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Fashion can be described as the predominant trend in regard to garments, behaviour or ornaments worn. Fashion can fundamentally transform and is affected by surroundings. To a certain extent, fashion is shaped by pressure of the surroundings forcing it to bottle up and finally denote thereafter delivering a new drift or trend. An example is change of the final outline or the figure over the periods of time has proved or shown to be beyond belief over the past periods of time. We see that in the past the fashionable figure or rather the silhouette was not dependent on the physical or the natural shape of the human body (Breward 2005).
Around the nineteenth century women used to wear flamboyant fuggy corsets that were worn with a large flurry featured under a large skirt to create the perfect body shape. With creation of a tiny waist, a sleight of hand of a big bust or an illusion was created. It was later found to be unhealthy and evolved with time. At this time the fashion of women was highly influenced by the view of males or the opposite sex since it was a male conquered or dominated society. In a simple clearer understanding of the code of dressing during this age of the women, one has to keep in mind what draws attention to their feminity so as to satisfy the lechers or the lustful desires and fantasies of males. Once Johnson said that fashion does not supersede the natural human body but with an illusory one is nearer to what the heart desires (Johnson et. al., 2009).
History of fashion
Fashion at the end of nineteenth century was narrowed down to only the rich minority. It was the responsibility of a woman to show her social status all throughout which required her to change dresses over five times a day. Social status or position was visible from the charm design and quality of their clothes (Elizabeth 1989).
In the beginning of the twentieth century, Paris, France, was the fashion center for women and they would travel here just to be ahead along with the latest trends. Charles Fredrick was the first designer to shadow the silhouette by eliminating the unnecessary rumples and frills by using expensive fabrics to compliment the feminine natural shape in a simpler manner. Charles Fredrick had made a deal with silk mills that supplied him with the finest silks all for the empress to wear but the empress rejected them and he convinced Napoleon to make his wife wear the gowns made by Charles and in turn the trend became fashionable when people saw the royals wearing such clothes. The people in turn ended up looking up to the royals in terms of fashion. This is one of the earliest cases that show fashion being dictated and directed to a particular side by powerful people such as the royals.
During the First World War, there were more than a few avant-garde or eccentric fashions that shot up. Such trends included the women’s trousers. The source of creation of trousers was based on the foundation of Harem pants by Paul Poiret. Trends that emerged preceding the war were briskly fast-tracked by surroundings during the war. The reason for the abrupt change in the women's trends was because their roles were forced to change since they had to fend for their troopers that were on leave. It is during this period that there was a slow but sure show of self-reliance and confidence in women. These were considered the first steps in the women’s search for equality with the men socially. After the war, there was what can be explained as an ease in the dressing code for both the males and especially the females since over-the-top clothing and jewellery were eliminated in a general manner due to the aftershock. This, however, may have been so due to the fact that there was a shortage of dyes and fabrics. Triviality in stiff or formal fashion seemed to have less vital interest in fashion declined. Since women had to look for employment to support their families, it meant that they had to mix with other women for purposes of employment and by doing that the social barriers ended up being broken thus bringing about equality. When female trousers evolved into a more boyish look, a lot of tats were thrown around the issue, such as the female were starting to look like male. It further went ahead and ill jokes started circulating such as when one child was told to give his parents a good night kiss, he replied by saying, “ But I do not know which is mummy and which is daddy” (Eline 1980).
In a matter of about two decades, the boyish look of girls evolved to a slimmer looking girl with short hair. During those times, short hair was regarded as politically incorrect, unpleasant and revolting. Pope had to treat this as an issue and said that it was not immoral but necessary for the working environment. This act demonstrates that fashion is under control or dictatorship of the powerful force such as the royals and the pope. After the shattering changes of the woman’s image in the course of war, it was time for a woman to re-establish herself since men came back to demand their jobs with assumption that women would automatically return to their domestic chores. It was at this time that hem lines became tall and short. It can be regarded as quite undeceive period (Rhodes 2006).
Andy Bennett commences his book by showing that the vital or the key hypothetical models have transformed from crucial understandings of early persons of concern to culture modern revolutionary critics and how they are explored in the world of various social individualities (Rhodes 2006).
After all those happenings it seemed as if people were not ready for fashion and colors, cowed as if a reflection of the after-war mood. It then seemed that with all the technological advancements in technology, entertainment and transport the elite of a society was no longer the main focus of people or center of attraction. During the nineteen twenties, there was a lot of energy among younger generation, which in the twenties seemed to be living up to their nickname ‘‘bright young things’’ which is in regard to the reckless life of wrecking cars that were borrowed and living on cocktails (Rouse1989).
