Progressive Values and Fashion-Forwardness. Or why a pair of red soles do not a left-liberal make

ImageCatherine Bennett’s article on Asma Assad, in yesterday’s Observer, is an interesting example of the conflation of cultural and political meanings of ‘progressive’.

Bennett is commenting on the unfortunate assumption of Vogue, Paris Match, How to Spend It et al that Assad’s impeccably ‘on-trend accessories’ meant that she and her husband were necessarily political modernisers, dedicated to democracy and human rights. As Bennett observes,

‘… fash-forwardness and style do not invariably attest to sincere, progressive values. If they did, the stylish Mrs Cameron, the patron saint of minimalist kitchens, would support a mansion tax, and Anna Wintour, chicest of them all, would be crushing the right, instead of using her magazine to sanitise a tyrant by depicting his wife as a reformer.’

The idea that there even should be a link between modern fashion and liberal values is intellectually surprising (Marie Antoinette springs to mind), but perhaps not as counter-intuitive as it might seem. Especially as the link in Asma Assad’s case seems to be rather more to do with a Western narrative of civilisation, capitalism and liberal modernity than any particular association with left-wing politics.

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