What is Fashion?

Clothing is something we take for granted. For centuries clothes were used as protection – later on they became useful as body adornment as well as a form of nonverbal communication to indicate occupation, rank, gender, sexual availability, locality, class, wealth and group affiliation. With such nonverbal communication came the term fashion. Of course fashion is more than just clothing, it also includes shoes and accessories. But at the core, what we wear and how and when we wear it, provides others with a synopsis of who we are and what we care about. Culture plays a role in this interpretation as well. In modern society, we call those who are defining fashion as cultural icons and these are the people newspapers and magazines talk about while others follow. The idea of putting fashion into magazines for others to examine dates back to the 1700s. Even then, people pored over fashion magazines to see the latest styles. Women and dressmakers outside the French court relied on sketches to see what was going on. The famous French King Louis XIV said that fashion is a mirror. Louis himself was renowned for his style, which tended towards extravagant laces and velvets. Today we are constantly being bombarded with new fashion ideas with the Internet, videos, books, and television. Movies also have a big impact on what people wear. Sociologists believe 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. At the same time, we as human beings desire differentiation. People are often socially and economically labeled by their clothing or fashion. In history, the Edwardians were socially stratified into those who wore tailor made clothing down to those who wore other people's cast offs. The poor simply looked poor, because the clothes they wore betrayed them. The rich and nouveau riche displayed their wealth through an iconography of signs and symbols that enhanced their body image in the eyes of those that saw themselves as socially inferior. Today, the purchase of fashionable clothes, fabrics, or accessories is more affordable and easily attainable by many. Dressing nice, choosing your style, being comfortable and classy are all within the reach of most people’s pocketbooks. Yes fashion is still big business. More people are involved in the buying, selling and production of clothing than any other business in the world. But as long as people enjoy being unique, standing out from the rest and having something new to choose from year to year, fashion will always remain with us, no matter what the style.
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