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Who's A Fashion Victim?


 Tailleur, De Worth., Digital ID 817139, New York Public LibraryWhere did the term “fashion victim” originate? Wikipedia claims that Oscar de la Renta coined the term, and the phrase was used by Giorgio Armani. Fashion followers become victims when they get entangled in fads and materialism… Hmmm. The psychology of feminine preoccupation with fashion is a rich area for investigation. The most appropriate publication I’ve found to date on the subject has a clear-cut title: Fashion victim: our love-hate relationship with dressing, shopping, and the cost of style.

I can’t decide whether it has more of the anthropological or sociological in its scope. The book’s author moves from the fashion industry as a whole to specific feminist concerns, including body image and self-esteem. As individuals, we women begin to evolve an attitude toward these subjects from teen years on. And when we grew up has everything to do with our feelings: my coming-of-age coincided with late 60s social protest. Which means I’ve been wary of fashion—even when embracing it—ever since then.

And now it seems that our presidential contest will be two men in suits slugging it out. I’ll have more to say about the politics of male and female fashion in the weeks ahead…



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I believe that really the term is much older than Oscar de La Renta. Rather than relying on Wikipedia, and bypassing the Oxford English Dictionary (which often has incorrect or incomplete information regarding the history of fashion related terms), I went directly to historical publications databases to see when the term might have first appeared in print. I found reference to the phrase as early as 1828, and in a small piece of fiction written by LINA LINWOOD for Western Literary Miscellany in 1853. Harper's Bazaar had a racist cartoon titled "Fashions Victim" dating to 1883. An article in the Chicago Daily Tribune used the phrase to describe women who wore overly decorative hats in 1913. The term was again used in the Chicago Tribune in the 1970s to describe women in hot pants. It is in the 1970s that the term begins to appear on a regular basis in print, continuing into the 1980s, 90s and through today.

getting more information and revisiting this topic

Wow! Thank you, Heather, for your reply! You're right that Wikipedia isn't the defining place for information, although an awful lot of people use it as a jumping off point since it comes up so early in the search engine listing. Still, that's no excuse for a term that has to have a more durable life that springing from a celebrity comment. I remember thinking that I questioned that Saint Laurent was attributed with the birth of the pantsuit, and then I go and use an easy, but dubious source. But the good thing is that it got us to open a conversation. I think what I'll do is some proper research of my own, plus a real perusal of the book I cited in the post. Then, I'll do a revisit post, scheduling it now for July 8 and call it "Real Background on the Term 'Fashion Victim.'" I'll report what you came up with and how it stimulated me into doing some real investigation, then lay out what I learned. I'll work in your point, too, about being careful about what sources get relied on. So thanks for your comment! I appreciate the opportunity it creates!

Glad for the conversation!

I realized after I submitted that post that it may have come off as a little offensive - it certainly wasn't meant as such. I'll be glad to know what you find from your (much more thorough) research - mine was just a quick search through the newspapers available on Proquest - I would certainly recommend looking at old Harpers Bazaar's and Vogue's to see what you can find (Especially around the 1970s when it really picks up steam). It'd be interesting to see how the term relates to Iconic fashion, or notoriously 'bad' fashion (aka hotpants). Do let me know what you find! Heather

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