By MARY BROGAN
"CONVENTIONAL usage in dress, anode of life, etc., especially as observed in the upper circles of society; conformity to this"; such is the definition of fashion as seen by the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary.
It is a definition which must raise a hollow laugh among those who are desperately trying to find clothes fit for a life into which discotheques enter rarely and opportunities to look like a contender in the space race more rarely still.
So far has fashion now moved from the conventions of ordinary, day-to-day living that a friend of mine, asking my advice on some point, could say in all seriousness: "Don't bother telling me about fashion, I just want to buy some clothes."
Her comment is enough to make Dior turn in his grave and send a shiver down the spine of Balenciaga; those two masters could never envisage an attitude which considers fashion as something completely removed from the clothes one actually wears.
Yet I could see her point. She is as anxious as most women to look her best and reasonably up-to-date, but she doesn't really see herself pushing the pram down the High Street while wearing a vinyl skirt four inches above the knee or supervising the family lunch clad in a dress of linked plastic spangles (though it would have the advantage of being easily sponged clean).
I don't suppose anyone wants to go back to the days when fashion was dependent on the "upper circles of society" and women tried. and usually failed, to copy Mrs. Reginald Fellowes' Paris creations.
But it seems a little hard that the pendulum should have swung so far that the new idols are skinny, dolly like models, most of them barely out of their teens.
These 1966 arbiters of elegance (to use a currently dirty word) are as irrelevant to ordinary life as were the social butterflies of the thirties, and for much the same reason.
They lead a highly specialised existence which allows far more time to be devoted purely to their appearance each day than most people can afford in a week and they have the money to discard an extreme of fashion as soon as it has run its extremely short course.
I know very few women who, even given that time and money, would choose to spend them in this way. What is for models a full-time job is for anyone else a peripheral activity and often an irksome one at that. Only someone with an over-sized Narcissus complex wants to spend every minute of her precious spare time keeping tabs on her appearance or devoting her thoughts and energy entirely to clothes.
What is really wanted, I find, by my friends, and that includes the friends whose professional lives are spent writing about fashion, is an outfit which is smart, flattering, easyto-wear and which, once on, can be forgotten.
With the possible exception of "smart", these attributes can hardly be claimed for the fashions being plugged at the moment, particularly not the "easy-to-wear" bit. Sit down carelessly in a mini-skirt and arrest is imminent.
In fact, it's perfectly possible to find clothes which are neither ultra-mod nor dowdy. The trouble is that people have become bedevilled by the "everybody's wearing" outlook.
Everybody Isn't wearing opart shifts with cut-out navels or ostrich trimmed cat suits, as commonsense will point out. "Everybody" in this context means a handful of size 8, teenage Chelsea-ites whom a roving photographer or an American writer reporting on the swinging city" happen to have spotted in the King's Road.
Because a fashion exists does not mean it has to be worn. Fashion features in magazines and newspapers serve much the same purpose as, say, a motoring column. They tell the reader what is available and leave it to her to decide whether she wants to wear it.
Untlertunately, extreme fashions by their very nature have a bigger visual impact than their more moderate relations, so that they are the styles which stick in the mind, making anyone over 25 feel she might as well go and jump in the river.
Before getting to the stage of thinking that the only reason for buying clothes is to meet the basic requirements of the law, it is as well to look again at the O.E.D.'s definition : "conventional usage in dress, mode of life etc."
In these days what is convention to one woman is anathema to another, so what each one of us needs is the strength of mind to decide exactly what our own convention and mode of life are and stick to it.
La mode, c'est moi should be the watchword.