There has been a lot of discussion about the role of art in man's life. Is there any objectivist literature on the topic of clothes and fashion?
Do clothes belong to the category of artistic expression? Do they represent an individual expression of a sense-of-life, or does fashion represent man's submission to collective? Old style fashion may look funny to us now, but we now walk around in blue pants, the jeans, color of dirt?. Why are we all wearing dark blue? If man should extoll the physical body, shouldn't we wear something else?
“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
Although this quote is attributed to Thomas Jefferson, I can't find a reference anywhere in his works. However, taking it at face value, the argument it makes is that intransigence in questions of style is not important and may, in fact, be a negative, whereas adherence to principle is important and a positive. Fashion is ephemeral and changeable, principles are not ephemeral and should only be changed in the face of contrary facts that are thoroughly vetted.
So, are there any principles of fashion? Perhaps. As a man, I'm generally inclined to dismiss fashion but given that a family member is an accomplished sempstress, I have had my education somewhat broadened in that aspect.
Leaving aside the questions of professional wardrobe - what actors, dancers, and various other performers would require for the proper fulfillment of their roles, I would argue that fashion, as applied to the individual, should be that clothing style - material, cut, etc., - which enhances your strongest physical attributes and downplays your weakest ones. For example, if a woman has beautiful legs, wearing clothing to emphasize that attribute - within the appropriate context - is a good thing to do. If a man has powerful shoulders and well defined musculature, the same would apply; for instance, a polo shirt in casual affairs or a well tailored suit upon more formal occasions.
I have learned that cut and fabric (among other things) are often essential in highlighting the best and downplaying the deficient. Fashion, or perhaps more properly, tailoring, allows one to create an idealized version of oneself.
It is important to understand that clothing oneself is, in the appropriate venue, a perfectly legitimate means of expressing one's sense of life. But the focus should be on the one's person, not one's clothes. To quote Beau Brummell, "A person who calls attention to his clothing is not a well-dressed man."
Now, in practical, work-a-day contexts, the question of esthetics should be entirely secondary. One dresses for the activity; while a hardhat, plaid shirt, denim jeans, and hobnailed boots would be out of place while attending the opera (all other things being equal), it is de rigueur in a lumber camp. And while a formal might be the exact thing to wear to the theatre, it would be somewhat out of place - all things being equal - in a law firm.
So, in the case of the formal "fashion" industry, much of what goes on there seems to be, in the words of Danny Kaye, "the attempt to make women look foolish and have them clamor for the privilege." While this is not true of all fashion designers, it does seem that the haute couture has morphed from its original meaning of designing (tailoring) around the body of the client (as opposed to "off-the-shelf") to a competition determining who can produce the most decadent and degrading costumes for their models.
As an example of this, in the Tom Hanks movie, "The Man With One Red Shoe," the female protagonist dresses up in a formal evening gown that displays what one might call "reverse cleavage." Given the spoof nature of the movie and its original version being French, it was a hilarious send-up of the decadent trend in fashion design. The irony is that it wasn't very many years later before fashion mavens began displaying reverse cleavage in their designs.
This is not to denounce all fashion designers, merely those who apparently get the most coverage in the press, probably because of their outrageous designs.
As to whether fashion is an individual expression or a submission to the collective, this depends on the mindset of the person involved. If one adopts a fashion because it flatters one's person and because one likes it, this is individual expression. If one adopts a fashion because "everybody else is doing it" and it doesn't flatter your person, then this is submission to the collective whim. Correspondingly, if one deliberately adopts an outrageous fashion so as not to "go along" with the collective, this is still a form of secondhandedness - allowing the collective to dictate your tastes, even if in reverse.
So, in short, fashion should be a means of expressing one's individual taste, enhancing the display of your best physical attributes in an appropriate way and in an appropriate context.