The Borrowers

...re-re-inventing cool

by Jodie Kharas
We are young. We are oh so cultured. We are ever so slightly obsessed with our own alternative individual style. We are the borrowers. Of late, our concept of the 'in' thing has slowly but surely completely transformed. Gone are the days when High fashion authorities such as Vogue magazine had the first and last word when it came to our wardrobe aspirations, and we've pretty much reached the end of our love affair with mainstream celebrity style. The majority of us no longer stand united as fashion followers; instead we've all gone our separate ways in pursuit of an individual, personal style that smacks. It's a brutal hunt full of five minute wonders and crushing faux pas' where occasionally even you will have to admit you looked astray. But first and foremost, like all great treasure hunts, it's every man for himself.

Though, there is an air of inevitability surrounding our quest; finding new fashions and style today is virtually unheard of, according to what fashion Designers churn out on today's catwalks--excluding un-wearable collections by the more Avant-Garde designers whose garments resemble art more than fashions--it's all been done before. As it would seem in all areas of civilisation where progression is stunted, creating a hybrid is the answer. As nothing new is being created, we have come to create our own versions of new by fusing together what already exists.

Fashion Design student and street style enthusiast, Sara Burden, believes this motley way of dressing has become what's exciting about fashion today; "To be honest, the people that catch my eye as the sharpest dressers are the ones that just throw it all together to create something a bit crazy. At least they're bringing something new to the table, something a bit creative. A lot of the time what they do throw together looks like it shouldn't work but somehow, right now, it just works."

Think Lily Allen teaming 50's prom dresses with Nike Air Force Ones and Creoles, Or Alice Dellal's dark and dingy, punk/grunge style fusion, or even the congregation of grindie (grime+indie) boys outside your local McDonalds. Were all adding unlikely ingredients together to create deliciously fresh style flavours. This eclectic way of dressing is made all the more interesting by the vast range of sub-cultural style that exists, literally on the streets, today. The style conscious will cherry-pick and borrow from unsuspecting subcultures to create a totally fresh chav-tastic take on Emo dressing with an Indie boy twist. Capiche?

Ironically, there is something very innovative about this neighbourly 'borrowing a cup of sugar' type behaviour between subcultures. Cast your minds back to the 1964 seaside riots between the mods and rockers. As Quadrophenia (1979) showed us in graphic detail, the two conflicting subcultures met at the Palace Pier in Brighton for pre-arranged carnage that occurred on a stupidly massive scale. The two tribes went to war for the simple belief that one subculture was better than the other. Borrowing peacefully from different subcultures is a giant leap away from this kind of style elitism that existed in the past. We have evolved from devoting ourselves and our style to one particular subculture, adopting the clothes almost as a uniform, to actively seeking out unusual garments from vintage shops or charity stores in a bid to look individual and different from everyone else.

Fashion Researcher, Helen McDermott, of the recently released Fashion and Culture title Distill, readily acknowledges this progression within fashion consumption today " I guess 'fashion' (as in catwalk trends and looks) is more accessible than ever--you've only got to look at the coverage surrounding the recent fashion weeks to see new trends are reported almost instantly via twitter, and copied on the high-street in a matter of weeks rather than months. The trends that once belonged to the fashion elite are now mass-produced in Primark.

To avoid clone syndrome, people are wanting to stand out from the crowd, going for one-off' and clothes so un-stylish they become cool." Consequently, fashion journalism has had to acknowledge this new individually-styled fashion consumer, with titles such as SuperSuper, WAR, and recently launched LOVE magazine utilising a consciously non-authoritarian tone, playing the role of provider to their reader, sharing a multitude of potential fashion inspirations issue by issue.

Though we may be only too happy to embrace a little history repeating itself with an authentic design Mod parka jacket or a shiny new pair of Dr Martens worn by the likes of the original skinheads, thankfully, with hindsight, we have evolved to become a lot more open-minded when it comes to fashion, no longer constrained to remain faithful to one single style, free to beg, steal and borrow fashion inspiration from whoever we damn well please. Though, both past and present sub-cultural style share the same place of origin--the street. It is clear then, that our fascination with accessible style that emerges almost as a feeling, surrounding a particular culture or even a song, still burns strong.

According to Lucy Gadd, PR Assistant for Brit label Fred Perry, clothing labels baring a close connection to street style maintain a fairly consistent popularity. "Working for a well established label such as Fred Perry, I can see the appeal it has to boys and men who have grown up seeing their favourite bands and idols wearing it. Therefore, the clothes automatically gain a 'cool' factor, which is something they must have still to this day. I think this is also because British labels that have a connection with youth have made a name for themselves through subculture. Consequently, these labels will never lose out on being 'fashionable' because they have status, heritage and have been worn by some of the best." So long as accessible fashion is booming, the future appears fairly bleak for high fashion brands, which could in turn, spit the entire fashion cycle out of sync.

As dramatic as it sounds, the changing state of fashion and what we consider to be fashionable could inevitably have an impact, especially when we address the fact that nothing is new anymore; how long can we realistically resurrect and recycle past trends again and again? Surely this swerve towards accessible fashion is a sign of the current economic climate, and never a nation to crack under pressure, true to form, were living within our means. Still, on a lighter note, with each one of us fancying ourselves as our own personal stylist, making do never looked so good.