When did fashion get so… impractical? Recent trends – both on and off the runway – seem to have been characterised by the illogical, featuring towering shoulder pads, billowing trains, and elaborate details. But when did attaching heavy lion-heads to the bust of dresses and inflating puffer jackets to the size of hot air balloons replace the concept of comfort? Our collective “pain is gain” mentality might have become the zeitgeist, but I’m here to tell you that it’s wrong. In reality, the best type of fashion is and will always be fashion that’s practical.
Practicality is fundamentally at the root of fashion, a thought behind every garment, even those which actively subvert it. So why does it feel as though function has fallen from the top of our priority list? For one, we no longer have the jobs we used to. In the past, the functionality of your clothing was heavily based on your job. A video recently swept TikTok highlighting the functionality of a vintage jacket worn by submarine workers, cropped at the waist to accommodate the fact that they’re always sitting.
Nowadays, in a society where everything is just easier, clothing doesn’t have to be as functional because everything else is. The active roles which involved movement, freedom, function have been replaced with desk jobs and working-from-home. In fact, one of the few places we still see functional clothing in uniforms is in blue-collar roles, where brands like Carhartt have gained domination due to their durable materials and plethora of pockets (much needed in more hands-on jobs).
We might not require functionality on a daily basis like we used to, but functionality is still seen within a lot of our clothing. In fact, functionality is behind some of the most technically beautiful designs. One designer in particular who regularly plays with functionality is Nicole McLaughlin, who creates clothing and footwear from found and recycled materials. In particular, Nicole’s recent collaborations with Vans and Reebok have showcased her design’s play on functionality through scattered pockets, zips, and clasps.
Another designer successfully showcasing the style of functionality is Saul Nash. The London-based designer’s FW23 collection took practical clothing from the snowy slopes of the alps and adapted it for the streets of London. Utilising the practical features of ski-wear – like puffer, layering, and fleece – allowed Saul to highlight the beauty of ski-wear’s practicality without being bound by its function. What he created was sleeveless puffer jackets, slip-on snow boots, and cropped reflective vests; all totally impractical on the slopes but a symbol of the aesthetic of function.
Arguably, the popularity of trends like “gorp-core”, a style born out of utilitarian, functional, outdoors-inspired gear, supports our continuous interest in functional fashion. It does seem as though as long as we’re still venturing into the outdoors, functionality will always have a place in our clothing. Leaving the comforts of your own home will always call for more pockets, zips, vents, and buttons. Personally, we can’t get enough of them.
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