Colette Book Club – The End of Fashion

Yesterday I finished reading “The End of Fashion” by Teri Agins, July’s selection for the Colette Book Club. I have wanted to participate in the Colette Book Club for a while. Considering that one of my motivating factors for sewing my own clothes is my frustrations with the fashion industry, I wanted to learn more about its history. 

This is different than Fashion History, but there is certainly a good amount of that in here too. The book is written by Teri Agins, a writer for the Wall Street Journal. Her take on fashion is different than one might expect from a New York Times Fashion Editor or a fashion magazine editor. She clearly knows her fashion industry from the designers to the business. She conducted numerous interviews in the 1980s and 1990s with the people she profiles, but she also gives you the perspective of a slight outsider looking in and pointing out when the emperor is wearing no clothes.

I did not expect to learn so much about business and marketing. Even if you aren’t interested in fashion per se, her analysis of the shift of dominance from small business to large marketing behemoth is applicable to more than just clothing. 

The book started to lose me in the final chapters – I guess the stories of Donna Karan and Zoran just didn’t captivate me as much. But, what fizzled for me might sizzle for you. I enjoyed this book tremendously.

Comment I left on Colette Blog earlier this month:

I am reading this and enjoying it on so many levels! I was a teenager in the 1990s and I assumed the fashion landscape I grew up in was normal – I thought Armani and Ralph Lauren and Hilfiger had been around for ages. I assumed the Macy’s retail job I held during summers in between college was the standard department store experience for decades. Marketing has always been a part of fashion from my perspective. I assumed couture always = crazy unreasonable and unwearable garments. Now I have a much better understanding of how the couture of the 1920s-1950s shifted into what it is today. Thank you for recommending this book, I never would have known this book existed.

My Takeaways: 

  • I’ve attended multiple garment viewings at the museum I used to work at and I’ve learned a lot about couture houses and garments form the 1920s-1960s. But aside from knowing a few of the big names, I really didn’t know how that realm of garment production functioned. I learned who learned from who, what the philosophies were of Dior, Chanel, and Saint Laurent (as well as a number of smaller but powerful designers).
  • The 190s fashion world I grew up in was a fashion industry going through immense change – designers being trumped by marketing, consumers having more power in deciding what trends actually stuck, department stores that all leaned on the same mid-range designers and heavy discounts.
  • Lifestyle drove the changes in clothes – as more women worked, even if they had more capitol to spend on fashion, their jobs, their busy schedules, didn’t allow space for the high couture fashions. The Gap is an example of simple casual clothes that were modular year to year that took the population by storm.
  • The pendulum swings – fashion trends in the 1980s and 1990s emphasized inclusion and fitting in by having the same clothes as others. In contract, couture was always about being unique. In sewing and thrifting, I’ve created a wardrobe that is unique to me, made out of garments that at one time or another were part of trends. (But a lot of us sew the same patterns – we are putting our own unique twists on the same garments. I love this, but I also am inspired by those sewists who are making their own designs for themselves.

Check the Colette Blog in the coming weeks to see the full discussion of the book by everyone  else who read it.

The next book I am going to read is “Overdressed: the Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion”, by Elizabeth L. Cline. This book made the blog rounds a couple years ago. I’ve been wanting to read it and deepen by knowledge of the modern global fashion industry.

 What is on your summer reading list? 

3 thoughts on “Colette Book Club – The End of Fashion

  1. This book looks really interesting. I must add it to my reading list. I’ll make sure to check out the discussion too. Thank you for pointing it out tp me.

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