Apr 302012

Review of Fashion Philosophy for Everyone

Have you ever tried to discover the hidden meaning in the way you dress?  How about in the way others dress?

Coco Chanel once said, ‘If a woman is badly dressed, it’s the dress we’ll notice; but if she is impeccably dressed, it’s the woman herself we’ll notice.’

How is it that clothes shape people the way they do?  When reading Fashion Philosophy for Everyone, I learned that fashion tends to send signals.  Those signals can be found to be in any sort of the following ways:

  • Power
  • Financial Status
  • Politics
  • Ethnicity

The book was written in a series of essays with a variety of viewpoints from different authors and philosophers that talk about different aspects of fashion.

Let’s look at just one of the signals above – why does fashion have the power it does?  Power to influence people, and change their opinion of the way they see you.  When I think of power, I also think of authority, which is perhaps subconscious.  When you see a person in say a police uniform, one tends to automatically give them respect.  Unfortunately, the authority type uniforms are usually reserved and worn by males.

Uniform is synonymous with costume which is customarily worn for the holiday of Halloween.  Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, attending parties, pumpkin carving and the like.  Halloween is also a time when everyone likes to dress up and wear costumes.

When you see a woman in a uniform – or even let’s say a costume for Halloween there are VERY few out there that are not “sexy”.  For example: the sexy flight attendant, the sexy captain, the sexy bee or pirate, the list could go on and on but I am sure you get the point.  Some costumes that have come about reach a whole new level of just plain wrong.  Unlike the men’s costumes which show dominance, the women’s tend to say sex in every way imaginable.

One question I had when reading the book, is fashion liberating or repressing? We tend to view the way we dress as an expression and extension of who we are and when you think of women in today’s workforce what do you see?   In a business setting it is not unusual to find pencil skirts and high heels worn by a woman which is very constricting and sometimes just plain uncomfortable.

Another signal from above is that of financial status.  The clothing you wear definitely says and shows if you have the financial means to keep up with the latest trends.  When using the costumes above as an example – we see where girls use fashion as a symbol of superiority over others and to attract males.  When the concept of attracting males comes about it brings us right back to the first signal of power.   Remember the first Southwest Airlines ads with hot pants and go-go boots?  Selling airline tickets – or courting the male business person?  Let’s admit it – sex sells.

So – how do we know what makes something fashionable?  Who decides what’s cool and what’s not?  Is it he masses?  The experts?  The book makes the case that it is really up to both.  The experts are definitely involved in the “fashioning” of items by the masses.  Fashion also demands trends and trends come and go and we often see trends repeated throughout time.  But most of us realize that fashion is more than just clothes.  It’s not just about wearing what’s in. Fashion influences our judgments of people’s taste, politics, and sexuality.  How do we decide what the clothes mean?  Don’t they mean something different to everyone? The book clearly defines that fashion demands conformity, but it is also a sense of self expression and the two of these seems to have direct conflict.  Times have not changed; it seems we have always used fashion to differentiate ourselves: stating our uniqueness, social class, gender, even our age group.  Fashion can give clues to your values, money, availability, lifestyle, character and more.  When you think about it, it’s pretty complicated. How can we convey “cool” in our own dress without looking like we’re trying too hard? Where is the line between “effortless cool” and “fashion victim”? Could it be closer than we think – quite possible.

In Chapter 6, Computational Couture, we discussed that portability is the main ingredient for any future technology and wearability is the best portability. The chapter looked at wearable technology such as the Compass Coat, Solar Jacket and the M dress (the little black dress that functions as a cell phone).  The designs of these and the goal are to have the technology be seamless with the garmet that is being worn.  Also in this chapter they discussed items that have a more healthy contribution to society.  The smoking jacket for example will show and remind the user just how much damage they are doing to themselves and their lungs.  It certainly is not easy to deny when the results are in front of you and so visible.

The designer and the wearer are hoping for lapses in understanding where WE end and our wearable technology begins.  The example in the book was that about placing a phone call and someone who wears glasses.  It’s quite possible and easy to forget that you are wearing glasses to enhance your vision and that your vision is not as good as it really is with your glasses on.  This is the hope in future technology – that one will forget and it’ll just be an extension of oneself.

