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Emily Popek

March 6, 2014

In defense of 'ladies wearing pretty dresses'

I’ve been interested in fashion for as long as I can remember. And for about as long, I’ve been a little bit ashamed of it. 

As a kid, I loved to draw, and my favorite things to draw were, as my sister once put it, “ladies wearing pretty dresses.” As I grew older, she, and others, encouraged me to branch out and tackle artistic subjects that were, at least implicitly, more highbrow. And I did, at times, but I always came back to those ladies and their pretty dresses, which gave me such joy to draw. 

In junior high or high school, I started subscribing to fashion magazines and studying fashion history. I kept on drawing ladies in pretty dresses, this time with renewed purpose. I took a sewing class, and began thinking about design school and fashion illustration as a career. 

Around that time, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine whose passions included, but were not limited to, veganism, social justice and animal rights. 

“I don’t see how you can waste your time on something like fashion,” she commented when I told her I was thinking about design school. “Wouldn’t you rather do something that actually makes a difference?” 

For once, I was without a ready retort. And her words have stuck with me for these many years. Because, even though I gave up drawing my ladies in pretty dresses, I still love fashion, and I still, up until very recently, have felt pretty sheepish about it. But I’ve decided that I don’t need to apologize for it anymore. In fact, I would argue that fashion is no more or less valid a subject of interest than any other material art. And yet it is so easily dismissed as a vapid, meaningless pursuit; the intellectual equivalent of eating cotton candy. 

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