(More's the pity.)
In a switch from the attitudes of the previous centuries, James I and VI (two Kings in every box!) repealed the English sumptuary laws, leading to a widespread proliferation of gold lame tube corsets and Swarovski-encrusted reticules amongst the lower classes, because, Lord knows, poor people have no taste, but they will spend money like it's going out of style on cheap crap.
(Several people probably just unfriended me because of my marked lack of sympathy for the plight of the poor. Maybe if they stopped supporting the Beadazzling industry, I'd have more compassion.)
In fact, the repeal of the sumptuary laws in the 17th century is directly responsible for the parlous state of fashion today, and I can prove it.
When fancy clothing becomes widely available to all classes, it ceases to have any special significance or value (the $500 you spent on a purple and yellow striped jacket because it said "Fendi" on the label was not an investment, nor will it get you into that exclusive nightclub that Lindsey Lohan scores blow at, because you, yourself, are not of the right class). When Mrs. Spillpox who runs the corner apothecary can turn up at the annual Maisey Doats Summer Fair in crimson silk and a gold-embroidered muff, then what is the point of spending your inheritance on a purple satin saque gown with ermine tippets? One may as well save one's money and get an education.
Ha, ha, ha! Sorry, just a little historian humour, there. Clearly, no-one has ever chosen to simply give up in the attempt to dress more outrageously than the classes beneath them. No, fuck the education and the books - if the common rabble are taking up with the silks and gilt, then it is incumbent upon the upper classes to search out rarer and more expensive materials and styles (uncomfortable and possibly toxic a definite plus) and make the higher echelons of fashion inaccessible to the hoi polloi once again.
So, if what one needs is an unborn lamb's-wool wig that gets caught in the 14 foot candelabra to make one the topic of dinner conversation for weeks, if not months (assuming that upstart Lady Danglethorpe doesn't fall tits-first into the soup again after imbibing a leeetle too much sherry), then clearly, the lamb must be torn from its mother post-haste. Forget ethics - social strata must be maintained!
(Anyway, Mariah Danglethorpe is a total hussy. She's a haberdasher's daughter, and always laces her corsets too tight to make her boobs look like two repousse oranges on a Revere platter.)
And so it goes on - gilding the coach is no longer enough when the butcher's son gets married in a solid gold carriage (the fact that the horse collapsed and had to be sent to the knacker's yard is merely the price one pays - or rather, the horse pays - for diligent social climbing), and the search for the latest, most outre fad goes on, until society is left with nothing unusual or rare enough to shock or impress the society pages. The rich are so desperate that nothing has become the new something, and starlets all over the country are waxing off every hair on their bodies and displaying their naked naughty bits to the world.
(And now that Britney's taken off the hair on her head, too, even this trend has reached its zenith. Look for the next crop of celebutantes to have leg hair of yeti proportions.)
(Braided. That should make Diana Vreeland rotate in her grave a few times.)
Today, there is no designer that cannot be bought at Stein Mart or Filene's Basement. There is nothing left that is exclusively reserved for the elite (especially now that using endangered species as home decorating elements is frowned on). The only thing they can do is wear ripped jeans and awful hand-made sweaters that sag in unattractive places, decorated with strategic Starbuck's stains. To be truly elite, one must wear the most unflattering outfits, as if to say "designer is so bourgeois! I got my clothes off a homeless guy! try to find that in a suburban mall, suckers!".
Sadly, hobo wear is now the new trend, which explains the proliferation of lower-middle class shoppers in '80s stretch pants (with stirrups) and a stained t-shirt that proclaims "Drunk Chicks Dig Me!", or, more topically, "Don't Tase me, Bro".
At least, I hope it does.