In the world of diversity and variety, one of the phenomena which are consistently present in society is fashion. Fashion can refer to many aspects of people’s lives, like what they do, what they eat and so on, but clothing the most visible manifestation of it. Clothing can not only change according to different cultural, historical and circumstantial contexts, but it is a way to express oneself. Davis (1995, p. 5) states that “clothing styles and the fashions that influence them over time constitute something approaching a code,” meaning the way people dress can serve as a statement, indicating various qualities.
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However, whether fashion is significant enough in order to entail social and political changes is a somewhat controversial topic. Moreover, there are multiple ways of distributing information about the latest trends, which have their own peculiarities. Different fashion media like magazines, blogs, websites and social media platforms all publish fashion content. As fashion is inseparably connected with different spheres of people’s lives, it can subsequently fuel or enhance changes in society.
The Notion of Fashion
To estimate ways of fashion and society’s interplay, firstly, it is necessary to establish what fashion is and how it appeared. The fashion industry, as it exists nowadays, started with Charles Frederick Worth, who in the nineteenth century was the first to put his name on the clothes he had created. Nevertheless, it does not mean that before that, there was no fashion or style. In ancient times and in the Middle Ages, people paid great attention to how they looked, but following the trends was only available to the rich, and, therefore, lower classes did not engage in fashion.
In the twenty-first century, though, fashion became much more accessible and spread into people’s lives in many shapes and forms. Nowadays, fashion concerns not only clothing, footwear, hairstyles and accessories but also lifestyle, sport, careers and hobbies. Svendsen (2006, p. 7) describes fashion as “one of the most influential phenomena in Western civilisation since the renaissance.”
He also states that fashion has “conquered an increasing number of modern man’s fields of activity and has become almost ‘second nature’” (Svendsen, 2006, p. 7). Nonetheless, being the ‘second nature, it never stands still. Fashion is a changeable thing; it never stops evolving and does not follow some specific rules. It is the reaction to social events, and it is sometimes rather unpredictable, and its patterns can be hard to deduce.
Even being that important in the modern world, it is not something people have control over and can use. It is created by people altogether, but not one particular person doing something on their own. Thus, to become a fashion trend, there needs to be popularity, distribution between both people directly engaged in the fashion sphere, like designers, models, photographers and the general public. What can be used is the outcome of something becoming a trend. If a particular outfit, for instance, becomes popular and ‘fashionable’, that is when companies and businesses can exploit this tendency and make money from it.
This process of something becoming a trend and people getting extremely excited because of it was described by Back, who offers a dual perspective on it. He (2017, p. 403) wrote it is either “one of the crowning achievements of western civilization or it is incontrovertible evidence of consumers culture’s witless obsession with the trivial and the unreal.” This statement describes the development of fashion in the most general sense, but a ‘crowning achievement’ is quite a bold characteristic. In a world where technology and science are continually evolving and something new is discovered or invented all the time, deciding what is the most significant or most useful breakthrough can be challenging.
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On the other hand, fashion can make people ‘obsessed’ over the latest trends, getting them to spend money on something that is intangible. The idea of beauty and belonging in the fashion world does exist and is very strong in the lives of some people. However, others will argue that for them, clothing and such do not matter. Therefore it is unfair to speak of an obsession over some ideals. At the same time, whether the person is or is not conforming to what is fashionable is a position of a kind in itself.
The fashion industry is undoubtedly an integral part of society and is connected to its many spheres. It cannot exist without human involvement and depends significantly on people’s interaction with fashion media sources. Hoschek (2006, p. 22) states that “The fashion system consists of the immaterial process of communication, fired by material clothing.” Thus, actual fashion items serve only as a way of starting a conversation. People’s response, attitude, and desire to be involved are just as important in the development of the fashion industry.
The Importance of Fashion in Society
In the modern world, all the spheres of life intertwine, creating an environment where fashion can influence everything from economics to medicine and vice versa. The connection of fashion to social phenomena is clear, but what precisely those phenomena are and how they correspond with the process of fashion production and consumption can be debatable. For instance, Barnard (2014) suggests that class, gender and aesthetics are all constituents of fashion design background.
How the fashion items are made can be based on multiple things, including class, gender and aesthetics; however, the primary foundation is the cultural and historical situation at any specific moment. This idea was supported by Azuma and Fernie (2003, p. 415), who considered fashion to be “deeply rooted in the socio-political settings, national and regional character of people, climatic features and technological advancement.” Fashion is a part of human society, which reflects social and political events and also relies upon nationality and peculiarities of a particular nation, among which it is spread. It is clear that the global settings, as well as the situation of a particular country, are the reason for specific trends, and they are also influenced by the said trends.
