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What is Fashion?
For centuries individuals or societies have used clothes and other body adornment as a form of nonverbal communication to indicate occupation, rank, gender, sexual availability, locality, class, wealth and group affiliation. Fashion is a form of free speech. It not only embraces clothing, but also accessories, hairstyles, beauty and body art. What we wear and how and when we wear it, provides others with a shorthand to subtly read the surface of a social situation.
Fashion as a Sign System
Fashion is a language of signs, symbols and iconography that non-verbally communicate meanings about individuals and groups. Fashion in all its forms from a tattooed and pierced navel, to the newest hairstyle, is the best form of iconography we have to express individual identity. It enables us to make ourselves understood with rapid comprehension by the onlooker.
Fashion as a Barometer of Cultural Changes
How we perceive the beauty or ugliness of our bodies is dependant on cultural attitudes to physiognomy. The accepted beautiful female form that Rubens painted is subliminally undesirable nowadays, if we are to be thought beautiful in a way that the majority accepts in the 21st century.
Today an inability to refashion and reshape our bodies whilst constantly monitoring the cultural ideal leaves us failing the fashion test. Those that pass the fashion test invariably spend their lives absorbed in a circle of diet, exercise, cosmetic surgery and other regimes. This includes the rigors of shopping in search of the ultimate garb.
The Need for Tribal Belonging
Our reluctance to give ourselves a regular makeover through diet, exercise, and consistently conscious use of specific dress styles infers that we have the personality flaws of a weak willed human. We become in the eyes of fashion aficionados somewhat inadequate and imperfect in the fashion stakes. Thus we strive to keep a culturally satisfying appearance so that we feel better, whereas in fact we are striving to stay in the tribe, whatever type of tribe that may be.
Group affiliation is our prime concern with regard to fashion. As long as some group similarity is identified within the group, our personal fashion whether current or dated can belong to any tribe. It is the sense of belonging marked by how we fashion ourselves that gives us the tribal connection.
An innate characteristic of human beings is the desire to strive for differentiation. The removal of Sumptuary Laws and rigid dress codes has enabled the individual to use fashion as a means to identify clearly the many different roles that a person plays in any one day.
Sociologists borrowed the word ‘role’ from the theatre because, like actors