Connection Of Fashion And Identity

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Some people assume that clothes have nothing more than a practical purpose of keeping us comfortable and warm. In this essay, I would be discussing how clothing works as a communicator between wearers and the viewers with help of different subcultures that insist in our society. The way we dress, our social class, our job even the way we speak are all part of our identity, whether we accept it or not clothes do give off signals that help others to form an opinion about us. Everyone’s approach towards fashion is different but does it really showcase our inner self through clothing? Does it give an idea of which culture or society we belong to? Or do the clothes have more meaning than just being adherence to cultural norms? The truth is that it is a mix of the three.

According to Daniel Yim, he stated that there is a connection between the obviously profound issues of autonomy and moral solidarity on the one hand and the seemingly trivial subject of wardrobe style on the other (Fashion Philosophy for Everyone, 2011). He stated that clothing has become a focus for the expression of social solidarity and autonomy. He claimed that there is a relationship between style and autonomy by giving the example of compulsory school uniforms. On one hand, people associate school uniforms with positive educational outcomes whereas some argued that students outfit choices play an important role in developing themselves as are person because it gives them the freedom to express themselves. Bennet says the fashioned body is a literalization of one’s preference, sexuality, personality, economic position etc. (Fashion in Culture and Everyday Life, 2005). Clothing serves a play purpose in subcultures as it creates a visible group identity and a shared symbol for affiliation between the members. A subculture is a group of people who have different norms and values from their culture and they can be distinguished when they are outside of their group. Teddy boys, mods, punks, Gothics are examples of subculture that were easily identifiable by the way they behaved socially and dressed.

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Paul Khalil Saucier states that Fashion is dynamic in that it allows individuals to express individual and group differences, while also allowing conformity with a group (Cape Verdean Youth Fashion: Identity in Clothing, 2011). In other words, fashion is an intensely personal phenomenon since it creates difference, yet, simultaneously, it is an important social phenomenon in that it creates solidarity; it allows personal values to be expressed at the same time norms are followed. Maulana Karenga is one of the nationalists who promoted black cultural nationalism for African- styled clothing and hairstyles in the 1960s (Cape Verdean Youth Fashion: Identity in Clothing, 2011). The members of the Black Panther Party were known for wearing black leather coats and black berets for their political radicalism. But now Hip- hop fashion is seen as an extension of ways to convey blackness. Young black men would dress according to sartorial ethos of Hip- hop culture. It was similar to the “Gangsta” that emerged on the West Coast. Even today the baggy style remains a staple and so does the diamond-encrusted platinum jewellery and baseball caps.

‘There is a strong social connection and a sense of belonging among those youngsters who dress themselves in unique and original outfits, some of which may be outrageous, radical and extraordinary’ (Yuniya Kawamura, 2006). She quotes Howard Becker (1982) remarked that art and fashion both are a collective activity as it emerges from distinct social relationships between the members of the subculture. She gives the example of Lolitas that was started in Japan by young schoolgirls that were fashion-conscious starting following the Cosplay movement, where people would dress as their favourite character from the Japanese manga comics or anime. It was not based on ideology or politics but solely on innovative fashion. The Gothic Lolita that is found in the Harajuku area since the 1990s. They portrayed the image of a Victorian Doll by wearing Victorian dresses, pinafores, stockings and boots with Pale white skin and neat hair. It was popular among girls who thought Mamba, Ganguro and Yamamba were too outrageous as this style was a mix of the Victorian era and Modern gothic looks.

Grahn (1984, p. 38) quoted that Homosexuality is one way of being able to influence a person’s life and its meaning and direction. Another famous example of subculture is Gays and how the choice of clothing was different from heterosexual men. Based on study of consumer behaviour on Gay consumers, May Aung stated that she was able to explore about their behaviours, personal beliefs and attitudes (May Aung Ou Sha, 2016). He supported the findings of Snezek (1986), Rudd (1996), Abraham- Murali and Litterel (1995) and Fischer (1997) stating that they gave a strong preference towards aesthetics (May Aung Ou Sha, 2016). Colours, quality, style, texture, brand and flexibility in clothing were the main attributes. Even though they are financially sound, they are sensitive towards price.

So, the answer to the question that fashion is connected with social identity is rather equivocal yes and no (Marta Gonzalez and Bovone, 2012). The above statement is true if it means that the products that individuals purchase, displays or uses something about who they are. On the other hand, as we choose certain commodities while rejecting others which in turn leaves us in a process of choosing or even creating an identity. In one respect the self- evident goods we purchase do say something about us. But so, does the way we speak, people we associate with, occupation, income etc. In other words, it serves as an indicator of our identity in the society just the same way our income, education or where we live in is. 


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