On the flip side, the fashion industry can also manifest in self-expression and individual perception of people. Fashion serves as a reflection of different social and cultural characteristics, as well as having an environmental background, and at the same time, it has a crucial effect on the creation of self-image (Au, Taylor and Newton, 2000). So not only fashion relies on society in general, but it also helps shape individuality.
Yet again, some people may argue that not considering fashion as something important in their life and does not affect how they or others perceive them. However, fashion choices do shape people’s image, whether it is conscious or subconscious. That is why clothing can be considered an indicator not only of self-image but also of social class and social identity (Au, Taylor and Newton, 2000). All the characteristics of the aspects mentioned above can be deduced from fashion items representing the person.
However, not always the fashion choices could be used as a form of self-expression, and Crane (2000) described the influence of fashion on social and personal importance by comparing its role in the past and present. Comparing industrial, class and modern societies, it can be noticed that in the nineteenth century, clothing served as a form of social control (Crane, 2000). Women and workers had to conform to a sartorial style, while in the present days, all people can take advantage of clothing to define their identities, which is based on lifestyle rather than class.
On the other hand, there is a chance of misinterpretation, as fashion does it speak in the same way as science would, for instance. Any fashion choice is about creating an impression, and impressions can be misunderstood by people with a different perception of the world and fashion.
Describing the role of fashion in self-image, DiMaggio (2002, p. 404) mentioned that “the extent to which clothing matters in crafting identity varies with the extent to which one’s identity is problematic.” He also considered “the extent to which discretionary income and the structure of the fashion industry converge to make suitable clothing items available” (DiMaggio, 2002, p. 404). Therefore, clothing can serve as the identification of many traits and peculiarities, but at the same time, it is restricted by the person’s individuality and the ability to invest in the right fashion items.
The Role of Fashion Media in Implementing Social Change
The fashion system can only exist when there are interaction and communication based on the discussion of fashion items and events, which helps to unify, organise and regulate fashion (Loschek, 2006). Thus, the existence of various fashion resources and media is imperative for the system to exist and function properly. Describing the stages and constituents of artworks production Becker (1982, 4) lists ‘support’ as “the residual category, designed to hold whatever the other categories do not make an easy place for.” Therefore a conclusion can be made about the importance of people’s attention to fashion and their interpretation of it. Whatever the fashion industry produces will not be sufficient enough without fashion media coverage.
Fashion media include, first and foremost, fashion magazines, which are the oldest way of bringing fashion to the public and arousing discussion of it. There are other media like photography and film, and blogs, which are the newest form of fashion communication.
Although it can be argued that printed media can become outdated, fashion magazines are still diverse and widespread. Moreover, they are vital for the existence of the fashion system, as they have been consistently used over the years. With the fashion industry continually changing, Moeran (2006, p. 735) states that “magazines serve to link new trends back to previous seasons in order to create a reasonably harmonic continuity and logic of progression.” So magazines help to make sure that fashion is a consistent chain of various trends, rather than random events, disconnected from each other.
Both fashion magazines and the fashion industry, in general, are said to consist of aesthetic and material aspects (Moeran, 2006; Aspers, 2001). Aesthetics refers to fashion being a form of art, to designer’s self-expression, to the creation of something different, fresh and exciting, as well as how it affects readers, what impression it makes and what emotions it arouses. At the same time, the material aspect deals with commercial processes like advertising of certain items, promotion and selling.
These two aspects intertwine in the fashion industry, and one cannot exist without the other. Caves (2000) described the process of interaction between designer houses and retailers, who buy their clothing for their future customers. Designers create ideas for their items based on past and current trends, also involving their personal creative vision and desire. The buyers of their items are more focused on what the customers will wish to purchase and have no objective grounds for selecting designers’ items. Therefore, even though designers themselves pay more attention to the aesthetical side, creating art, they cannot entirely ignore the desired reaction they want to get from the general public.
Even though the direct way of purchasing fashion items is in stores, fashion media play a significant role in customers’ interests. They direct people towards forming a specific opinion, and the more people read and share this opinion, the more widespread a particular idea becomes. This way, fashion media can prompt the circulation of opinions, which further causes changes to happen. At the same time, Ang and Hermes (1996) state that media consumption happens in different circumstances and by people with different attitudes, which may result in many-sided experiences and effects on the consumers. Such an idea is reasonable, considering the scope of fashion media circulation. People’s existing views can be influences by other opinions, but the influence will be varied.
