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Maison Margiela Men whitre.jpg

What Makes Clothes Fashion?

Maison Margiela Men whitre.jpg

What makes clothes fashion?

When looking at Fred Davis’ text “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” one can reach a certain number of conclusions, about the meaning of fashion and our interpretation of it. He poses the question if clothes are related or reflective of how we write, what we say, and what we think and explores through various input from different authors and sociologists the different facets of fashion. Is clothing its own visual language? There are no precise answers to these questions, but Davis proposes an argument to how we should think about fashion. Additionally I took a look at Diana Crane’s “Approaches to Material Culture: The Sociology of Fashion and Clothing.” I will be interposing the authors’ points together in this essay to attempt to answer what makes clothes fashion.

Davis argues that fashion has many facets: its sources in culture and social structure, how it diffuses itself among different societies, how it aids in social differentiation and social integration, the psychological needs it satisfies and the implications for modern economic life. When it comes to interpreting the meaning behind fashion, that is the symbolic meanings, like the images, thoughts, sentiments and sensibilities communicated, he argues that we vaguely know much about the true meanings of clothing. Although, for example we do know how through clothing people communicate some things about their persons, as we locate people in “some structured universe of status claims and life-style attachments,” as in “imposing status.” Simultaneously, Crane argues that clothes both affect and express our perception of ourselves.

More over, Davis lists three features of the clothing fashion code: context dependency, social variability and undercoding. In context dependency what the clothing means will vary depending on the identity of the wearer, the occasion, the place and the company. This context example can be seen in Crane’s text as she discusses the national differences among fashion systems. Next, in social variability what is signified through clothing is different for different publics, audiences and social groupings. Clothing styles and fashion do not mean the same to all members of society, therefore what is worn is linked to a symbolic upholding of class and status boundaries in society. Finally there is undercoding where there is a lack of reliable interpretative rules and people assign meanings on the basis of ambiguous cues which do not happen sporadically as the manufacturers, publicists, critics, merchandisers and innovators who invest in this regulate the transmissions of the code from creators to consumers. This point is supported by Crane as she mentions studies where the consumer is conceptualized as creating meanings from material goods. “Material goods express values, consumption of these goods is a means for the consumer to communicate messages about the values she holds.”

Another factor discussed in my recent readings is the advent of social media and how it is changing fashion. Most predominantly in today’s Western society we can see the direct influence technology and social media have shaken up the fashion industry, as Katie Hope argues. Social media has directly influenced how models, photographers and creatives are chosen, as now the numbers of followers seems to be more relevant than the amount of experience in the field when it comes to hiring potential workers. There is a reshaping of the industry, as people seem to share what they consider interesting which tends to be fashion (according to Scott Galloway, clinical professor of marketing at the NYU Stern School of Business).

The traditional way in which we viewed fashion changed due to social media and technology, by allowing more exposure for artists and designers as well as brand outreach and impressions which in turn create engagement and growth in online sales and popularity. Additionally, the appeal seems more personal and authentic, while being cheaper for the fashion firms. The approach is more loose and conversational to make the customers feel more related to the brand by taking a “peek into their world.” At the same time, the author stresses how the reality of how this is done is different - like Parlons says, everything while the appeal is attractive and relatable is highly controlled leading it to be effective.

Finally, when taking a look at all the readings, one can say that every author makes a solid contribution in understanding how the meaning and symbolism of fashion has changed. Basically, all points are connected: Davis’ features of the fashion code can be found in Hebdige and Wilson’s writings as they all pertain that sort of uncertainness when it comes to describing the meaning of fashion and how it is differently interpreted by the different members of society. There are the expressive symbols mentioned by Davis and Wilson with which we construct our own meanings: fabrics, colors, trend, and there is also the undercoding idea present in Honore de Balzac’s description of his hero (describing his “two hours of torment” through his fashion). 

Conclusively, one could argue that the meaning of fashion is pretty much subjective, as there are multiple considerations, cultural, sociological, psychological, that imply or create/give an attribution of symbolic value to clothing - and at the same time are received differently, or perhaps read differently through the “code.” As this code is forever changing, it is hard to pinpoint a definite answer to what makes clothes fashion, but pointing out the factors that definitely impact it are worth exploring further: meaning, production, communication, consumption and cross-cultural comparisons (as said by Crane). Perhaps a critical examination of the values expressed by clothing and the symbolic values attributed to it through the different societies can get us closer to a more definite answer - specially in an era of rapid economic, technologic and cultural globalization.