly wealthy. According to Rock, the key lies in the difference between being rich & having true wealth. To be rich means you are able to afford a lavish lifestyle right now, but you don’t have enough assets to guarantee the same standard of living for the next generation. Whereas, if you have wealth, your estate is sizable enough to guarantee that your future family will be able to live the high life, without ever having to worry about bills of any sort. And Rock has identified an interesting situation: as more and more non-whites continue to join the ranks of the “rich” and continue on their inevitable way to “wealth”, social change is afoot.
The Chris Rock of his day, Oscar Wilde, examined the same issue in his stellar play “The Importance of Being Earnest.” His pompous Lady Bracknell – a social climber originally from the “lower” classes – represented the ruling class and the way they discriminated socially against anyone not of their “ilk.” Her belief that non-aristocrats should be neither educated nor encouraged to think critically might seem laughably outdated to us, but is it? Rock’s point about who is rich and who is wealthy makes Wilde’s criticism of the Victorian status quo as applicable today as when he penned it.
Lesley Scott is editor in chief of Fashiontribes.com