Stylepedia: A Visual Directory of Fashion Styles
Stylepedia: A Visual Directory of Fashion Styles
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Miuccia Prada, the Italian designer and brains behind the Prada and Miu Miu labels, once noted, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.”

While fashion is constantly changing, it is also a shorthand that signals identity, a chosen tribe, an expression of beliefs. Fashion both influences and is influenced by the social milieu that surrounds it, and is a vivid reflector of culture.

For anyone interested in the phenomenon of fashion as sociology, Stylepedia: A Visual Directory of Fashion Styles is an engrossing handbook that sets out the elements of scores of different looks and trends. Consider the chapter on “Trans-formation Through War”, which shows how clothes rationing resulted in the practical, masculine, and drab outfits that would lead to the reactionary, extravagant New Look of Christian Dior after the Second World War.

It is fascinating to see how fashion seeps from one continent and culture to another. In the 1960s, the Mod subculture emerged in reaction to post-war conservatism. Bright, sharp-edged clothes were influenced by Italian and French design, icy pale lipsticks shone under blunt caps of hair, and miniskirts over coloured tights were de rigueur. Men wore slim, cropped suits and pointed boots and rode Italian scooters.

At the same time, over in Japan, rebellious young men absorbed both Mod and American Ivy League elements of dress and synthesised a style known as Miyuki-zoku, after a street in Tokyo. Men eschewed traditional straight, collared jackets and instead cracked out skinny ties and checked pants with letterman sweaters. Girls shortened their skirts and beehived their hair. All of this demonstrated the youth’s desire for a more open, globalised society.

In southern California, the young bloods of Mexican and Chicano communities were named cholos and their evolving style in the 1970s was a response to marginalisation. Signifiers included rosary necklaces, bandanas, and slouchy pants. This morphed into the elaborate cholombianos subculture in Mexican working-class districts, which blends cholo streetwear and flashes of the Caribbean. Think gaudy, flowered shirts, handmade neck bags embroidered with the name of a favourite team or band, and Converse sneakers. It’s all about the hair: long, slicked-down sideburns and a shaved patch at the back with a rat tail and beaded forelocks.

Aussie “bogan” style means a flannel shirt or a singlet and tats, accessorised with beer cans. Congolese sapeurs wear dazzling tailored suits, hats, and spats, borrowing from the jazz age. Some young Japanese women are raiding Victorian-era demureness with the Lolita look — flounced skirts, cameo brooches, and parasols. The doll-like innocence is a reaction to the hypersexualisation and casualness of Western dress.

Fashion, ever responding, ever mutating, “is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events,” wrote the great fashion doyenne, Diana Vreeland. “You can see and feel everything in clothes.”

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