Following suit

At Hay Festival this morning, fashion experts Shahidha Bari and Anna Murphy (pictured) discussed the power, impact and origin of our wardrobe.

Anna Murphy, Fashion Director at The Times, said, “Fashion is tribalism”. What we wear matters, and all our clothes, be they utilitarian trench coats or dresses and jeans, have a long cultural heritage. The infamous “jean” connects us to youth and pseudo rebellion, and not many people appreciate their French, Italian and American provenance. We’re “completely oblivious to the hands these garments have passed through,” she said.

Murphy referred to her book How Not to Wear Black: Find Your Style, Create Your Forever Wardrobe as a “toolkit” for people who want to go beyond the default colour of black, and to look good without trying too hard. Dressing is about individuality and freedom, yet, unfortunately, “We’re still not comfortable with the idea of femininity and power,” she said.

“Fashion is a much more complex and dynamic issue to women than men,” she said. The writer praised women such as the American singer Janelle Monáe for critiquing the power dynamic in fashion.

“The suit is powerful,”,said Bari. The academic and writer spoke about her book Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes, which examines the philosophy and function of our clothes. She said that a suit can give an illusion of dominance and, in contrast, a dress is often used as a method of disguise or transformation. We often hide inside our garments. "Identity is much more complex than the apparel we wear."

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Picture by Paul Musso