How to Read Fashion

I think I've finally figured it out. High-fashion (as in, runway models, couture, fickle designers) is like really, uber-esotaric art (or, indeed, writing)--you know, like those three-minute videos in galleries set on loop, with a close-up of a woman's belly-button and a fly buzzing around it. Bear with me--I think this one is good.

The way I see it, each is as obscure as the other. Pretty to look at, maybe, sometimes, and kind of interesting, if you're stoned, or feel like entering an upside-down world where nothing makes any sense, but otherwise empty.

Enter the fashion magazine: our guide to the fashion world, a dictionary, if you will, an art-history major for the catwalk. Today, you see, I walked to Tesco (the longest walk, in my current state) to buy soup, drugs, and a Vogue.

My Vogue, as it turned out, came with bonus material: The (Topshop-sponsored) Ultimate Catwalk Report. I was so excited! I eat this stuff up! Pages and pages of high-resolution photographs of popsicle-sticks-with-lips strutting (or whatever it is they do) down the runway in....you name it. Jumpsuits? Check. Toutous? Check. A snakeskin-print bag "that's part luxe backpack, part roomy tote"? Check. Pyjamas? Check! See-through dresses? Check! (Who says men aren't interested in Vogue?) A swimsuit with belt, heels, and leather trenchcoat? Che-eck. (Yep, you heard it here first: Spring is all about pairing your old bikini with a designer coat to give it new life--that's some sharp credit crunch thinking!)

It's like a freakish combination of pornography, people-watching, and well-timed comedy rolled into one glossy, and very colourful, package: amazing.

In the midst of my elation, I started thinking: how do they do it? How do they look at all these clothes (clothes? can you call them that?), at all these images of models dressed up like the emaciated dolls of our nightmares, and determine that there's a pattern for the upcoming fashion season? Like, wow, this poor model was made to wear a plastic yellow bubble over her head (check it--page 34--if you don't believe me), so that means that flamboyant hats are the thing for Spring!

No: honestly, I think they're making it up. I think if you put a group of editors in one room and another group of editors in another, and didn't let them talk to each other, they'd come up with completely different visions for Spring/Summer '09 (as it's called, apparently). I think they see what they want to see in the designer collections, and interpret it for us. To be honest, it's good of them: that stuff needs translation. They give us the trends with such authority, but frankly, I think they're probably sitting in their offices right with a glass of champagne thinking, whew, fooled 'em again!

And then, there are the pet-trends. The ones that they mention every year, the one they throw repeteadly against the wall of consumerism and pray sticks. Like the Midi-length skirt, which crops up every few seasons and looks like a good idea (but then again, what doesn't on a life-size pencil): it's a long skirt, no, it's a short skirt, no, it's--in between! But then you try one on and you realize that unless your legs are six feet long on their own it's never going to look anything but frumpy, and besides, you can't walk properly.

Or the jumpsuit. "Vogue still loves...jumpsuits," says this month's issue. "Get to grips with the all-in-one. It's here to stay." I'm sure it is: in the pages of magazines. Have you actually ever seen an ordinary woman walking down the street on her way to work, or to the pub, or to go shopping, in a jumpsuit?

Neither have I.

So I salute you, high fashion: for your ingenuity, your artistic endeavors, and, mostly, your balls. And I eagerly await the day when someone realizes that anyone can interpret what's happening on the kalediscope we call runway. In the meantime, I'm off to consult the encyclopedia Vogue in the bath.