Why do we think we want ludicrous fashion things? 

A teeny-tiny bag for the price of a holiday?! Er, maybe. Elizabeth Day on our absurd (and guilty) desire for fashion’s most ridiculous things

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By Elizabeth Day on

A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of Missoni shoes. They were patterned with the indentations of ostrich leather. The heels were a spiky six inches tall. The soles were flamingo pink. 

The tilt of the heel seemed both to lengthen and define the line of my calf muscles. My legs looked longer; my feet more delicate. 

The only problem was I couldn’t walk in them. I had to squeeze my toes together just to get them on. Whenever I moved, my little toe flinched with pain. If I took more than a few steps, I started to feel faint.

It represents all the worst excesses of fashion and yet, it’s so pretty! I hate it and in the same breath, I love it and then I hate myself for loving it. It’s confusing

But, oh! They looked so good. When I wore them to parties, I came up with a series of survival tactics: taxi to the venue, standing motionless as much as possible when there, flats to change into at the end of the evening. I still have those shoes. They cause me pangs of lust whenever I take them out of the wardrobe (they also cause me blisters, but I’m pretty sure it’s worth it).

I thought of those shoes again recently when I received an email informing me that the designer Mansur Gavriel has produced a mini-mini handbag. At a little over five inches high and four inches deep, the mini-mini bag does exactly what it says on the (teeny-tiny) tin. Its defining feature is its exceptional smallness. It is so small, in fact, that you can hardly fit anything in it beyond maybe a lipstick and a squashed-up tissue. It costs £450. It is entirely absurd.

And yet, gazing at it on the Dover Street Market website, I can’t help but feel it is also, in its own way, sort of gorgeous. It represents all the worst excesses of fashion and yet, it’s so pretty! I hate it and in the same breath, I love it and then I hate myself for loving it. It’s confusing.

But I wonder if there is something about the impossibility of fashion that appeals to us. As empowered women, juggling a perpetual work-life balance, we are so used to being sensible and organised in our daily lives that occasionally a switch flips and we want to be outrageously illogical. We want to be bowled over by aesthetics rather than worrying about practicality. We want to throw caution to the wind and buy something just for the sake of what it looks like without being judged for our momentary obsession with superficiality.

It’s not just the £450 handbags. It’s the cheaper things too. The Fenty by Puma faux-fur slides designed by Rihanna with rubber soles and satin-lining, for example. Perfect for wearing around the pool. Except not at all perfect, when you think about it. What with the fur and the satin and stuff.

And then there’s the resurgence in popularity of Lycra bodies.I bought one the other day from Topshop. I liked the way it slipped smoothly under my high-waisted jeans, without leaving a gap of wobbly flesh exposed to the elements.

It’s too uncomfortable for regular use because the poppers dig into my crotch (and not in a sexy way). I’m saving it for a special occasion - one where I can reasonably offset the discomfort against the necessary investment in looking fabulous.

Am I drawn to these garments because I have an innate tendency towards self-flagellation? Maybe I respect fashion more when I have to work for it, in much the same way that a meal tastes better when I’ve had to follow an overly complicated recipe to make it. 

And because I’m aware that fashion is fundamentally unimportant in the face of Syrian refugees and the Democratic National Convention, does it perhaps make me feel better to think I have to earn its respect? Am I wearing those poppers on my Topshop body like the monk in the Da Vinci Code wears his cilice: withstanding pain in order to scourge myself of sin?

Or am I overthinking? I’m overthinking aren’t I? Yes, ok, point taken. I should probably just wear my faux-fur slides and my mini-mini handbag and get on with it. After all, the most joyful thing about fashion impracticality is that you can’t possibly begin to explain it.


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