Fashion in its wide definition is the existing in a certain period of time and accepted by the society attitude to the external forms of culture, for example life style, serving traditions and etiquette, cars, clothes. However using the word fashion we usually mean clothes. The history of fashion is as old as the history of clothing itself. Since the moment when a man opened for himself the meaning of clothing as a protection from weather influence, it was not too long before he started thinking about its ethical and stylish function. Apparently clothes became the object that helped him to self express his creative and artistic view and attitude.
Fashion, defined as being the style popular at a given time, can be seen in every corner of the world in one form or another. Fashion is not only a very dynamic concept but is also seen to be specific to the location and context that it is in. Each culture has its own form of traditional fashion that can be seen in the more modern forms of fashion. As a result of increasing globalization many of these cultural barriers have been breached and the fashion within spills over into worldwide fashion. For example we might now see international footballers wearing a sarong in an attempted fashion statement. Role models are a key issue within the concept of fashion, and will be looked at further on in the argument.
Clothes are a clear form of division within society, whether it is between class, gender or even *** orientation. Anyone living in society can read into these signifiers and mostly have an understanding of what they represent. The clothes that we wear can often act a barrier between groups of people. The aim of wearing a certain type of clothing could be said to achieve a sense of belonging to a social group. As fashion changes, groups may wish to make a statement about their beliefs through their clothes, or lack thereof. Examples of such groups have in the past included those such as the ‘punks’ or the ‘Goths’. This idea of signifiers and signifieds is the reason that fashion has the effect on society that it does. If people could not read into the intended meaning of the fashion statement portrayed by the carrier, fashion would not be the important issue that it is and would in fact become obsolete.
Accepting for now the importance of fashion in society, its origins within society are still uncertain. Certainly we are fed a lot of subliminal messages through influential and ‘fashionable’ people that are seen on the television and media. Those with a higher proportion of disposable income are usually the first to spawn a fashion for the very reason that they can afford to be up to date despite the rapidly changing trends. Class divides are therefore easily visible through fashion, where middle classes can be seen to searing now and expensive fashion items. Whereas, on the other hand, working class consumers might be seen as wearing items that has surpassed their peak of fashion. This being said, consumerism is not exclusive to the middle and upper class and is enjoyed by all. Even those with fewer resources to buy often simply spend a far higher proportion of their wealth in order to enjoy the changing fashion.
Fashion is a choice, an intended projection of oneself. It is often the case that a certain pride and personal values makes people wear what they wear. For instance class divides are often a matter of pride, or inversely one of embarrassment. Even not caring what one wears is a signifier and again is a projection to others. The signals that may emerge from observing what someone is wearing can be as significant as to convey the strengths of being a man as opposed to being delicate. Likewise one might have the intention of being sophisticated in ones appearance rather than looking as though no effort has been made to please the recipient of ones efforts.
Traditionally there is a lot more emphasis on women to be fashionable; ‘women tend to be encouraged more than men to develop their bodies as objects of perception for others’. This applies likewise towards the clothes they wear. Even in the modern era of a feminizing workplace with equal rights and opportunities for both sexes there are differences in treatment that are accepted. The way that men and women present themselves in the workplace differs enormously, a man’s choice of dress is simple and pre-decided almost, a lot of pressure is put onto woman to look sophisticated, capable and hopefully attractive all at the same time. This could be seen as a considerable discrimination in some respects; however, it seems the choice of women in the workplace to try and stand out from their female colleagues by dressing up rather than conceding to wear a standard suite.
From an early age it is taught young girls that they must act in a lady-like manner, including how they present themselves. In order to become a wife and mother, a woman has to have a man; a goal represented to teenagers as essential yet almost unattainable. To get a man, a woman has to regard herself as a commodity whose value is based on her appearance and presentation. It is not the case however that women simply dress up in order to attract the male gaze, more often the case is that women have become subjects of a (female) voyeuristic gaze. Narcissism among women goes so far as for them to be constantly comparing and competing with their female peers. So, often it might be said that women dress up to be seen by other women rather than, as suggested before, for men.
Behind fashion is a vast industry of producers and designers whose livelihood depends upon the commodity capitalism that is seen in our society. Their aim is to induce upon the consumer the idea that they must continue to buy new products in order not to become unfashionable. Fashion is the purest and most developed form of commodity capitalism, in its compulsive desire to produce innovation for the sake of innovation, and to stimulate and multiply desire than can never be satisfied. This compulsive innovation leads to the characteristic that the fashion industry is so dynamic and fast moving. On to of that is the fact that any past fashion becomes obsolete as soon as the latest items are available. Fashion is therefore in essence simply a symptom of narcissism.
Consumers are influenced and guided by what they see to be fashionable. This tends to emerge originally from what they might see in the media and around high profile events involving the elite of fashion. Those that are seen to be the ideal, role models who people aspire to be like, are examined closely for their choice of fashion. Once this examination is over the consumer will then decide if this is a look that they would like to follow. This is the most common form of manipulation by the so-called organizers of the fashion industry. For example, this is the reason that there is such a huge spending market for sponsorship among producers. The hope is that as many people as possible will see their product being used or worn by this high profile person. The same applies to models that are paid to perform in designer clothes to be seen by the public. Glamorous though this sounds, there is a down side to producing and showing of these idealistic models. Models tend to misrepresent reality by creating this ideal look that is not achievable by most people.
So, it seems that the only control the consumer has is that of an undetermined level of self-control. People are often restricted to a specific budget that they then are unable to deter from. In this postmodern shopping age of malls and galleries where commodities are available on credit from the bank, most people are able to exceed their advised budget. A trend shift between men and women has also been seen in recent years. Men now have a great deal more choice than they may have once had in the time where the choice was between either a suite and bowler hat or a laborers overall. Now there is just as much emphasis on what men wear as women, with designer shops dedicated to just that.
The paradox within fashion of course with all of this mass consumerism and individuality is where one can then say that peoples fashion groups them into different sectors as a society. Whether fashion represents individualism or not, there is not enough emphasis upon its importance within society as a form of control. It seems that in every sense people are manipulated and used in terms of fashion and consumerism.
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