Fashion dips.

I’m no fan of the fashion industry, primarily for social-political reasons, but I do enjoy the aesthetics of fashion. As a fundamentally creative species, it’s quite natural for humans to want to dress up and to find our own sense of style. Even when that style is a conscious “anti-style.”

One of the things that disturbs me about the world of fashion is the role of retailers as arbiters of taste. This is quite apart from the role of designers as arbiters of taste–that I can live with quite happily. The designers come up with original ideas, which we are free to accept or reject. It is the retailers, however, (and the retailer’s whores, the “brand” designers) who extend those original ideas into mediocrity, and finally into lameness.

The sharp-eyed among us have seen this countless times, when a certain look becomes popular, then over-popular, and finally ridiculous. That over-popularity is driven by the retailers cashing in on what they see as a sure thing–fashion that is popular not because it looks good or expresses anything, but because the masses will continue to buy it due to it’s low risk. Throughout this process, the brand designers make subtle changes along the way, to sustain the popularity as long as possible.

I first noticed this in the early 80s, when those ghastly stirrup pants became popular. The original look, which was probably taken from some Pat Benetar video, included black stirrup pants and an oversized white shirt open at the neck and with the sleeves rolled up a turn or two. I think the collar was turned up too. The shirt was worn with the tails out and shape was provided by a wide black belt worn over the shirt at the waist.

Frankly, I hated the look right from the start. In particular, I hated the way the stirrups pulled the fabric of the pants downward while the waistband pulled the fabric upward. The effect was to make the women who wore them look excessively tense, as if not even their clothes could relax.

I had hoped that very contrived look would last no more than a few months, but it clung for several years. Long after the designers had abandoned it, the retailers were still in there, pecking away, making subtle changes to sustain interest. First it was the color of the pants. The black–which at least created a nice starkness when contrasted with the white shirt–gave way to beige, then bright colors. Then patterns, first tame, then wild. The shirt, in the meantime, also became patterned, and eventually gave way to sweaters. The one continuity was that damn wide belt worn over the shirt.

plumber's butt!More recently, this phenomenon can be seen with the baring of the female midriff. This started off as an inch or two of bareness, just a sliver of flesh above the waist of the pants or skirt, punctuated with a full-stop navel. Then it moved up, up, up, until it became common to see supposedly fully dressed women exposing their bellies right up to breast line–even in the middle of winter.

Apparently, the exposed belly is now on the way out. The new frontier is the hips, exposed by lowering the waistline on pants. We first saw this last summer with the introduction of women’s jeans that had the belt-loop area ripped off. Since then all sorts of pants and skirts have lowered, and are getting lower ever week. Where will it end? This question came to mind a few days ago when I saw the cover of the French edition of Andrew Morton’s biography of Madonna. There, at the top of the fashion game, is the plumber’s butt.

If the trend holds, by next summer it will be normal to see a full inch of the cracks of women’s asses as you walk down rue Ste. Catherine. Mark my words. You read it here first.