‘What looks good and why? The many facets of fabulous fashion’

Jan 27, 2021
English fashion designer Mary Quant with a group of models at Heathrow Airport in 1968. Source: Getty

Funny, isn’t it, the way some people have a natural skill when it comes to fashion and colour, while others don’t? And it has nothing, or very little anyway, to do with beauty. It’s very hard to put a finger on what makes it all work for some and not others, but I imagine the skills of good fashion designers have had quite a lot to do with it.

Of course, the demands of the fashion industry have a large part to play. They need to popularise “this year’s trends” in order to simply stay in business, and the designer who comes up with the best ideas makes the most money.

You have only to look back to English designer Mary Quant in the 1960s to see how a really good design idea doesn’t even have to be expensive to succeed. In her case it was little more than cutting 15cm off the length of a skirt and calling it a “mini”, and there was her first million made! She also had the good fortune that she was producing her designs fairly soon after the Second World War, when all the young things she designed for tended to be slim (due largely to the restrictions of recent rationing). The mini needed long, slender legs to succeed, and the life of comparative gluttony we all suffer from now was still years in the future. Her mini skirt, coupled with her famous ‘page-boy’ hairstyle, were just the extravagance that was needed at the time, and she made the best of it.

Thinking about it, I suppose a taller, slimmer person, of either sex, has a better opportunity to look good in clothes, though I really don’t know why that should be. Perhaps to the subconscious mind, taller means healthier or some other pre-historic message! Certainly a shorter person has a much harder time trying to attain that secret ‘oomph’, and they often seem to rely more on personality to create some sort of impression with their peers. Have you ever noticed how many well-known actors are often fairly short when you see them ‘in the flesh’?

But it seems to go well beyond a person’s height when it comes to being fashionable. Many short and tubby people manage to look great, whatever they wear. I feel a major condition is that of confidence. A truly confident person, one who doesn’t give a damn about what people think of them, projects a certain body-language image, an indefinable something that causes those around them to think ‘he/she looks right’ no matter what they have on.

I have had no skill or training at all when it comes to clothing fashion, but I have been a professional graphic designer and photographer all my working life, so I think that gives me a slight lead over some when it comes to judging such things. One of the main conclusions I have come to over the years is that understated always works better than overstated.

How much nicer a woman (for instance) looks in, say, a pale-blue suit with a white blouse and a darker blue open overcoat, and shoes of the same colour, than someone wearing, say, brightly coloured three-quarter-length shorts, a bright red top with something emblazoned across the chest, and Doc Martin boots on her feet! (I could dream up some sort of similar dress comparison for men, of course, but fashion is nowhere near as important to them as it is to most women, so I won’t waste valuable writing space on them!)

After careful consideration, I think the whole thing boils down to one simple sentence: “There are two types of people in the world of fashion: those who demand to be seen, and those who are frightened to be noticed.”

What do you think?

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