Understanding Utilitarian Fashion
Posted on January 21 2021
Fashion in the modern day is a complex, multi-dimensional industry that is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone to define in any concrete terms. And that is by no means a negative evaluation. Quite the contrary in fact. It simply means that the merits by which we individually and collectively judge fashion as an artistic expression are becoming more and more subjective with every passing collection, and thus open to further interpretation and discussion.
For the most part, we as consumers and creators have an inherent predisposition to view fashion in a similar way to the way in which we view ‘art’ in its most universally recognised forms (paintings, drawings, sculptures etc). By this, we mean that there is a tendency to perceive fashion as purely a visual medium, and not much more. The efficacy (and subsequently the success) of any designer’s collection is usually determined, in large part, by its visual appeal; what the choice of graphics, colours and fabrics make us feel and what they represent. But what about the practical merits? Should we not also place an emphasis on how our fashion articles actually perform in the real world?
These are exactly the kind of questions that designers who are at the forefront of pioneering utilitarian fashion seek to address. We’re seeing a growing trend within the industry whereby collections are beginning to place a deliberate focus on performance, wearability, sustainability and other qualities that introduce a whole new sub-division of reasons to invest in contemporary fashion. Utilitarian fashion has been known to draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including military gear, technology and futurism and outdoor apparel, often combining and overlapping themes to create new and unique aesthetics. The cargo (or combat) pant is a perfect example of a classic military staple that has been reappropriated for a staple casual attire silhouette in the modern man’s wardrobe. The typically loose-fitting shape is perfect for mobility, while the multiple, spacious cargo pockets allow for the transportation of a great number of essentials. It’s a classic style that celebrates functionality in fashion, a concept that is well represented in Off-White’s arrow parachute cargo pants and the convert cargo pants from Stone Island Shadow Project.
Of course, the intrinsic emphasis on practicality and functionality doesn’t necessarily mean that artistic flair and expression have to be sacrificed; at least not in most cases. Arguably the best examples of contemporary utilitarian designs are the ones that are both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Moncler is one such label that endeavours to strike that fabled balance between fashion and function with their collections, especially when it comes to their speciality: outerwear. Take their featured ‘Blanc’ down jacket for instance. From the fleece-lined hood to the elastic-trimmed cuffs, every element of this garment has been designed with insulation and heat retention in mind, understandably owing to the wintry conditions that Moncler down jackets are specifically designed to withstand. But it's the lively camouflage overlay that really lifts the visual appeal of the garment, suggesting its suitability to environments and situations that may not have been compatible without it. It’s subtle intricacies like these that make the Blanc jacket just as appropriate for country walks through lush, woodland areas as it is for adventures at the alpine ski resorts.
We’re really just scratching the surface here when it comes to the seemingly limitless potential for innovation that utilitarianism allows. There are just so many opportunities to experiment and create some truly unique designs and we simply can’t wait to see what exciting new ideas designers will present going forward. Utilitarian fashion is much more than just ‘another passing trend’, and those who regard it as such are understating its immense scope and reach within the modern scene. In truth, it’s conceivably existed in some form or another for as long as we’ve worn clothes and we see no reason that it should become obsolete any time soon.