For all it’s worth, the mainstream fashion machine has managed to do one thing: entice people to buy things they don’t need to impress people they really don’t like, as the old adage goes. Fashion by it’s very nature is a fickle entity, relying on the constant rotation of aesthetic whims. The byproduct of this phenomenon is a surfeit of clothes that don’t, or aren’t even meant to stand the test of time. Instead, we are caught in a hamster wheel striving to procure the latest garb. The pressure is palpable given our image-driven culture and it can become difficult to make the distinction between what is necessary and practical and what is superfluous.
Everyday is a battle between conspicuousness and practicality. Utilitarianism, in which usefulness precedes style, one can choose to opt out of the fashion rat-race. This ethos takes what is necessary into account before anything else, rendering trendiness and novelty an afterthought. But can the two co-exist? Is it possible for clothing to be ultimately functional yet stylish? The answer depends on the wearer’s sensibilities. If you favor a wardrobe that is flush with exaggerated details and ornamentation, chances are your clothes will reek of surrealism–they don’t function in real, everyday life. Worse, they tend to have a disposable nature; once a fad fades, the garment becomes a useless relic. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who will only seek out a garment to provide coverage and protection from the elements, despite its ugliness, and therefore looking quite unpleasant themselves.
Founded by four MIT graduates, Ministry of Supply is a men’s clothing brand that marries logical function with aesthetics. It’s basically performance workwear (the 16-hour shirt, a basic button-down, with laser-cut button holes and perforated armpits for ventilation can be worn for the aforementioned stretch of time) that is supremely suggestive of utilitarianism. This proves that men get the upper hand in this respect. Menswear has always had the best of both worlds, taking utility into account whilst providing the wearer with a hint of style. Women, on the other hand, get stuck with fake pockets. It’s as if clothiers posit that women only dress to look pretty and the idea that work and presentation don’t exist on the same plane.
Unfortunately, womenswear seems to only exist in a superficial vacuum where quality, sturdiness and durability takes a backseat to design. As a mother of two, I pine for clothes that can withstand a 24-hour workday. Fabrics that are impervious to spit-up and razor sharp fingernails (for when your toddler treats you like a jungle gym) and cuts that allow me to assume any position necessary to get my 2-year old to lie still while changing her nappy. I want to look good all the while, without having to worry about how to get half-digested milk out of my silk Everlane tank top, or that I need to repair this hole in the crotch of my drop-crotch harem trousers before it just gets bigger.
Utilitarianism is not a dirty word. Our clothes need to be purposeful. They are the biggest communicator and should be balanced in every regard. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or a high-powered lawyer, those ventilated armpits would sure come in handy, just as long as a clean silhouette isn’t compromised.