It was a pleasant surprise to uncover an old flash drive that had only one thing on it: an essay had written for sociology class 10 years ago. It was exciting, embarrassing, and enlightening to look back on my old writing styles and catch a million errors that had not previously been noticed–and what’s more, I can clearly point out where I was trying to meet the minimum heading requirement and word requirements. The assignment was to choose any social issue and write a 10 page essay with an accompanying presentation about our topic. I chose fashion.
Since writing the essay below, truly not much has changed. Because I still find the topic interesting and worth the conversation, I decided to share my old research. Enjoy!
Fashion is a trend ranging from and affecting many cultures
around the world, not just the United States. By taking past examples of fashion
and finding out why and how they came into play, we can find an answer for many
a way of thinking, as well as resolve the problems and social conflicts that
have come as a result of our fashion obsessions. Fashion does not have to, and
should not negatively affect people the way it does in our world today. By
simply taking into consideration that we are all human, we are all social
beings, we can find the solutions needed to bring about a world where people
can be treated equally no matter what they choose to wear.
“In its most general sense, fashion not only implies what people wear, but what they do, what kinds of things they use, and how they live.”(Tolman p. iii) Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, which many have accredited for the beginning of clothing, we have had the issue if fashion. All too often the things we wear are examined by our peers, put into a stereotype, and used to determine our personalities. Our clothes and accessories seem to define us, and our generation. According to our text, Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society, not only are clothing for protecting and covering our bodies, but that “People…also wear fashionable clothing to feel a part of a group and to differentiate themselves from others.”(Anderson, Taylor p. 598) Taking that into consideration, what do you think of when you hear such names as Buckle or Juicy Couture? How do you feel when you see someone wearing a brand you’ve never heard of or isn’t as popular as other “name-brands”?
This “trend” of how fashion effects our lives so greatly, whether we’d like to admit it or not, is not only popular in the United States, but in many other countries as well. In addition to covering many aspects and generations of fashion talk, we will also examine those beliefs of Nudist communities, as well as many tribes in Africa that may wear decoration and/or protection when hunting, but have not the same feelings most do toward wearing cloths. By looking at those other cultures that do not wear cloths we can gain a better understanding of those that do, as well as understand those that don’t.
Speaking of cloths and culture, there are many traditions of the past that has lead to our current state of fashion. All are interesting, but some are shocking. As we journey through this discussion of fashion, we will discuss many of these truths that should help us to rethink our views of ourselves as well as the fashion industry.
Fashion over the Ages
The wearing of clothing dates back to the dawn of time. The garden didn’t last long and the first coverings that Adam and Eve made for themselves were out of fig leaves, and later after God confronted them, he provided them with cloths made from animal skin.
In the old days…the very old days, fashion varied greatly among culture to culture. However, in referring to the early hunting tribes we can see one trend that we share similarities with today:
“…peoples are adorned, rather than clothed…this behavior in the wish to distinguish oneself from the other members of the group: the desire to attract attention or sympathy, to specify the age group, the tribal classification or the status of the individual, bachelor, married, or widower.” (Boucher 22)
What is the trend? To distinguish. People have always had the tendency and desire to show things like rank, but in an even deeper since, we desire to “attract attention” and “sympathy”; this is not something that has to be argued or debated, humans are social beings.
Jumping ahead several centuries, taking into consideration that as each century progressed things tend to advance even more quickly (we can see this even in our current culture), we can look at the Thirteenth century fashion. Italian artists we were moving to France took an interest in cloths at this time making “the elaborate, blue, green, purple, and vermillion brocades and velvets which fashioned the dignified costumes that were the new style.” (Wilson, Plate VII) This is not a surprise, since the next coming century was the beginnings of the Renaissance. As many may know, this was a time of knowledge and the arts, which reflected in their way of dress. It was within the next several centuries that fashion became a specific interest in fashion and cloths, and began to stray away from many norms.
Then we begin the Nineteenth century, where fashions dramatically change and advance, specifically in women’s clothing. Dressed begin to change from poufy and frilly to sheer and slender…even daring to be only ankle length! Then all the sudden, in the Twentieth century, we advance to what we would recognize as “business attire” and shorter skirts. Not too long after that happened, we enter a realm where women were free to wear pants.
Not Unfashionable, But Anti-Fashion
While there are all these many transitions in fashion, there are those cultures that haven’t chosen to “move with the times” and some who have opted out of cloths all together. In order to better understand the fashion fixation, we will take a glance at the habits of Nudists and their communities.
Many in favor of nudism are similar to an observation recorded in Lawrence Langer’s book, The Importance of Wearing Clothing. Referring to the Polynesians it was recorded that “the continued nakedness…had kept their minds free from the preoccupation with the mystery of sex and has given their manners “a natural innocence, a perfect purity.””(Langer 83) That observation in keeping their minds free from that mystery of sex by not wearing cloths is observed by the Nudists, as well as many tribal cultures. However, a later statement by Langer gives us the understanding as to why we have turned to clothing instead of nudity:
“modern man is a puritan, not a pagan, and by his clothing has been able to overcome his feeling of shame in relation to his sex organs in public…He has done this by transforming his basic inferiority into…superiority, by relating himself to God in whose sexless image he claims to be made.”(p. 90)
Though many have turned away from our puritan upbringings, because that is what our society was raised to recognize and to act upon, especially in America since those were the grounds our country was created upon, that is the current way we behave. As we can see simply by viewing other trends in society, these behaviors are extremely difficult to break once they’ve been thought for so long.
