Fashion is a lot of things. Architecture. Art. Self-expression. But above all, fashion is subjective.
A million articles in Vogue, Marie Claire or any random Internet blog can tell us who the greatest fashion designers in the world are and what's the most fashionable thing to wear. However, when it's boiled down, there always will be someone somewhere who thinks the height of fashion is ugly.
"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months," said Oscar Wilde, who himself was known to indulge in the style trends of his time.
"Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are," said Quentin Crisp, a 20th-century English author.
When connected to Wilde's hypothesis of fashion's ever-changing nature and fluidity, it makes sense that you can change who you are often if you don't know who you are. But then again, it's subjective.
When asked about his designs, Ralph Lauren has said that he "(doesn't) design clothes, (he) designs dreams." On the surface, it may seem self-serving and narcissistic, but that is what fashion is about. Lauren designs dreams; to some people, those are wonderful and enlightening, but to others those dreams may be nightmares.
Perhaps it's fashion's subjectivity that makes it so compelling. It's not just designers and stylists and editors who partake in it, but also businessmen, children, mothers and any number of everyday people.
In the film "The Devil Wears Prada," Meryl Streep's character speaks about the color cerulean and how it started with one designer and "filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner, where (Andi) ... fished it out of some clearance bin."
She went on to say that cerulean represented millions of dollars of research and business and was not just an inconsequential color thrown together in a factory. Even when someone opts out of fashion and their opinion disapproves, they are obligated by society to wear clothes and in the end partake in the ritual they abhor.
Fashion is . Fill in the blank with whatever sounds appropriate. Fashion is up to the audience. Fashion is whatever is made of it. Even fashion that is initially disregarded by critics as ugly and unwearable may one day become the inspiration for the latest trend.
Conversely, French poet and novelist Jean Cocteau once said, "Art produces ugly things which frequently become beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time."
Regardless of whether you follow today's trends or opt for classic wardrobe staples (or opt out of style altogether), fashion is, according to designer Oleg Cassini, a "mirror of the time in which we live, a translation of the future, and should never be static."
Seth McCormick Cooke is a stylist and freelance writer based in Charleston. Reach him at SethMcCormick@me.com.