Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Bad taste is the new black
At the end of my bed there is a whole shelf dedicated to scrapbooks – finished articles that I flick through for inspiration, boxes holding postcards and tattered family photos, containers bursting with images ripped from magazines. Every so often, my floor is deluged with Harper’s Bazaar images of models (I tear them up, but the Vogues stay intact) and portraits of famous writers that I rescued from paper recycling. Then, preferably while watching Green Wing/ Father Ted/ The Fast Show/ Black Books/ Spaced (depending what comedy mood I’m in), I proceed to fill up cheap scrap books from the pound shop.
I’m not sure what is so satisfying about this process – possibly it’s just that I love pictures and patterns. Being satisfied with a page in a scrapbook is like creating a really good outfit that juxtaposes unwitting elements together.
Recently I was looking through the first scrapbook I made several years ago. Inside, there are two snapshots of my parents. The first is my mum and a friend. My mum, her red curly hair reaching afro-like proportions, is dressed in a brown crocheted cardigan, with a petrol blue polo-neck and yellow joke sunglasses that make her look like a cartoon caricature. Her friend is similarly clad, with a tartan floppy fisherman’s hat, ‘bottle-top’ glasses, a pink jumper with an oversized collar peeping out, a floral waistcoat and countless strings of cheap beads around his (or her – I’m not quite sure) neck.
The photo was taken at my mum’s 21st birthday in 1986. The theme had been ‘bad taste’, and almost everyone had turned up in something vaguely seventies inspired, with a heavy emphasis on granny chic. That’s what was considered ugly when she was younger – a decade that has recently enjoyed a renaissance on the catwalk.
Looking back on this image, I was reminded of a famous Oscar Wilde quote:
“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”.
I think I mentioned it on this blog a long time ago, but the words still ring satirically true. Obviously I don’t consider fashion to be ugly (you need Tanya Gold if you want that opinion), but nevertheless it’s obvious that the whole fashion industry is built on the changing of trends twice a year, so that new goods are constantly desirable. This sometimes means there are certain items that would be considered hopelessly out of date right now (aviator jackets, anyone?), while others that were recently dismissed are suddenly ‘en vogue’ once more.
So is the idea of bad taste constantly evolving, or are there certain items that can be considered strange no matter the year or season? I’m sure that this blue hooded dress (worn over a second hand dress) was once considered the epitome of chic during the synthetic seventies. Now, when I look at it, I don’t immediately think “My god, that’s a timeless staple that I can wear every day!” but I do feel I can appreciate the rather strange beauty. Admittedly, I did feel like an extra from Star Trek on an empty beach at seven in the morning while my mum took photos. However, if it wasn’t made of fabric so flammable I felt glad to be next to a large expanse of water, then I could have equally been a ‘lady of the lake’. The style, from the floor sweeping length to the dramatic sleeves, seemed highly influenced by medieval dress. Anything pre-twentieth century doesn’t seem ‘bad taste’ per se, but just un-wearable now. When was the last time you saw someone in full Elizabethan regalia, other than at a period castle or costume party?
They say that beauty is in the eye of beholder, but maybe bad taste is too? One girl's dream dress could be another’s worst nightmare. For example, I don’t go out in skin hugging body-con, neon and trainers, as that is my idea of bad taste. But for another person, they might see my choices of crocheted cardigans and jumble sale buys as unfathomable.
Of course, here I am talking about bad taste in terms of popular opinion. Some choose bad taste (in everything from fashion to music taste) purposefully as a form of rebellion – think of the punks of the seventies, or even the hippies of the sixties. These were groups of people who chose to go against what was then considered the norm, so that they could consciously stand out. Where we might now see the original punks as subversive, I’m sure many at the time swept them aside as teens with too many piercings who listened to bands that resembled screaming and the clashing of dustbins.
My dad was a late punk – the archetypal middle class boy trying to lose his roots during the late seventies and early eighties. However, when he later met my mum they both went through a very second generation hippie phase. Both my parents tried on various personas for size before dropping them again.
The other photo in the scrapbook shows my dad standing on a street several weeks before he met my mum, a row of houses with net curtains, made for twitching, stretching out behind him. His hair is as long and curly as my mum’s (at their wedding they actually had ‘his and hers’ hairdos), and he is wearing what appears to be sofa fabric. Of course, if I ask him about it, he likes to tell the story about how his patch-worked two piece suit was tailor made to his measurements, and that it was a one of a kind classic. All I can see when I look at the image is soft furnishings - he wouldn’t look out of place surrounded by chintz table lamps and china figurines.
That suit still hangs upstairs in his wardrobe, joined in the gloom by a tie designed to look like a fish, and some scarily bright shirts. All relics of his younger self. He still loves the grey and blue squiggled fabric (I may be mistaken, but I think we might actually have a picnic blanket made of the same material), but although I can appreciate it from a safe distance, I will never see it as anything other than slightly odd.
Thank goodness we’re all different though. I’m so glad that we don’t all have the same style barometer installed in our heads, as life would be distinctly dull then. Maybe fashion feeds on judgement, and constantly re-defines the boundaries of ‘Bad Taste’, but style should be about celebrating the individual.
However, I refuse to celebrate jeggings – ever.