Tag Archives: change

Culture of Fashion #5: Fashion is Change

A Shifting Style in Fashion

The world is always changing. Big changes like global warming develop for years when small changes like putting on a black blazer instead of a pink one take one minute. Fashion can be seen as a representation of the change in our world, of a universal and cultural shift in how we look at the world and ourselves. Fashion changes because we as humans change, whether that is an individual or an entire society.

Elizabeth Wilson described the friction between individuality and mass culture in fashion in her book Adorned in Dreams from different points of view. One statement is particularly interesting when discussing change in fashion: ‘’[…] we may view the fashionable dress of the western world as one means whereby an always fragmentary self is glued together into the semblance of a unified identity.’’[1] You can interpret this statement in different ways by using the notions of the individual as a part of the mass western world, but I think it will be more interesting to discuss how fashion for the masses contributes to an individual identity and what these fashion trends represent. The tension Wilson describes between the crowd and the individual is, I think, characteristic for fashion and life in general. We all want to fit in but also stand out in our qualities and personality. The way you want to portray your identity doesn’t just changes because different trends are featured in stores like H&M or Zara (but they, of course, have an influence) but also changes through the different stages in your life. You won’t dress the same in you teen years as you may do in your thirties. On an individual level there are different changes that involve fashion, but this always relates to a bigger structure in society. A documentary by the Dutch program Close Up relates to the notion of an individual style in relation to a bigger structure of feeling in society.

In the documentary a thirty-something woman talks about how her style in dress is influenced by society and her position within society. She interviews different women who share this style and discuss what exactly causes this style. They come to the conclusion that they want to be more anonymous in a world of digital profiles and social control. Their style is therefore very sober with black, white, blue and brown colors and simple silhouettes that cover the body. They don’t stand out in any way, but form a silent counterpoint against the digital and social control social media and governments use to influence our lives. It is thus a structure of feeling within a certain group in society that dress the same way for the same reasons. The change in emotion and perspective therefore influence the fashion we see on the streets.

I think we can describe a lot of changes in fashion this way, which I do all the time on my blog. It is a way of describing how the Zeitgeist is reflected in fashion. Wilson also says something about this in the article Explaining It Away where she actually states that too often though, the relation that of course exists between social change and styles of dress is drawn out in a superficial and cliché-ridden way.[3] I think this statement is true but too out of context and also kind of cliché. We have a categorizing nature and because we didn’t live in the twenties, we can’t describe all the little social changes that influenced the way people dress. Wilson uses the flapper dress as a cliché symbol for the twenties, but it is a cliché for a reason. It’s therefore important to acknowledge the fact that all history is categorized and generalized. Knowledge of history is important because it is another way of looking at the present, which is more important in my opinion. Why do we love the big, furry coats now? Why are heels no longer in fashion? These questions are important to answer because the social changes that are happening now can be described through fashion and, in the most perfect scenario, create a perspective of society and what it needs. Fashion is change because society changes. Society changes because the world changes and our perspective that we have on the world changes. Fashion is not only beautiful but represents the change people want in life.


[1] Elizabeth Wilson (2007) ‘Adorned in Dreams: Introduction’, in: Fashion Theory, A Reader. Malcolm Barnard (ed.) New York & London: Routledge. p 395

[2] Doc 25: It’s in the Sky. Domogala, Sarah. (2013) Nederland:  AVRO Close Up.

[3] Elizabeth Wilson (2007) ‘Explaining it Away’ in: Fashion Theory, A Reader. Malcolm Barnard (ed.) New York & London: Routledge. p 15l

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,