The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the word ‘fashion’ is “a popular trend; producing and marketing styles of clothing etc.”, only barely verges on the true meaning and potential of fashion. While it often finds itself unjustly dismissed as a subject of frivolity, this is a grave misconception. Fashion’s function is in fact so complex that it is rooted in paradox as it operates on the basis of the amalgamation of opposites. Its effects can mirror the cathartic power of any good piece of art, ranging from awe to tragedy to comedy. It performs as a reputable tool for the sociological study of any given era, race or gender and also acts as both a physical manifestation and stimulus of psychological feelings.
Fashion is a soldier of great valour, honoured with the task of executing its duties in opposing territories. It possesses the ability to serve contradictory purposes through its paradoxical functions. For example, fashion is a means through which one may stand out from the crowd by exemplifying a unique sense of style. But it is also a method of fitting in if one chooses to dress similarly to others. For individuals who yearn for acceptance and approval, fashion can offer a sense of belonging. And for those who do not wish to be seen, fashion can be camouflage from the eyes of the world. However, for others, who view style as creative expression, fashion can be a means of transmitting their skill, embodying their personality and attracting coveted attention. Fashion is reality because of its primary role to clothe you. But it is also fantasy due to its capacity to act as an artistic medium for exhibitions of the imagination, just like paint or words. Fashion’s ambidexterity stems either from an elusive, fleeting nature that makes it incapable of deciding where its allegiances lie; from a tyrannical soul that intends to make us slaves to its limitless power; or from a heroic sense of duty to serve divergent realms.
Fashion is an industry of necessity and of luxury. Consumers require clothes for civilised existence and the fashion business meets this need. But it is the industry’s wonderful exploitation of humanity’s tendency to fantasise about and aspire for a life better than its own that makes fashion a business of luxury. Fashion is a trade based on the buying and vending of dreams through its creation and marketing of glamorous goods. The industry is not necessarily embedded in a cynical materialism as the consumer’s interaction with it does not solely revolve around the acquiring of objects. It is instead related to a more innocent idealism as the industry is simply responding to the consumer’s vision of a certain lifestyle or self-image that they long to saturate themselves with in the hope that it may enhance their mundane life. There are a multitude of positive things that improve our lives which we cannot purchase but rather have to wait for fortune to award us with. But while we wait, fashion offers us the opportunity to mould the life and image that we visualise for ourselves. However, fashion is not just its own industry but also feeds into every other, from the more obviously stylish movie and music businesses, to ordinary clerical work, to the rough armed forces. In the world of professions, it is utilised as a visual representation of status or role. Whether a given business insists on a uniform or a more lenient dress code, their choice is based on what they want to communicate about their company through the influential medium of fashion.
Fashion is invested with a host of intellectual properties for which it rarely receives credit. It is an art due to its eminence as an aesthetically dynamic, visual instrument. It is a science because of the specialist skill it takes to successfully experiment with its elements. Fashion carries social and psychological weight. It can be employed as a historical device for the exploration of society’s preoccupations during a particular era. Fashion trends act as a sign of the times and a visual depiction of a period in history. One may recognise the decade or century that an event occurred in by glimpsing the clothes that the people are wearing. Fashion is also a cultural and religious indicator as different corners of the globe and the beliefs of its citizens may be deciphered by observing their dress sense. It plays a vital role in patriotism and national identity arising from tradition and designated colour combinations. Fashion is the decisive marker of gender, whether it is an embodiment of masculinity, femininity or an ambiguous androgyny. Fashion harnesses the psychological power in the way that it can personify or induce a certain state of mind through colour or style association.
Fashion is a philosophical phenomenon whose qualities can be utilised by everyone, everywhere, all the time. It is a universal force whose omnipotence should not be ignored as it lurks in even the most unsuspecting places. It is the art of everyday life that we are constantly creating or viewing. It is so much more than “a popular trend”.
Written by Nicole Clinton and originally written for The UCC Express in December 2014. The above image had been photographed for Numéro December 2016/January 2017 issue.
All rights reserved. No part of Fashion Philosophy publication may be reproduced in whole or in part without a written permission. Featured content is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-Commercial / No-Derivs International License. All views expressed in Fashion Philosophy are of the respective contributors and are not necessarily shared by the editors and fellow contributors. © 2016 Fashion Philosophy.