We took a closer look in Chapter 10, Fashion Dolls and Feminism, when Barbie was introduced.  Barbie entered the arena of fashion and became a cultural phenomenon.  The marketing of Barbie was quite genius.  Although, doll play was quite worrisome when you look at through feminist theorizing.  Everyday life things such as fashion and weight really played a part of Barbie and who Barbie was.  Even with the introduction of the internet, we did not get away from initial concept.  Today on BarbieGirls.com there is ONE body type that is represented and the default Barbie of our cultural imagination is guess what…Caucasian!

In class we also took time to look up Cindy Jackson, the farm girl turned cover girl.  We learned she currently holds the record for the most cosmetic surgeries (52).  She claims to be a “real life Barbie” with a measly 25inch waist.  Makes me wonder just how and what part the marketing of Barbie had on her as a child.  With the help of cosmetic surgery, her fantasy play became her stylish reality.

Fashion tends to be at the center of culture.  It truly affects the way people see us and react to us.  It has the power to delight, inspire, and even surprise!  As described here – fashion can affect all aspects of our lives.  And it’s far from trivial – understanding fashion and how it works means power.

Part 4 Chapter 11 starts talking about being ethical and fashionable – can we be both?  Earlier we talked about trends and how trends come and go and repeat, well because of those trends and to keep up with those trends we see the need for sweatshops.  The word sweatshops is often associated with negative words such as overcrowded, unsafe, oppressive, long hours and underpaid.  Consumers want low prices and those producing the goods want the most consumers so they need to find a way to deliver at the lowest price without hurting the quality of the product.

In our own personal lives we continue to juggle more and more each day.  We want to leave the ideas of sweatshop morality to those in government but in all honesty, when the economy is like it has been in the last few years, we tend to think and understand there are more important issues at hand that the government is dealing with other then sweatshops.   Then we as individuals try to justify such practices by saying – are the alternatives to those who work in the sweatshops worse?  Quite possible.  In fact most that work there are better off with the job than without.  These modern day slaves are barely able to survive under poor conditions and their wages are miniscule.  Now is when the feminist issue comes in – 85% of those working in sweatshops are WOMEN.  These women are between the ages of 15 – 25 years old (Baumgardner, p.181).  Sexual harassment is rabid in the sweatshops.  Male supervisors often make false promises for better jobs in return for sexual favors.  Besides other issues listed above, sweatshops violate women’s human rights throughout the world.

The biggest role in the survival of sweatshops is obviously played by the retailer – but as a consumer – if we watch what we purchase and if we begin to buy sweat free clothing, industries will have to respond (even if it is slow).

Overall, I found the book to be interesting and well done – both easy to read and enjoyable.  The book makes one think about the idea of fashion and just how much it plays in our everyday life whether it is about power, financial status, politics or ethnicity.  Look around – you can’t help but see it.

  2 Responses to “FASHION – How It Shapes Who We Are”

  1. I was really intrigued by the Barbie chapter of this book. There has been such a backlash against Barbie, since nearly the time of her inception, and yet she is still hugely popular. Her changes have been small, and overall barely noticeable, and yet mothers continue to buy them for their daughters.

    I think most little girls see her as a fashion doll, our first taste of the unattainable fashion model looks that we will compare ourselves to for our entire lives, but most people don’t actually aspire to BE her. As someone who was thin and blonde as a child, I was called and compared to Barbie, but I knew that actually looking like her was not only unrealistic, but completely undesirable.

    The fact is, actually striving to look like Barbie is striving to be unnatural. Cindy Jackson certainly used Barbie as a role model, and attained a record-number of plastic surgeries – hear goal to look naturally beautiful in a completely unnatural way. Nicki Minaj, a music and fashion icon, also sees Barbie as an icon, but in a more cartoonish, tongue in cheek kind of way. And Russian model Ioana Spangenberg actually has a Barbie-proportioned, 20-inch natural waist and 32-inch hips, which looks anything BUT natural. All of these women, and anyone else who looks like Barbie, looks unnatural in the end. Even if all three of these women are beautiful in their own way, I don’t think Barbie’s attributes have anything to do with their real beauty.

    I wish I could say that Barbie was just a doll, and a harmless plaything, but there are definitely enough big examples, in addition to all of the small everyday examples, to make me rethink the impact that Barbie’s looks make on young children’s psyches.

  2. Mary- I totally agree with your comments here. I just have to ask WHY Barbie has been such an influential factor and not just a doll and harmless plaything? WHY is it that other dolls have not had the same impact as Barbie? What is it that Barbie has had an everlasting impact on children? She is quite popular and is taken on the digital world with her own website etc. I honestly dont see Barbie going anywhere soon.

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