My project in essence was to make a wearable fashion technology that addressed the issue of gender identity by attempting to break gender roles. I believe the project was successful in doing this and raised a number of issues.
Barnard says that fashion is not fashion until it can be placed within the context of a social structure [Barnard 19]. Ultimately, this allows people to attach value to what becomes fashion.
Barnard says that fashion is a means for a cultural group to shape its identity. Furthermore, fashion can function at the level of the individual or the level of society [Barnard 21]. Throughout some of the readings there arises the white male identity. There comes the question of if I am one of these that suffer from the tunnel vision associated with white male privilege. The most important issue this raises is that fashion results in assumptions or generalizations that are attributed to people. Russell describes a social need to conform to a group mentality where society is broken down based on social status. It goes on to describe fashion as a means of fulfilling this need. It follows then that fashion must be understood as cultural artifacts [Russell 38]. I think it would not be possible to approach the topic of gender isolated from other issues such as social status. However, the idea of a group mentality or collective is interesting to my wearable. I think it is important to think of ourselves in terms of group psychology. My project addresses this issue as well as the idea of being othered, the antithesis of conforming to a prescribed gender role. Carrying on with this idea, I think it also has the effect of thinking about rejecting gender binarism. It questions the standard of being heterosexual and masculine.
Barnard describes a social need present in people to individualize themselves and set themselves apart from society. Thus, fashion is dependent on the conditions set by society [Barnard 12]. I think that there is no singular logic then that defines cultures and therefore this wearable project could be repeated in the context of a different culture.
This implies that fashion is therefore an inescapable part of any given culture. Fashion is therefore relativized by a given culture so that fashion cannot be understood without this social context [Russell 38]. This was the single most significant factor during the experience of my project. If we take the assumption that I am privileged in the sense of being a white male, this would help describe any anxiety that came about during the project. This is because I perceive that I am committing a taboo and there is a response.
Barnard describes how society seeks to de-individualize people and in response to this people promote the expression of the individual [Barnard 13]. I think that this somehow plays into the group mentality phenomenon that I have described. In this way the anxiety that I have described about the process can be borne out of a fear to individualize myself to an excessive degree.
Barnard would describe it as being tied to the inclusion of an individual into specific societal subgroups and at the same time being individualized [Barnard 12]. This might have something to do with the term ‘cool’ that is used by Russell that relates to a person being easy in both dimensions of people identifying with groups and the individual.
Barnard describes clothing and fashion as the means to which social relations between peoples occur [Barnard 9]. As a consequence of this I think that the social relations that might exist between different peoples or cultures can be applied here. The anxiety I felt towards the project could be borne out of a fear for consequences stemming from breaking gender roles. This reveals something about the social structure to which I am a part of. It begs the question of what the consequences are in the case of this wearable.
Another question that is raised by Barnard is why would there be reluctance by a male in Western societies to wear an item of clothing that is labeled feminine. Barnard adequately describes a fear of being branded as being effeminate or a homosexual [Barnard 25]. I think there is the idea of taboo that might be used to describe this phenomenon. This is of course the essential issue of my wearable project involving the idea of breaking gender roles.
When Entwistle describes the way in which people identify gender as being arbitrary this again goes back to the idea that fashion is a relative term and there is no objective standard on the term [Entwistle 141]. When an individual challenges these gender associations, they are then challenging the culture to which the gender associations are attributed to.
Entwistle describes how self-consciousness in appearance can be caused by not fitting in with prescribed cultural forms which are the cause for preconceptions and limitations in society [Entwistle 150]. A question arises of how my wearable relates to existing preconceptions and if it lies outside of these. I mentioned before the anxiety I felt which I attribute to fear of committing social taboo.
In my project, I seemed to have the self-consciousness about labels, and I think in the process was able to confront my privilege as a white male. I confronted the reality of the actual world and the preconceptions. Identity in the actual world is heavily scrutinized by society. This is to be expected and it can be related to the topic in class of online environments and the absence of these limitations that society has built for itself.
Entwistle says that androgyny in fashion is not to be confused with an absence of gender differentiation but merely tests the boundaries [Entwistle 171]. I would agree with the position that androgyny is in short supply, at least in the culture I live in. I suspect that in this culture there is a significant polarizing effect that in general seeks to clearly define gender. This can be a difficult endeavor as the relativistic nature of gender would imply.
One of my concerns in my project was that it would be considered androgynous. I think ultimately that there is a very fine line that encompasses androgyny. Merely labeling something as a women’s clothing has the potential to push it over that line.
Ultimately, I think fashion is dependent on existing social conditions and these existing conditions are necessary when considering gender in relation to fashion.
- Barnard, Malcolm. “Etymologies and Definitions of Fashion and Clothing” in Fashion as Communication 8 – 26 (17 pps)
- Entwistle, Joanne. “Fashion and Gender” in The Fashioned Body 140 – 180 (41 pps)
- Russell, Luke. “Tryhards, Fashion Victims, and Effortless Cool” in Fashion: Philosophy for Everyone 37 – 50 (14 pps)