Danny Ray, who died last week, spent forty-odd years as James Brown’s valet and body man. Off stage, he was in charge of the band’s uniforms. On stage, he was Brown’s master of ceremonies and ‘cape man’. It was a job that didn’t exist until Ray joined Brown’s entourage, in 1960 or 1961.
High streets were the landscapes of my teens, and they are now set to vanish. That would be fine if it also spelled the end of consumerism and an opening for something more decent. Instead, like a resistant bug, fast fashion rages on, from sweatshop to warehouse to doorstep, via a growing precariat of exhausted delivery drivers, alienated on all fronts: from the products they deliver, the means of production, their fellow workers and consumers. The ‘alien object that has power over him’, as Marx put it, is packaged in cardboard and scheduled for next-day delivery.
We knew what she would wear. The white pantsuit was waiting for Kamala Harris to take the stage in Wilmington on Saturday night as the United States’ first female vice president elect. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a white pantsuit when she was sworn into Congress in 2019; Hillary Clinton wore one when she accepted the Democratic nomination in 2016; Geraldine Ferraro wore a white suit when she joined Walter Mondale as his running mate in 1984; Shirley Chisholm wore white when she became the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, in 1968. The Democratic women in Congress dressed in white as a protest at Trump’s State of the Union addresses in 2019 and 2020. The tradition is usually traced to the suffragettes, in particular the 1908 Women’s Sunday march to Hyde Park, whose organisers urged women to dress in white to convey the high-minded purity of their intentions. But earlier than that, all-white clothing had been adopted as a political statement by the feminist, socialist, trade unionist and anticolonial activist Annie Besant.
The appalling state of working conditions in the Leicester garment industry has been known for at least a decade. Channel 4’s Dispatches broadcast an investigation in 2010 that revealed all the trademarks of endemic exploitation: pay at half the minimum wage; dangerous and unsanitary conditions; harassment and abuse. In 2015, the Ethical Trading Initiative commissioned research that found significant under or non-payment of wages; excessive working hours; a captive, vulnerable and exploited workforce; absence of contracts; egregious health and safety violations.
Within days of Covid-19 taking hold in the US and Europe, demand for fast fashion crashed. The production line was frozen. There were products in the design stage, fabric on order, fabric waiting to be cut, already cut, sewn, finished, ready for shipping, en route to stores, sitting in warehouses waiting for distribution, hanging in shops waiting to be bought. On any given day, these goods have a total value of billions of pounds. The question, when the crisis hit, was what to do with all the orders: some in progress, some finished and ready for shipping, some already shipped and awaiting sale.
I'm not one to talk. I know very well about the befuddling spell of clothes, the nature of desire fulfilled for just a moment by the perfect this or that, and then the need to find it again. What I want is the elegant, the perfectly simple and comfortable that tends to come at a bit of a price. It's at this point that Buzz Bissinger, the writer, 20 years ago, of Friday Night Lights- and I part company. Though had I known about it we would have parted company when he endorsed Mitt Romney. He spends all he wants on clothes, and at a rate I could only nightmare about, but what he's after is 'rocker, edgy, tight, bad boy, hip, stylish, flamboyant, unafraid, raging against the conformity'. You don't spend $13,900 on a Gucci ostrich skin jacket to achieve comfort.