The confidence of women was found on the basis of their independence that was enlarged by them being employed, which is one of the factors that led to the culture of equal opportunities. This is when women started activities like smoking publicly, took up activities such as driving and showed interest in sports. It was during this period that men started feeling challenged due to the fact that women no longer needed men in order to survive, since they could go out and work just as any man could do and they could also participate in sports. The woman of that age was regarded to as the ‘flapper’. The ‘flapper’ is regarded to as the complete fashion outline. Transformation of the fashion, as explained above, has gone hand in hand with issues regarding to adaptation to social, economic, cultural and political issues. The new female outline was what they felt was acceptable at the time and what could be explained as total transformation of the formal wear in regard to the times of political, economical and social changes. Fashion is the “most talking about social facts”. It is evident that through these transformations of fashion that we see, fashion is no longer an issue concerning elite in the society but is a social statement. Fashion is not only in pertaining to appearance but also in a tincture (Roche 2000).
Fashion in relation to identity
"Fashion is a key resource through which individuals in late modernity construct their identities and position themselves in related to others" (Bennett 2005). Regarding this issue, it is clearly visible that in the modern days one of the easiest ways to a statement about one’s identity is visuality which can easily be done through fashion. In the modern world where we have competition in almost every sector amongst ourselves, pertaining to issues such as gender, politics and socially, the role played by fashion cannot be underrated, especially in large towns and cities where there is a lot of pressure put on the person to be prosperous. People therefore have to look for ways to impress since they have just a few moments to impress the crowds of strangers passing by (Bennett, 2005, page 96). We see that when the word ‘fashion’ is mentioned, the picture that immediately pops up is mere clothing but fashion in the real sense is way more than that generalised view of the word. Fashion has over time been associated with culture and is thus concerned with meanings and symbols. In regard to this definition, we see that fashion, whether in the form of clothing, behavior or ornament, carries a message which therefore means that when looking at somebody’s fashion sense, one gets the message that the person is communicating visually and instantly on sight. It is from this communication that we learn things about people instantly on view, such as which part of the world one is from. An example is if one is wearing a wrapping cloth around the head and overall long skirt with patterns around it for females one can take a guess that they are from Nigeria, whereas men wear long shirts and trousers of the same material used by women. The type of clothes one wears can also tell about economic position or job one posses. For example, if a woman is wearing clean bright uniform and a nursing cap, one can tell that the person is a nurse. Thus it can be said that fashion is to large extent about one’s identity (Roche 2000).
On the other hand, identity can be described as how one presents him/herself socially. The normal nature of human beings is that we express our identity revolving certain recurring issues that are similar in all parts of the world from gender, religion, financial status, age and to race among others. In simpler words, with reference to Bennett (2005), fashion is a person’s representation of his/her preferences from economic and sexual achievements in particular fields. There is somewhat big difference between expression of fashion in the nineteenth century and in the modern day. This is because during the nineteenth century fashion trends were considered of the wealthy and were used to communicate which social class one belonged to. Therefore it was easy for people of the same class to seclude themselves from people of other economic classes, as compared to what fashion represents today, which is from a variety of issues, such as sexual identity and gender among many others (Bennet 2005).
One of the key determinants of fashion and identity is gender and sex. These two being totally different things in that sex is biologically determined whereas gender being culturally structured or built. In fact, male fashion tends to change at a slower pace as compared to the female one, since men are culturally built to be providers; hence men’s fashion has the essence of men’s fashion on the basis of practicality and function over the aesthetic value. Women’s fashion, on the other hand, also embraces practicality and function but gives a lot of attention to the aesthetic value of the clothes since female is culturally taken to be the passive sex. Clothing and fashion are viewed as some of the key elements that determine what is viewed as acceptable and unacceptable. An example is the dressing code of a person of the age of seventy and that of a teenager, on the site of what one is wearing, others can easily know who is not of their age bracket since irrelevance in the issues discussed between the two is most likely to lead to boredom as compared to when two persons of the same age bracket are chatting together. Therefore, it is clear evidence that one’s dressing is a key determinant in knowing gender and sexual roles.
It is during the nineteen eighties that the norm of dressing was broken when artists such as David Bowie began putting on some attire that was considered ‘feminine’, such as make-up and skirts. Such people seemed to be playing between the line of sexuality and gender. For example, nowadays one can determine or perceive one’s sexuality from their mode of dressing and the way they present themselves.
Since human beings are naturally attracted to people that are like themselves in terms of history and background, it is not rare to find people of the same nationality, race, religion or ethnicity wearing clothes that are similar in fashion so as to communicate with others that are similar to them. There can also be the expression of togetherness in a country and therefore presence of national dress for people to identify themselves whereas in foreign lands.
In regard to fashion, there has also been the case of subgroup’s extremists who through their fashion styles have expressed political and economic change that has had influence on their lives, the punks, for example. Punks used simple items from everyday use and merged them with their dresses thus communicating certain messages such as the economic trials and political scenario at the time. Overall, punks communicated the changing moral standards, poverty and joblessness through dramatization using items such as chains, dyed hair and bin liners. As the case stands, subgroups such as the punks were not random at all, but a communication of messages such as rage and disappointment. The dressing was accompanied by tattoos and piercing that was meant to further express their identity (Bennett 2005).
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It is through the above analysis that we see interpretation, meaning and individuality of fashion and identity and how they are made communicate particular messages, such as social class, economic class, sex, gender or even religion. Fashion is in constant change and its consumption and changes can be viewed as change in the final image or the change in the feelings and views.