Fashion Hyperbole… What’s the Story?

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As a New Brunswicker of Irish descent, I have been known to use a little hyperbole for the sake of a good story. A story is always made better with a teensy bit of exaggeration. Is that an oxymoron, do you think? A teensy bit of exaggeration? Well, never mind. New Brunswickers, especially the Irish ones, love to tell stories. So if I do resort to hyperbole to make a story better, well, it’s not my fault really. It’s in my genes.
But sometimes I just despair at the hyperbole on the internet, especially in fashion posts. Sigh. If I read one more time that some poor girl in a pair of ripped jeans and a tee is “insanely chic” … well, I may have to resort to… sarcasm.
And that tendency to hyperbole extends to more that just words. I mean… what’s with sleeves these days? The exaggerated cuffs that totally cover the hands… what’s with that? This shot was taken outside an event at Paris Fashion Week last year. I understand that fashion shows themselves are theatre, and as such present a creative idea or theme; the clothes and, often exaggerated, hair and make-up all working to create that idea. But we’re talking real life here; these are street shots. Seriously folks, what do you do with those cuffs if you’re going out to lunch?
High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story? Exaggerated cuffs

Of course today’s hyperbolic sleeves are not the first time that sartorial exaggerations have been fashionable. Not by a long shot. See? It would definitely be tricky to eat soup with these cuffs.

High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story?
And we’ve all heard of other examples of historic fashion hyperbole: hobble skirts, crinolines, bustles, corsets and their ilk. Not to mention the more modern trend of shoes with two inch platform soles and six inch heels. I confess I’m guilty of wearing something similar in the seventies. Along with flared jeans that dragged on the ground. Kind of like these, as a matter of fact.
High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story?  overly long jeans
And maybe even the ones below. Although these pants look like an accident waiting to happen. At least with a floor length dress or skirt one can elegantly hitch it up in order to go up or downstairs. And speaking of elegant, look at the woman in white cropped pants in the background of this shot. Compared with her chic sandals and black coat, the outfit in the foreground just looks plain silly to me.
High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story?

Now, this outfit below really did make me laugh. Those leather pants are too bizarre.  How can that woman even take a step? And how sad for those pants; they’ll be a mess by the time she gets home.

High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story?

And don’t get me started on the socks with sandals thing. Okay, so maybe that trend can’t be called hyperbole, strictly speaking. And maybe an attractive ankle sock with shoes and a skirt might be okay. They’d be comfortable, at least. Ah, who am I kidding? I think they look ridiculous. I haven’t worn ankle socks with dresses since I was six. I know that menswear inspired fashion is big this year… but men’s dress socks with platform sandals? Really?

High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story?

I’m normally a big fan of Stella McCartney’s designs. But what exactly does one do with a heavy fisherman knit, turtleneck sweater that has only one sleeve? Be honest now… do you ever get the niggling feeling that sometimes the fashion industry is having us on? Just messing with us?

High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story?

That maybe those hand-hiding sleeves, and pooling hems, and weirdly architectural sweaters make us look a little bit silly? That maybe we’re infected with “The Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome?

High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story?
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m all for people wearing whatever makes them happy. As long as it does make them happy. And isn’t just capitulation to some designer’s idea, or even worse, some CEO’s idea, of how they should look. Or a slavish attempt to get noticed by those street-style photographers who seem to be everywhere these days.
I know, I sound cranky don’t I? But, bear with me. Since I’ve been working on this post, I’ve been thinking about fashion shows and fashion lay-outs in magazines, and the ideas or themes, or sometimes the narratives they depict.
Take this photograph for example, from a fashion layout entitled “Fashion Without Borders” in the October 19 issue of W magazine. Shot in Istanbul, the photographs are lovely. And the clothes are wonderful. There’s a Dior coat in an earlier picture that I would love to own. But this image of model Julia Nobis striding across the cobblestones, skirts flying, in those red carpet slippers stuck in my head. Why, why, why did that image seem so familiar to me? Something about it… the running figure… the skirt flapping… the slippers.
High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story?
Of course. Wee Willie Winkie. That old nursery rhyme that we read as children. You know…”Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town. Upstairs and downstairs in his night gown…” And in the illustrated version we had as kids, Willie has on carpet slippers just like Julia Nobis’. I’m sure. Put a candle stick in her hand and she’d be the very picture of Willie Winkie.
High Heels in the Wilderness: Fashion Hyperbole... What's the Story?
  I get it… the narrative of that fashion layout in historic Istanbul, with the outlandish hair and the exaggerated poses and, of course, the carpet slippers is a tale of how old and new, modern and traditional, can work together. “Fashion Without Borders” … blurring “the line between East and West, orthodox and avant-garde.” Cool.

So maybe real life fashion tells a story too. Maybe what we choose to wear tells our own narrative? And a little hyperbole just makes our story better? For instance, maybe all those older models and bloggers who love layers of bright colour and mega jewellry and bold lipstick are simply saying: “Don’t put me in an old lady box! I am who I am. And I ain’t afraid to show it.” If so, more power to them.

So, I concede that people who wear clothes that make me cringe, just might have a different story to tell than I do. But I also think that to avoid “The Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome, we need to make sure our fashion tells our own story, and not someone else’s.

I’m afraid I’m way too conservative fashion-wise to wear my hyperbole. But when it comes to words, I won’t apologize for using it to make a good tale even better. Now let’s get back to those “insanely chic,” ultra long cuffs and pooling pants… for the life of me, I still can’t figure out the story there.

What about you? What the heck do you think is going on with those cuffs? Any thoughts on fashion hyperbole?  Feel free to narrate, analyze, philosophize, whatever.

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25 thoughts on “Fashion Hyperbole… What’s the Story?”

