Decaying traditions: From fashion week to Wash. U.
More than 70 years ago, a worker’s union in New York decided to invite journalists in-house to feature their work on the popular media. The media community did not think much of the event, so only about 30 people attended. This feature show seemed to build a sense of prestige and exclusiveness for the union, and the biannual press party grew to a hotel reception with more than 200 people two decades later.
Seventy years later, we know this occasion by the name of New York Fashion Week—or, as people in the industry would complain, fashion month. Sweeping over New York, London and Milan, it is now a series of month-long trade shows that manufacture designer garments on an industrial scale. Whilst glamorous to the outside world, many in the trade dread its arrival and would summarize it as “depressing.”
So why do they keep doing it? The obvious reason is, of course, financial. Those meager 30 journalists have exploded into the hundreds, if not thousands, as bloggers join the parade. This attracts companies that use the venues as advertising platforms, hoping to lure fashionistas—and doing so quite successfully—into purchasing fashion’s “must-haves.”
The realistic reason for the continuation of the show, however, is not the only reason. A rather weak but nonetheless powerful reason is because the fashion industry must. It is compelled to join in the biannual “feast,” a keystone event in the fashion world that designers must be seen at in order to show that they are serious players. It defines the world of fashion in the same way that a big football game defines the college life of some universities. It almost functions as the Big Top at a traveling circus.
This begs the question: do we have to uphold traditions in order to define our culture? This kind of situation evolves into something of the likes of an annual neighborhood barbecue that nobody wants to go to but must attend because it defines the community. This is when we have to consider whether to persist and be cynical or uphold a tradition because we have to prove ourselves proud members of that community.
Or do we face the void of not having any traditions? Unlike many schools out there, Wash. U. does not build its campus life around football or, indeed, any particular tradition for which everyone feels enthusiasm. One can argue that we host presidential debates and conferences that we take pride in and actively join. But they do not happen on a regular basis and, therefore, are not ingrained into our perception of life at Wash. U. And if I asked you to name one thing that defined a Wash. U. student’s life, I doubt most people would have the same answer.
On many levels, this lack of context allows people at Wash. U. to thrive in their fields of interest and enables us to pursue our own interests without a tangible requirement to be part of “something bigger.” But I would be hugely euphemizing if I were to deny that the lack of a high-participation tradition allows bonding over mutual interests while causing the student body as a whole to gradually drift apart.
So, members of the Wash. U. committee, which side of the extreme do you want to be on?