Fashion can be considered a motif in Black Beauty as it is mentioned several times throughout the novel. Fashion, according to the horses in Black Beauty, is an incomprehensible concept. Much of the horses’ pain and discomfort is due to the need for fashion in human society. This “fashion” described by Sewell is not so much referring to the style of clothing as it is to what’s popular in society at the moment, what’s culturally acceptable, or what the typical custom is. The concept of fashion in Black Beauty challenges the value of human societal ideals.
There is one point in the novel where Ginger, Black Beauty, and Sir Oliver are discussing the peculiar things that humans do to animals. Ginger inquires why many of her masters have used the uncomfortable gag bits, since they seem so unnecessary and add discomfort to the horse. She concludes that “it is fashion that makes them strap our heads up with those horrid bits that I was tortured with in London.” Sir Oliver adds, “Fashion is one of the wickedest things in the world. ” Later in their conversation, Black Beauty asks why the unpleasant blinkers are only used on horses pulling carriages and loads, but not on ladies’ horses. Sir Oliver responds, “There is no reason at all…except for the fashion.”
Fashion, in Black Beauty, is negatively associated with humans. This “fashion” is something humans value, but horses cannot understand. It is described as reasonless and causes pain and discomfort to the horses. By the horses, fashion is regarded as “wicked.” Sewell uses the motif of fashion to comment on human society’s restrictive requirements. The blinkers and gag bits, which are human-made, mainly cause suffering to the horses and restrict their freedom of movement. Likewise, societal rules are made up by people and can be regarded as restrictive, sometimes causing discomfort for the people living under them. Sewell uses the horses’ voice in the novel to shed light on societal value’s meaninglessness as well as the mistreatment of animals in her novel.