From gold cards to dollars: Dressing down for the recession

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Cash and clothing have gone hand-in-hand at least since the first dancing girl put on a veil of coin-accented chain mail. However, the last few years have taken legal tender out of the realm of fetish and into the world of fashion. With that in mind, it's worthwhile to take a peek at the changing face of moneyed clothing and consider what it says about the shifting tides of the economy.

In 1995, while accepting an Oscar for Best Costume Design, Australian designer Lizzie Gardiner wore one of the most talked about frocks of the evening. Featuring 254 American Express gold cards strung together like chain mail, her mini-dress was designed to "highlight the enormous amounts of money celebrities spend on their Oscar awards outfits." At the time, credit was rapidly gaining popularity and gold cards were the coin of the realm. Had Gardiner made the dress ten years later, it would have had to feature platinum cards, titanium cards, depleted-uranium cards, or whatever the status symbol du jour ultimately became.

As the economy recently demonstrated, credit can't last forever and, when things get really tough, there's nothing like commodities. That's why the Bunka Gold Coin dress is so impressive. Although numerous fashion plates, including Paris Hilton, have long played with making dresses out of fake money, it took a truly impressive intellect to realize that the real money was in...well, real money.

In 2008, student designers at the Bunka Fashion College in Japan displayed an impressive amount of forward thinking when they used more than 1,500 Austrian gold coins to create a dress and two jackets. The garments, which weighed more than 65 pounds, were valued at over $230,000 in 2007. However, with the price of gold soaring, the clothes have become increasingly valuable over the ensuing months. Meanwhile, Gardiner's credit card dress has maintained a consistent value. There's a lesson in there, somewhere.

This week, French designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac took the final step into a cash-based economy, at least as far as fashion is concerned. Following in the theme of his Summer 2008 Obama collection, he introduced a frock that is, to say the least, incredibly money: Castelbajac's shift dress was designed to look like a huge dollar bill, with Barack Obama's face replacing that of George Washington.

For a culture that is increasingly relying on cash, not to mention Obama, the message could hardly be clearer: when it comes to fashion, the buck stops here!

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