Fashion and social identity:
In our present age and time where everything is growing and changing at an exponential and unpredictable rate, unlike ever before. The situation has brought about a high-rise in every aspect of life: struggle, survival, gender, social identity, social class, and politics and so on. Humans have been pressured to successfully find their place and voice in the society. Fashion plays a significant role in helping people express their identities especially in larger cities where they “mingle with crowds of strangers and have only fleeting moments to impress them” (Bennett, 2005).
There is a wrong notion that people have, that fashion is mere clothing but it is far more than that. “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses alone, fashion is in the sky, street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening – Coco Chanel”. “Fashion has to do with hair styles, make up, accessories and can include items that have nothing at all to do with clothes” (Kratz et all, 1998). It is a mode of direct, visual communication. Fashion helps us to make a statement about ourselves and our identities through the way we use clothes, accessories and other materials, helping us to visually communicate who we are, what kind of social group we belong to, our social class.
Identity is one of the utmost fascinating and combative perceptions in the humanities and social sciences. We will define Social Identity as a form of social representation between the individual and the social world. There are numerous reasons why people think they need to express their identity and these mainly are issues of social status, gender, economic class, religious condition, age, ethnicity and so on. Fashion therefore becomes the tune in how we represent ourselves in our everyday lives. People show who they are and who they hope to become through appearance style. Also, they express who they do not want to be or become (Freitas et al., 1997). Appearance style is a comparison for identity; it is a complex comparison that comprises of physical features (for example, skin, bodily shape, hair texture) as well as clothing and grooming practices. The latter, grooming practices, are particularly prone to change, they are prone to inconsistent and fluid behaviors of understanding oneself in relation to others within the larger perspective of fashion change. Individuals who consume fashionable goods do not just follow or show that they are aware of trends but showcase wealth and good taste, and thereby building relationships with individuals in the same social strata and isolating themselves from people who can’t afford them. A reason why you need to hustle, right?
We will be considering some key factors when looking at fashion and identity, they are: sex, gender, race, ethnicity and nationality. Firstly, we will be looking at sex and gender. Sex and gender are entirely two different things. Sex is known biologically but gender is culturally or socially fashioned. Concerning sex, you are either a male or a female. We all know that men’s fashion change much lesser from time to time compared to women’s fashion. Gender, men are socially fashioned as manufacturers i.e. producers and the active sex in the society, men do most of the work. Men are kings right? Yeah. While the women are seen as fashion consumers and the passive sex in the society. They just sit and wait for the products to come out and consume it. Women are queens. Though recently, women have become more involved in the production process and men are consuming fashion products more than before.
The fashion industry is a very big one and growing every day. Men are able to work and fulfil their duties as producers because their fashions do with function and practicality rather than appealing needs. On the other hand the fashion of women are more of appeal and a product’s design, they also do with function and practicality but it’s more of the aesthetic appeal. Note, the first question we can ask or answer ourselves about an individual is concerning sex and gender and this can be done through one’s outfit. These questions are: is the person a man or a woman, is the man or woman heterosexual or homosexual? Though, it is difficult to express who we are, who we want to be, who we don’t want to be, but it is easier to put them into words. It is easier to put into words who we want to avoid being or looking like (that is, not feminine, not too slutty, no longer a child) than it is to visualize who we are (Freitas et al., 1997). However, the inability to express ourselves leads to indecisiveness of our identity and this uncertainty is the key to fashion change. A good thing right? It is.
Now, let’s look at race, ethnicity and nationality. These three are important factors when looking at fashion and identity. Humans are normally attracted to people who are like us and share a common history or related. This has not only brought about the fashions in the world but also brought about the need for people to show where they are from especially in a foreign environment, so as to connect with people who share their origin. According to Eicher et all (1995), ethnic dress is worn by members of one group, distinguishing themselves through differentiation in terms of those items, ensembles and body modifications that speak of an individual’s past, through the adaptation of traditional items which speak of cultural heritage. Several countries, ethnic groups, religions across the world have a particular idea of the male and female image.
Eicher et all (1995) said national dress is concerned with “the socio-political concept of nation-state and political boundaries”, thus identifying the citizens of a particular country. For instance, in Nigeria, men, women, boys and girls are expected to dress in their traditional attires when attending a wedding (traditional) ceremony. While in America, people are expected to dress in suits. Also, in Saudi Arabia, Muslim women are expected to conceal their body part when in a social environment and their religious identity is known by the style of their dress.
In conclusion, creating an identity is a social process in which we speak to the world about who we are, what social class we do belong to, what social class we do not belong to and what class we do desire to belong to.
Now, the question is “do we express ourselves well using fashion”? You want to meet people in the corporate world? Dress like one. In summary, we are all human beings and every individual is unique in his or her own way. Therefore, we feel there is a need to express ourselves and have a sense of belonging. Fashion is one of the greatest strategy or means to support this process, use it strongly. Agreeing with Bennett (2005), fashion definitely does provide one of the most ready means through which individuals can make expressive visual statements about their identities, thereby communicating an exclusive testimony to every gaze.
Adetoye Opeyemi (ShokiBams)
Appadurai, A. (1991) ‘Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for Transitional Anthropology’, in, R. Fox (ed.), Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.
Ang, Ien. “Identity Blues.” In Without Guarantees: In Honour of Stuart Hall.Edited by Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg, and Angela McRobbie, London: Verso, 2000.
Barker, C. (2000) ‘Youth, Style and Resistance’, in, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage.
Bennett, A. (2005) ‘Fashion’, in, Culture and Everyday Life. London: Sage
Crane, Diana. Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Kaiser, Susan B. “Identity, Postmodernity, and the Global Apparel Marketplace.” In The Meanings of Dress. Edited by Mary Lynn Damhorst, Kimberly A. Miller, and Susan O. Michelman. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1999.
Roche, D. (2000) A History of Everyday Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thanks for reading and I hope it was worth your time. Was this essay useful? Drop your views, comments and suggestions in the comment section.