As women (and men) in academia, we’re given a set of both spoken and unspoken rules on what is appropriate. Appropriate to discuss, to research, or even to question. Fashion has remained firmly outside of that design. For philosophy and the humanities, fashion has been ignored “if not outright dismissed as vain and trivial” (Wolfendale and Kennett, xiii). Fashion: Philosophy for Everyone is a collection of essays exploring various aspects of fashion and its impact on our professional and personal lives. Specific, often overlooked, areas of discussion focus on questioning and expanding current definitions and implications of being fashionable, being cool, and being ethical, which we will explore in more depth in other posts. The overarching theme of the collection focuses on the simple idea that fashion touches all of us too profoundly to be denied access to an academic setting. Each essay acts as “proof” for this assertion.
Fashion cannot be good enough for some circles and lambasted in others. As Jennifer Baumgardner expresses in the foreword, “being above fashion can be a principled stance, or it can be a mask for someone who is afraid to harness the power of self presentation” (xi). It’s a contraindication that only facilitates stereotypes of a closed and judgmental academic environment. The stigma of being educated and interested in fashion is not completely erased with this collection, as there still appears to be quite a strong need for the continued vocal justification of one’s choice to write and talk about fashion. However, the act of writing and sharing the essays as a collected work does give legitimacy to the topic, or at the very least, acknowledge that there is a growing number of philosophers and writers eager to talk about fashion in something other than an ephemeral or trite way.
The essays touch on many different aspects of fashion, but perhaps the most tangible discussions center on fashion, identity and freedom. “The clothes we wear, along with hairstyles and other items of adornment, can and often do, whether we are aware of it or not, communicate our social and professional roles and status” (7). This communication that the editors speak of is constant and immediate. There is currently no option to remove the meaning from the fashions we wear, “fashion therefore is a central part of not only how we self identify, but also how we identify ourselves to others in our community and how we express important ideas about group identification and solidarity” (8-9). If fashion carries such profound significance, how can we continue to dismiss it? This is the central question the essayists keep in mind throughout the book and what we hope to explore in future discussions. Fashion is something both personal and public. With an expanding digital environment and shrinking private sphere, what we understand as fashion, as trend, as cool, as normal, or as appropriate are all rapidly changing.
Allhoff, Fritz, Jeanette Kennett, Jessica Wolfendale, and Jennifer Baumgardner. Fashion – Philosophy For Everyone, Thinking With Style. West Susex: Wiley, 2012. Print.