An unexpected fashion article

Jessie Mathewson 23 November 2015

Fashion and beauty: it’s fair to say that the section is not renowned for its weight and depth. That’s not to detract from fashion journalism as an institution. Indeed much of that perception is just that – a perception. Fashion does provide what might be termed the ‘light and fluffy’ side of journalism, an opportunity for escape – be it a run-down of the latest trends, advice on how to work this season’s twist on knitwear, or a make-up tutorial. But fashion journalism can undoubtedly do something more.

Clothes provide an important medium for us to express ourselves, and on the catwalk they have the potential to transcend any message that might be conveyed by an individual wearer, and be presented as an art form. But the intersection here is complex – fashion is never really just art. It’s also a highly desirable luxury. And it's also a necessity. We may be inspired by what we see on the catwalk; we may covet the bags, and shoes, and shirts that we see on the high street; but we also need clothes to keep us warm, to protect us from the elements – they’re something we can’t do without. 

Over the holidays, as I prepared to take up my role as fashion editor, I followed the shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris. But I was also following something else in the news, something far more urgent and affecting than any Fashion Week. The refugee crisis in Europe is the biggest mass movement of people since the Second World War. Thousands of men, women and children are risking their lives to cross the sea on flimsy ships, in the desperate hope of a safer life. Many are living in squalid conditions in refugee camps, lacking basic necessities. Not just clothes, but food, clean water, medicine. 

Reflection on the refugee crisis might seem callous in this context, amidst articles that, however well-written, are devoted to food, theatre and fashion. Whatever degree of gravity it might aspire to, the lifestyle section feels like the wrong place. But isn’t this how we always digest the news of other people’s catastrophes? In the paper over breakfast, spread out on the table by the toast and jam; in an online article with open in the next tab; at the end of the TV news in the college bar. Our lives are always going on – incongruous though they might seem, it’s inevitable. 

And that’s why we need to pause, and string together those moments of awareness. We might come to the fashion section expecting articles about clothes. The clothes we want, not the clothes other people need – the clothes that are one of many necessities so many people are doing without. 

This article probably isn’t what you expected. It might not feel like a lifestyle article – but life in a refugee camp doesn’t have to fit into our neatly compartmentalised sense of our own lives. Step out of the bubble for a moment and think. This crisis has made me aware of the wider context of what I write – I hope that it’ll do the same for you as a reader.