Lou Taylor- Status of Cloth in Fashion

Lou Taylor (2002) ‘De-coding the Hierarchy of Fashion Textiles’ in Schoeser, M and Boydell, C. (eds) Disentangling Textiles: techniques for the Study of Designed Objects Middlesex University Press, pp. 67-80

There is a forever shifting status of fabrics within different cultures. Only in the 17th-18th century was fabric no longer to be seen controlled by laws of the courts and churches. This meant for a whole new economy of fabrics, to which many exploited. Within fabrics, there have always been social, economic, natural and culture influence. This amount of pressure upon fabrics leaves a certain level of instability for some materials. Silk could be used as an example for this. In the last 15 years silk has become an “unchallenged queen” after branding itself as a luxury items. It has political and economic connotations as there was a development of silk workshops in empires.

Marks of Distinction:

According to Lou Taylor, the ‘fashionability’ of a fabric is dependent on these, so called, marks of distinction. The strategies put in place to make a fabric fashion ‘luxurious’ impact on the value given to it.

1. Rarity of fibre or cloth type

Making a fabric EXCLUSIVE and of a HIGH VALUE generates a ‘luxury’ label e.g embroidered silk. Many fabrics recieve the ‘fall from grace’ like cashmere. Though it is still popular and expensive due to its high end labelling, kashmir shawls were very popular in 1818. When consumers got bored of them (around 1870), cashmere fell rapidly in status. The factory weavers hands were said to be so worn by the trade they weren’t acceptable for any other type of job. This is an example of how the social pressure for ‘fashionable’ products can cause such harm.

2. Novelty

Within this reading, I found one of those rare quotes that stick with you.

“Novelty, the hand maid of fashion and sometimes the enemy of taste, enjoys but a short and fleeting existence. It is, of its very essence quick to fade and pass away”- James Thomson, distinguished calico painter.

Novelty, in todays society, is used to shock. This, in itself, is really a publicity stunt as novelty is the best way to drawing attention. However, as the quote suggests, this interest is fleeting and it will be discarded eventually.

‘Drapers record’ reported 1994 on ‘Red or Dead’ fashion company- “tops emblazoned with risque phrases, were more for those who wished to resemble oriental prostitutes from which they took their inspiration”.       The attention of the audience is captured after all. With the pressure of innovation and design in today’s consumerist society, it is no surprise that novelty works in attracting the public.

3. Use at an elitist social ritual function

Fabrics can be used as a cultural distinction when some are produced for a certain public. This may be due to function or aesthetic but once there is a distinguished purpose, it is distinctive to an audience and, in some instances, sends a message.

4. Elitist status of wearers

When produced for the certain section of society it is almost instantly deemed important and of luxury.

5. Country of origin

In the past, the country that the fabric originated from was very important. This was before exporting was quite so simple, which meant that there was a cultural distinction between different fabrics. Now it is not so simple to recognise an imported item as there is not such a large amount of production in our own country. The country of origin is not so vital to the specification of a fabric anymore although many have connotations. However, due to economic differences, imported fabrics may have a lower price and higher availability, causing them to drop in hierarchical status. In countries with a higher labour cost, fabrics are more expensive.

6. Known elitist designers and/or manufacturer

As everyone knows, a recognisable label on a product raises the value due to social demand. Textiles is less ‘public’ than fashion however, it has still been used as a publicity stunt. This has been shown when external artists are used in fabric development to boost status. American Apparel have used textile designers to boost sales in their clothing before.

7. High level of aesthetic quality

Although everyone believes their own taste is the best, design intellectuals seem to reject the idea that there is such thing as a scale of taste. It is solely dependent on what we are told to like through influences found. This may be a very depressing thought but inspiration can be brought from anything really, although most people take their ideals from what other people wear, it doesn’t have to be that simple. The taste of each individual can be a way of identifying yourself as one type of person or trying to fit a cultural distinction. It can also be a way of recognising people of similar taste or distinguishing yourself.

8. Unusual or costly manufacturing technique

A new manufacturing technique inspires and intrigues people. An audience is drawn in by intrigue, this increases sales and raises the status of the material. Simply until it is topped or adapted, but until then grabs moments of fame. Embroidery was always seen as a high status technique due to it being a labour intensive process. However, since the machine age it has been easier to generate on large scale, making it more accessible and therefore of a lower status. However, it is still recognised for its aesthetic abilities and therefore is adopted throughout all status of fashion. High end retail is still very dependent on embroidery and surface design. This is because of the quality on these individual pieces (generated in a limited amount) and the minute details that can be created.

9. High price

A high price automatically attracts a certain status, making it inaccessible to some people intrigues the people who can afford it. Once a style has been adopted by a range of classes, it is abandoned as a high status object. This distinctions between different cost items have to be clear as a high quality low price object can’t possibly become a luxury item.

10. Newness of pattern and colour

‘Seasons’ are released in the fashion industry which is sent to ‘revamp’ our wardrobes. This consumerist approach leaves a demand for new and improved products at all times. Within fashion this is very important as it keeps the economy moving. Without this demand for ‘newness’, multi billion companies would not be running. Being seen to be contemporary or different is important within this western society and therefore create demand.

11. Tactile qualities, softness, delicacy, vulnerability etc

“Delicacy is the heaven of fashion fabrics and durability, the graveyard”

The cost of fabrics is often dictated by the textural quality of the material. An audience will have an opinion of the feeling the fabric should have as it is to be worn. This is where high end products become desirable to everyone. Higher end fabrics tend to have a more labour intensive production line, creating this preferred tactile quality. This is costly and therefore raises the buying price.

12. Elitist orientated marketing

When shopping for my minimum budget items (maximum £10) I do not tend to shop in Elle or Vogue. More time and money is put into the marketing of expensive products as there is a higher profit on them. This means that shopping high end is very accessible to the general public. However, my shopping process takes a lot of time and effort. Probably time and effort that high end buyers do not have. These days, many designers and popular manufacturers are not successful from their original designs. Some aren’t even design trained to begin with but have a large amount of knowledge in business and marketing. Grasping a gap in the market could be all it takes to corner a section.

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