Natalie Wall | 12 November, 2018
We know that fashion moves in seasons, however we are less inclined to think about how trends may be products of our political, or financial climate. The recent trend for transparent plastic garments could be a reflection of our desire for transparency in our muddied political sphere.
Experts and fashionistas alike have theorised that our tastes in fashion reflect the political, social, and financial climate. Think of the iconic shoulder pads of the 1980s when more women were entering the corporate workforce, or the popularity of the mini-skirt following the widespread availability of the pill in the 1960s. More technically, researchers at IBM have found that typically in an economic downturn the height of women’s heels increases as consumers ‘turn to more flamboyant fashions as a means of fantasy and escape’ from the trials of recession.
More recently I think of the 1960s and 70s fashions resurgence in 2015 and 2016, a period of political instability in the UK pre and post the Brexit vote. This retrospective gaze in fashion was also enacted in the rhetoric of Brexit supporters, a longing for the ‘good old days’ of pre-EU Britain. Conversely, perhaps those in favour of the European Union could be seen as looking back to a time of John Lennon and the punk movement: a time championing peace, acceptance, and youth political engagement in the face of generationally polarised opinions surrounding immigration and race. Regardless of which form of nostalgia was at play, it seems as if we wilfully simplify that which we idolise, forgetting events such as the Vietnam War, the 1970s energy crisis, or the widespread economic turmoil that took place. Perhaps whilst watching the return of flares and bell-sleeves with fondness, we were indulging an idealised nostalgia for a time which never truly existed.
Similarly, I see nostalgia for a simpler time of transparency and truth in this new clear plastic trend of 2017 and 2018. Whilst I first found this plethora of PVC baffling, perhaps as someone who favours the thickest of jumpers and opaquest of tights is wont to do, it got me thinking about the politics of clothing. From bags, briefcases, boots, and even trousers, this trend proliferates in nearly all forms of clothing and accessories. Some have theorised that this transparent trend has sprung from the contemporary infatuation with social media and the apparent desire for transparency of representation. If we are going to detail the minute goings-on of our lives via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, perhaps we are comfortable or even excited to share the contents of our bags and shoes with the world. A preoccupation with authenticity in conjunction with this transparent trend can be seen in the Instagram post of model Leandra Cohen: a photo of her transparent bag captioned ‘making an honest woman out of me, this bag’.
This idea of honesty and transparency is complicated by the contrivance of the wearer of these transparent pieces. Whilst we can see all beneath the surface of the garment, prompting the idea that people are expressing their ‘real’ selves literally through their clothes, we can draw parallels with the often-quoted critique of social media: that of presenting an edited and aspirational self. I can’t imagine many people would carry a transparent bag which showcased the crumpled receipts, matted ball of headphone wires and hair bobbles, and squashed three-week-old cereal bar that I have at the bottom of my mercifully opaque backpack. Similarly, who would recommend a transparent briefcase for the transportation of important documents? Instead, they are filled with objects corresponding to the self one wishes to project.
Furthermore, I see a link between these transparent fashions and the increased desire for political transparency. Whilst politicians and national leaders often use social media accounts, the supposed harbingers of mass transparency, it is frequently unclear whether they are actually behind them, espousing their own views. An exception would be the infamous Twitter account of Donald Trump, a figure who many say has eluded the traditional opacity of high office. His favouring of an apparent transparency won him vital votes amongst those disenfranchised by the usual murkiness of politics.
The rising number and popularity of transparent garments clearly shows that consumers are nostalgic for a time of clarity and openness, which (like the glorified 1960s and 1970s) perhaps never existed. This begs the final question of whether we will ever get tired of trying to see through to the truth of things – even if that truth is markedly contrived and packaged for our consumption.
Natalie is currently studying for her MSc in Literature and Modernity at the University of Edinburgh. She loves to write creatively, journalistically, and academically, having previously been involved in editorial and contributor roles at multiple publications previously during her bachelors at Durham University.
Edited by Autumn Stiles, Ailish Woollett and Gabriel Smith.