Fashion’s Tendency Towards Conformity

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As humans, we tend to conform. Following the people around us comes naturally, and sometimes, we barely even notice it. The human nature of conformity appears as the main topic in Mark Twain’s “Corn-Pone Opinions.” Although this writing comes from an older time period, these patterns discussed remain prominent in various parts of our everyday life. In particular, people around us tend to heavily influence the clothing we wear. Fashion trends constantly change based on the opinion of others, ultimately shifting our individual viewpoints. Twain’s argument that conformity becomes inevitable remains true, and can especially be seen in the world of fashion as trends come and go.

In our daily fashion, self-approval derives from the approval of others. If one is conforming, they fit in and gain the approval of others, avoiding judgment. Acceptance from society builds their confidence, and they think more highly of themselves. Twain discusses this thoroughly and believes, “our self-approval has its source in but one place and not elsewhere – the approval of other people.” Therefore, everyone strives to wear what society considers trendy and stylish, meaning what the majority prefers constructs what an individual likes and feels confident wearing. Most of the time this arises subconsciously. If someone notices their friend bought the newest, nicest, shoes, they will also be likely to buy these shoes, as they want to be as fashionable. To feel fashionable, one must follow what others consider fashionable, meaning the entire concept is based on others.

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People’s opinions towards clothing shift constantly, causing trends to come and go. We as a society follow these trends and accept them as our own opinion. A great example relating to today would be regarding fashion trends of the 1990s. Clothing from the 90’s displayed a very specific style, containing unique pieces like scrunchies and crop tops. The style eventually phased out, as one person would stop wearing some of these staple pieces, leading to their friend to notice and follow their lead. More and more people did the same, until the style that was once very prominent completely shifted to a new era of clothing. There was no specific moment when it phased out and no one particularly noticed, but eventually, a whole new look became introduced in the 2000s. Fast forward to now, when some 90’s trends are back in style. In fact, scrunchies and crop tops have shifted back into being some of the most popular clothing pieces. Although it is now considered trendy, a few years ago, many people made fun of 90’s clothing. Articles like “Embarrassing ’90s Clothes You Used to Rock” (Ranked, 2012) and “’90s Trends That, In Retrospect, Maybe Weren’t Such A Great Idea” (Buzzfeed, 2013) were everywhere. Now, in 2019, the headlines changed to titles like, “20 Best 90s Fashion Trends That Are Back In 2019”(Stylecraze), praising the very trends ridiculed a few years earlier. This demonstrates that people’s ideas of what is stylish largely depend on what the people around them think. The clothing itself didn’t change, only society’s overall acceptance and opinion of it did.

Even if one gains awareness of this conformity and wants to be different, they still end with a mainstream style. For some people, nonconformity is a direct reaction to conformity. They see everyone following the same trends, and looking the same, making them want to appear unique and different. This is commonly seen with influencers and in social media, as these people strive to stand out against everyone else on the platform. These influencers post photos in their uncommon fashion pieces for millions of people to see. Viewers of these photos look up to the influencers and want the same style they have. As a result, an increase in demand occurs for this “unique style” as millions of people now search for a similar look. Retailers then notice the demand and in a few months, the style catches on and becomes basic. Natalia Borecka, author part of Lone Wolf Magazine, sums this point up well by stating, “the paradox lies in the fact that being ‘an individual’ doesn’t seem to be possible in fashion, because eventually, we all end up dressing the same, like the same things, and posting the same Instagram photos.” Everyone’s desire for individuality ends up making us all the same. Dr. Jonathan Touboul, a neuroscientist at Brandeis University, recently conducted a study he calls the “hipster effect.” This effect points out the idea that nonconformists end up conforming “simply because of the impossibility of keeping up with rapidly changing trends”(Borecka). It takes time for individuals to recognize changes that occur in society, and to react to them. Every few months, people will catch up with the nonconformist’s change in style and copy it, leading even the people who consider themselves individuals seem basic amongst a crowd.

Everyday fashion constantly tends towards conformity, even when trying to avoid it. This reflects Mark Twain’s idea that our opinion of ourselves is primarily based on how others view us. In the fashion world, it can be hard to avoid. Other people’s opinions play so largely into our own regarding fashion, that the line of originality blurs. How can one truly remain an individual if everyone looks to them for their own inspiration?  


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