  1. Excellent article Sue ….I agree with every word! Sorry that I haven't commented on your last couple of posts. I still enjoyed reading them …as I always do.
    Hope you and hubby are having a good weekend. So sorry to hear about the incident in the shop …life is sometimes so unfair … I hope the rehab continues to go well. Glad to hear you're both enjoying lots of walks in your beautiful countryside. I always enjoy looking at the pictures from your deck area.

    1. Thanks, Rosie. Rehab is going well… much progress made lately. Walking helps the tendency to go stir crazy with boredom. Hope you are having a great weekend as well. Thanks for reading so faithfully:)

  2. Napkins. The lady with the cuffs actually has stuffed napkins up her sleeves, ready for when she pushes her salad around her plate at lunchtime.
    Some aspects of fashion are just too, too laughable (Emperors New Clothes exactly – remember puffball skirts anyone?), which actually detracts from the business of fashion and how we can still be creative with what we wear without looking plain daft or wearing something that is utterly impractical. For me, great fashion or style is when you have the marriage between fun and function, playful and practical – like the lady with the white cropped pants. Stylish, yet comfortable.
    And I completely agree about finding your own narrative. You can always tell when someone has found that whether that's on the more conservative end of the spectrum or more towards the outlandish end.

  3. Those are handkerchiefs to wipe her runny nose. Honestly. I think they dress this way to garner attention. Because there's an awful lot of ugly going on. I've read about how fashion bloggers put together outfits so that there will be lots of photos of themselves. I just ignore it an move on. Love your writing about it.

    1. Quite possibly they're handkerchiefs. My grandmother always stuffed her hankie up her sleeve. I try to ignore the crazy and obviously attention-seeking fashion. But sometimes I need to rant about how it's often characterized as "insanely chic" instead of just insane:)

  4. Your essays are wonderful: smart, thought-provoking, imaginative, relevant and fun. My view of fashion is that it must be first and foremost wearable. If it impedes my ability to easily and safely move or carry on any of my daily activities, or makes me uncomfortable (physically or psychologically), I do not like it and will not wear it. If it does not do what I need clothing to do in the weather in which it is to be worn, I will not purchase or appreciate it. Within those parameters, however, I am quite open-minded about what is creative and what is beautiful in clothing. I may not wear a piece myself, but I may still appreciate, even admire, it. When I went for a doctor's visit yesterday, for example, I was struck by my physician's clothing: a slim, beautifully-cut leather vest, slim skirt and gorgeous leather boots…all black. Not an outfit I would choose to wear myself, but on her, those pieces were perfect. They appeared to be eminently wearable and created a beautiful outfit but understated that fit her to a tee. I admired her ability to know and find what suited her so well and appreciated that she dressed so beautifully for the office.

    1. Thanks, Leslie. Very sensible guidelines you've set for yourself. I do something similar. Plus, when I try something on, if it feels like I'm wearing someone else's clothes… I take them off and let someone else buy them. Your doctor sounds very chic.

    1. Thanks Barbara. That image haunted me for days before I found the Wee Willie Winkie picture to support my gut feeling. Wish I still had that children's book we read as kids.

  5. I think you have put into words ( very clever words ) the way most of us feel about fashion . I love style but fashion usually leaves me cold . Leslie's comment is a good one too
    Wendy in York

    1. I know what you mean. I love fashion magazines, some of the shoots in Vogue, for instance, are very creative, with imaginative settings, props and clothes all working together. I love Grace Coddington's work. But I don't think these shoots are meant to be translated literally into real life. Leslie's is right…. clothes have to be let you live your life….not impede it.

  6. I always prefer the drier wit of litotes to the noisy energy of hyperbole, and you demonstrate that I can/do extend that preference to fashion as well as rhetorical figures. Understatement intrigues;overstatement fatigues! Fun post, thanks.

    1. "Understatement intrigues; overstatement fatigues" … great line! And "litotes" there's another new word I've learned this fall. First liminality… now litotes. I had to look them both up in the dictionary. Doesn't say much for me as an English teacher! Even though I am not unaware of many figures of speech…. "litotes" was a new one for me:)

    2. A good friend of mine in grad school collected words that described rhetorical figures, and many stuck with me, especially. "Litotes" isn't part of an everyday lexicon, but it's fun 😉

  7. Those cuffs would drive me crazy. They're fine for a magazine editorial, but absolutely bonkers to wear in real life (like so much fashion!). I'm a big fan of OTT style, I like things a little crazy, a la Iris Apfel, but it still has to be wearable and comfortable. Those cuffs and the pooling trousers aren't comfortable, and probably aren't terribly safe either! I'll stick to layering on brooches, necklaces, sequins, and shiny stuff when I want to make a statement.

    1. I just don't get the overly long sleeve thing at all. I've seen shots of girls with sweater sleeves so long they gather then into their fist… like a little kid. No gloves…maybe? Who knows. Love your layering of brooches… and shiny stuff, though.

  8. My feeling is that fashion gets tired of itself in a way that we on the outskirts will never get close to. So we're thinking, just make some pants damn it, and they're thinking, if I make any more pants I'll scream! But, of course, I could be wrong;).

    1. I can imagine that they do get sick of the same old same old… good point. I guess I think that the fashion industry needs to be always mindful of their clients. I mean as a teacher, I was sick to death sometimes of teaching Macbeth as a play about simple pride and power, and wanted to explore the idea of the demonisation of women, or something more interesting to me. But I always had to keep in mind that I was teaching sixteen year olds who had not read the dang thing a hundred times like I had. And they struggled with the language and keeping the story simple was the only way I was not going to lose them. Sometimes I just want fashion designers to recognize that we are not them. And we want pants….damn it. What a fabulous conversation over coffee this would be among women who think that one can philosophize about fashion!

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