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The influence of fashion on society, economics and culture is very powerful, and understanding its force can help see patterns in society changes (Lemire, 2016). Still, some researchers disagree, and Stewart (2008, p. xi) stated that “Biographies of famous designers and studies of new styles have made on twentieth-century economic, social or gender history.” Nonetheless, fashion defines not only clothing but also lifestyle, and it would be impossible to believe that one does not affect another.
Fashion media can not only spread ideas quickly but make people believe in them easily. Some magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan have existed since the nineteenth century, which makes them trustworthy and respectable, among everything else. Respect is won by not only history but the content in the present times too. Covers of most popular high-end magazines often contain pictures of popular and successful people from the art world.
Moreover, those covers depict creators and influencers in specific clothes from a brand, which works as a selling mechanism of its own. Other than containing some advertisement, the cover serves as an instrument of creating the “consumerist ideology that permeates the magazine as a whole” (McCracken, 1993, p. 15). So firstly, magazine covers influence both the sales of the magazine and of the clothes worn by the model on it and secondly, they help produce an understanding of the magazine as a whole.
Fashion magazines, therefore, are the ultimate source of communication between the fashion industry workers and consumers. As Moeran (2006, p. 730) concludes, “Without the clothes, without the images with which fashion is portrayed, and thus without the magazines themselves, there would be no ‘fashion system’ as such.” This idea confirms the necessity of not only having some form of communication between the fashion industry and consumers of fashion items but also of the physical manifestation of these communications like fashion magazines.
Fashion media, having such influence on people and their trust in them, are undoubtedly able to boost social and political changes. Clothing is often used in order to show someone’s positions. For instance, in 2017, the ‘Tied Together’ movement spread, supporters of which wore bandanas to exemplify human bonds regardless of race, gender or sexuality. Moreover, it started at a Tommy Hilfiger fashion show, where models, press members, guests and influences had a white bandana on them. In 2018 women all across America, even during the Golden Globe Awards and government meetings, wore black to support the ‘Time’s Up’ movement against harassment.
The rainbow colours now tend to represent the LGBTQ, and there was even a movement where people wore pantsuits supporting Hillary Clinton during the elections. So it is clear that fashion choice does not only appeal to beauty and self-image but helps showcase political views and belonging to a particular group or social movement. It has also been popular in the latest years to wear t-shirts with some extravagant or bold statements on them, through which people can also express their views on the world.
The fashion media are definitely taking all these trends and movements into consideration and describing them in detail, giving even more importance to a problem or movement. By doing so, fashion media help people see they are not alone and that others share their position so that they can act more willingly or openly. In this situation, people will then feel more encouraged to change their current lifestyle of even some world issues. Thus, the fashion industry can help people display their political or social views, while fashion media are provoking more significant changes to happen.
Fashion has existed since ancient times, but recently it has become more accessible and its functions more diverse. Nowadays, fashion is not only about clothing, but it also refers to lifestyle in general, and it has become a way of self-expression and plays a great part in society in general. In modern times, there much fewer restrictions on how people should look and what they should do with their lives, so more freedom are given in all aspects. With that, people can create their self-image through the way they look, even if it is rather extreme. Self-image, however, can be created in many different ways, and therefore it can also be interpreted differently, so it is quite controversial. Other than showing one’s identity, fashion choice can help illustrate one’s social and political ideas.
With such diversification of views and multiplication of ways of their expression, it is evident that fashion can significantly influence social, political and economic spheres. Fashion media take this influence even further, creating discussions and spreading ideas, which originated in the fashion industry but spread into the general public. Fashion media are firstly a way of displaying art objects, which are fashion items and appeal to people’s emotions and aesthetics in order to get feedback.
They help communication happen between fashion industry workers and other people who are potential consumers of their items. This communication is crucial in the fashion system, as without it and not having contact with observers, the industry could not even exist. On the other hand, fashion media serve as a commercial tool. By way of advertising, magazines, blogs, and others help promote fashion items and work as a selling mechanism.
To sum up, fashion gives excellent opportunities for people to express themselves and allows them to see and express support for others. Fashion media are a great way to implement change, giving publicity to major events and movements, which are supported by the fashion industry. As fashion regards multiple spheres of people’s lives, its manifestations can serve many purposes, and changing the world is definitely one of them.
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