Crazy fashion

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Is fashion something we can still afford in this age of brutal austerity?

In the 1940s, before working class youth began earning enough to dress up at weekends, high fashion belonged exclusively to the aristocracy and well-heeled city types. They could afford Christian Dior or Norman Hartnell. We oiks loped around in WW2 army surplus, and only saw what the toffs and debutantes were wearing on the weekly Pathé newsreels at the cinema.

However, a decade after the war, a new species of British human being was invented- the teenager. Between 1955-1960 we ceased being carbon copies of our hard-up parents and developed a sense of fashion.

It began with denim. We knew jeans existed because we had seen James Dean and Elvis wearing them, but the word jeans did not exist in British shops.

The British word was overalls. If you had mentioned the name Levi Strauss people would have thought you were referring to a waltzing Rabbi.

My first pair of rugged, Frisco-made Levi 501s, bought in New York in 1960, cost me a week’s wages and lasted me fifteen years. Today, I can buy a pair of Levi-styled jeans at Tesco for £8.

From the 1960s onwards, fashion began to expand across class boundaries, but one element the upper crust had always remained - exclusivity.

And exclusivity goes with branding, and that means big, big prices. Today a new kind of fashion insanity infects everything, and its catch-all word is designer.

Every item we buy is some kind of statement. Today the most important thing is not quality, but price.

Even a simple cup of coffee is now a premium product and you are paying well over £2 not because it’s deliciously exquisite but because it’s Starbucks or Costa.

Giorgio Armani said that ‘the difference between style and fashion is quality.’ I think he got that wrong. I will take a charity shop over designer bankruptcy any time.