Whilst 2004 saw us bid farewell to our dignity and wholly embrace the low riding jean, and 2006 released the fury of the UGG boot, 2008 brought about the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. 

2008’s Autumn/Winter catwalk season collided directly with the crisis, and designers, buyers, and retailers began to panic about the future of the fashion industry. Prior to the crash, women had been able to keep on top of every trend the fash-pack dared to throw at them. ‘Primarni’ was all the rage and the throwaway fashion fad made it easy for most women to experiment. Yet, when the recession struck, these wear-once-wonders began to lose all of their appeal and ‘Investment Fashion’ became buzzwords for fashionistas worldwide; fast fashion finds were out and all attention turned to investing in fewer well-made pieces that would last a life time.

The idea of ‘recession chic’ soon developed into something more than careful buying, and designers began to join forces with high street chains like never before; Matthew Williamson and Julien McDonald were amongst the highbrow designers that teamed up with more affordable brands as a way of cashing in on the demand for discounts. From the onset of the economic slump, it became very clear that women were not willing to dress themselves in poor quality clothing and even in 2012 the Recessionista remains all about being both cheap and chic, finding stylish steals and being clever with clothing.

Of course, that is not to say that the British public will ever turn their back on a good deal. Since the economic downturn of 2008, retailers have seen Boxing Day sales rocket. In recent years, hordes of women have been found queuing up and down Oxford Street from the early hours on 26th December, desperate to bag themselves a bargain – quite often not allowing anything or anyone to get in their way.

It would be wrong to claim that the recession has calmed British women’s insatiable appetite for fashion; instead women have merely been forced to learn a whole new approach to shopping. And what about the student body? The recession has seen packs of trendsetters revive vintage clothing as the thing to be wearing. ‘Charity shop chic’ is omnipresent in every indie establishment going, and every it-girl worth copying can be found flaunting flea market buys. Yet, judging by the number of Barbour jackets on campus, it would be difficult to argue that a great number of students have allowed the financial crash to get in the way of keeping up with more affluent trend-setters.

Karl Lagerfeld told the BBC, “Very often in difficult times fashion is more interesting than in times when everything is too cool, too safe. In a bad moment change is the best thing that can happen”. Since 2008, the world of fashion has arguably become less elitist and designers have learnt to rely on the British public’s ability to afford their work.

Yet, retailers continue to cash in on Britain’s self-proclaimed passion for fashion, with high street stores consistently attempting to flog unappealing items at attractive prices, while Boxing Day has been transformed from a festive holiday to an essential business opportunity. So although a little more discretion may mean the nation’s eye for true style has improved during these hard times, many of us still fail to spot how retailers have learnt to exploit our interests, and encourage us to become excited about sale after sale.

It could be said that the recession has been anything but doom and gloom in the fashion world. But because we are now sucked in by the idea of a great deal, has it really taught us to become savvier with our spending, or have we merely just become victims of retail ploys?

Jessica Newsome

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