Saturday, March 19, 2011

conspicuous outrage

Only high-status individuals can afford the pleasure of not pleasing. Protected by social position, they are free to create their own rules, and have been among the patrons and creators of avant garde fashion and art.

To fear being in "bad taste" or looking ugly or vulgar are middle-class concerns. The middle class are fashion followers, the most conservative of whom are dragged into wearing a style only because it has become so prevalent that it would be nonconformist not to. The upper classes only fear being mistaken for their middle-class imitators, which is why they abandon a fashion as soon as it is adopted by them. As fashion editor Diana Vreeland once advised a junior editor, "Never fear being vulgar, just boring, middle class or dull." Fashion begins in outrage, ends in mainstream acceptance, and reemerges only later when the imitators have long gone.

Outrageous clothes belong only on those with the right attitude. Compare the middle class beauty queens, the Miss Americas who smile as they parade in their evening gowns and bathing suits, who talk about social issues, travel with chaperones, and exude sincerity and earnestness, with the high-fashion model who smokes and parties, looks like a heroin addict, won't get out of bed for less than ten thousand dollars a day, and rarely smiles. Models have the world on a string, and they show it. Their job is to represent the elite, to astonish, to provoke envy, but not to please.


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