The fashion images that bombard us often come across as being fixated on mere appearances – so much so that trendy pieces become somewhat synonymous with pointless vanity. This, coupled with fashion’s obsession with change, suggests that something so ephemeral is unlikely to be practical.
Credits: Sam Alive Tumblr 2014
On the other end of the spectrum, pieces with high functionality often struggle to break into the mainstream market as they are often not the most flattering option for the style-conscious majority. The existing contradiction between the two makes it almost impossible to combine fashion and function. Thankfully, ‘almost’ is not an absolute term. While fashion may not equate to comfort, and function may not promise elegance, there are instances where the two intersect seamlessly.
Image by Sneaker News, 2016
It may have been unfathomable decades ago, but there now exists a generation of teenagers who have never owned a pair of jeans. This new breed has chosen Netflix over television and prized online messaging above real- world interaction. In a similar vein, they are dismissing good old-fashioned denim in favor of joggers and leggings. Off the treadmill, Alexander Wang declared “I live in gym clothes”. With connotations of youth and vitality, it is not hard to see how this statement would strike a chord amongst people who readily embrace sportswear as “more than just gym garments”.
While sports performance clothing is based largely on functionality, fashion designers have drawn inspiration from its vocabulary to create conceptual designs. In a case of meta-collaborations, Y-3 teamed up with Roland Garros to produce a line of tennis wear by assimilating both fashion and function to produce wholly spectacular pieces. Numerous giants in the world of sporting goods follow suit as they attempt to blend the utilitarian ideals of sportswear without compromising its stylistic aspects.
Image by Astridruke VSCO, 2016
Before becoming an adolescent rite of passage, jeans were intended as hardy work wear for proletarians. Given the thick cotton fabric and stretchable nature, jeans quickly went on to represent a vital part of what we termed “Youthquake” in the sixties. But while jeans are arguably the most functional of all trousers, their practicality does not make them any less stylish. Given its open-endedness, fashion has always been able to intervene the denim’s design, keeping it relevant and trendy over the decades. Despite the decline in physical labor, jeans have remained a robust fashion staple in this technologically advanced age.
Now in the 21st century, designers are constantly drawing inspiration to develop new styles based on their unique fashion vocabulary. In fact, jeans are included in the collections of these designers, where they remain – to this date – in all their incarnations: bleached and raw (at Celine), patched and distressed (at Junya Watanabe), baggy and effortless (at Yohji Yamamoto), elegant and studded (at Balmain), and exquisitely embroidered (at Anna Sui).
Image by Tim Suen, 2015
Another example is the military uniform, which underscores an occasion where function creates the framework in which fashion can flourish. Embellished with capacious pockets and numerous zippers, these utilitarian pieces are borne out of necessity and designed with feasibility in mind. Since then, the military uniform has not just been functional, but it has also carried identification through its muted palette of desert and jungle fatigues: Russia employed grigio-verde (grey-green), while Germany adopted feldgrau (field grey). In order to hide various branches of the military, the contrast is further elaborated in the use of different camouflages – British Disruptive Pattern Material, American Woodland and Belgium Jigsaw.
Be it the varied topography, physical geography, or cultural practice, military uniforms have been responsible for pieces that are cornerstones of our wardrobe over the decades. While the trend is nothing new, it deserves a crisp salute for constantly returning over the decades–each time more creatively updated by designers.
Image by Margaret Zhang, 2014
A true staple of rebel attire, the leather jacket is an extension of its wearer’s character. According to McDonald-Walker, riding a motorcycle with a leather jacket is “a mode of being”. Over the decades, the emblematic garment has taken on multiple roles of identification; making its wearer a hero, an anarchist, a rock star or a sex icon. On top of that, leather is an ideal fabric, providing warmth and protection from rain as its wearer slides on bumpy pavements.
When it comes to functionality, having the right skin and appropriate tanning determines the role of the piece. For instance, a woolen lining with a cowhide is better suited for cold climates, while a light water repellent polyester lining with thinner lambskin is preferable for warm tropical climates. These choices can dictate everything from looks to comfort, to performance and durability. Such customization is key for wearers who desire to add a timeless urban edge to an otherwise staid outfit.
Image by Fitbit, 2015
While many continue to envision the convergence of fashion and function as the future, I feel otherwise. Perhaps fashion and function should not be viewed separately. If we believe fashion exists in the absence of function, we are discounting fashion as a form of self-expression; if we acknowledge that function exists without aesthetic, we are dismissing the beauty of practicality. Until we see the relationship between the two and view them as different sides of a same coin, we will never truly appreciate apparels for what they are.