Back to the US: Fashion in today’s Society
Since the epidemic of pant-wearing-women hit our Nation, fashions and styles have changed dramatically over the next generations. I remember rummaging through my parents closet and seeing my dad’s bright red parachute pants, and my mom’s gigantic and brightly colored earrings. Yes, those were the seventies and eighties. Closer to current times, the rebellious nineties—laces untied and hair dyed. While some reminiscent of those generations have come over into the 2000’s, we can begin to see something happen that we all too often forget—history begins to repeat itself. I believe that everyone my age, teen’s to twenties, has an eighties-nineties phase, but let’s not ignore the current trends that have gone back even deeper.
Take a look at some music artists for example. Gwen Stefani, though unique in many ways, often sports a Marilyn Monroe style hair cut. Lady Gaga, for example, putting her typical wild fashion antics aside, occasionally has a reminiscent view of 50’s and 60’s style in her costumes. In addition to our own country’s trends, but those of others as well are becoming more and more popular. Going back to Miss Stefani once more, even she has found an enjoyment in Harajuku. Harajuku, also a place in Japan, is a style in which expression is key. This fashion also tends to be associated with Japans 90’s fashion of Visual Kei, which translates literally into visual style, is all about self expression. This could be trend in many places, but the whole of the US hasn’t caught on yet.
The Shocking Truths about the Origin of High-Heels and other Trends
Have your heard about or seen one of the many new trends in fashion? What do they look like? Why do they look that way? Many of the things our society labels as “fashionable” or “trendy” may have some shocking origins that even your most fashionable diva could have guessed. Let take high-heeled shoes for example. Over the past several months the popularity of the heel has been the rise…but not just any heel. Twelve-inch heels! According to Yahoo! News, even professional models declined wearing these insanely tall shoes, but sure enough, Lady Gaga was seen casually walking in a pair, and even wore some in one of her music videos. The average heel that an average person would walk in is about two and a half to three inches and the extremely talented ones can pull of six. But just where did the idea of wearing heels come from in the first place?
It is a common fact that many articles of women’s clothing were designed by man, but just how far back do we need to go in time to find where that began? There is no actual date for this answer, because men have had a say in woman’s clothing for centuries—as far back as records tack us. But why is this? Why don’t women design their own clothing? Because in those times of the past, before any women’s rights movements occurred, the extremely male dominated societies had this in their plane:
“The female was forced to wear hampering skirts and dresses, which impeded her movements. In this way the male hobbled her at the same time. Later on he
Handicapped her still further in other ways, such as…high-heeled shoes which made walking a kind of acrobatic feat.”(Langer p. 53)
Not only was this happening in western cultures, but in eastern as well. The “hobbling” of women was something practice in many cultures, and is still practiced today by some African tribes. In china, not only were they wearing heels, but some were forced to wear tiny pointed shoes from a young age, so that by their adult years their feet were misshapen.
Aside from shoes, this may not seem as shocking, dresses were originally designed to hide pregnancies. The originals were the massive, poufy, frilly dresses designed intentionally to make any who wore them seem pregnant in order to hide the one’s that really were. Over time the style of dress changed, yet it still was not until the 50s that women finally were able to wear pants. (p. 54)
So, why do women still choose to wear dresses and heels?
Acceptance and Reality: Fixing the Fashion Fixation
We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the evolution of and reasons for fashion clothing in general. After taking the time to review our history of fashion, and taking into consideration that one simply cannot pile onto one essay, we can determine our current state within the fashion world. Now it’s time to look at the problem.
Fashion is part of our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not—even one that is labeled un-fashionable still has to admit that, even though “un” is part of the label it is still a type of fashion. That last statement leads us to where fashion becomes a problem. Aside from the gender separation and the display that women were “lower” than that was mentioned above, or the many changes of fashion over the year—it’s the way fashion causes people to act now. Not only does fashion currently cause people to judge others and discriminate against others, it causes emotional impact on people everywhere. Sure, there’s always that person that refuses to buy name brand and attempts an intentionally “un-fashionable” look, but as stated before, even “un” fashion is a type of fashion. Whether it’s the desire of one to buy expensive brands, or the pain inflicted to someone made fun of for their style—fashion has become a problem in our society. Just take a look at magazines—even those unrealistic Photoshopped bodies are enough to impact someone into desiring that status of “beautiful”, “desirable”, and of course, “fashionable”. However, these problems are not anything new in our world. It’s been going on for centuries; it only looks different in different cultures. How, then, can we put a stop to this? How can we lose our fashion fixation, lose our instinct to judge and to torment and move into accepting people for who they are regardless of their cloths?
One company doing their share of making a difference in the world of fashion in order to support acceptance of others regardless of clothing is Visual You Inc. This company uses fashion to spread the word and to spread the idea of kindness and love. Visual You, also known originally Lolita Kisama, was founded by Nina, Linda, and Tomy Nguyen. Nina gives us a glimpse in her world and explains some of her interest in fashion on their website as she tells us about her growing in Germany.
““I had always admired my German friends for their gorgeous blue/green eyes, blond/ brunette hair and their model height. I used to be an ugly duckling, a fashion failure and known as this perfectly well mannered Asian geek girl who was drowned in perfect papers and perfect grades. At age 15-16, I wanted to change. It was not all about fitting among the crowd, but rather about seeking my own confidence, to make myself feel beautiful…..Through fashion I grew more confident in character, as well. I realized that just because I looked different, it didn’t make me look ”ugly”. (Visual You Inc.)
It was later that Lolita Kisama was created. Beginning with some sales on eBay, (and for the sake of time, leaving out much of the story that I encourage everyone to go read) the trio began their business. Using Japanese and Lolita (an originally French style) they encourage others to accept and love without judging clothing. They even have a clothing line called “Fashion Unity.” In agreement with the statement above, fashion should be about how the person feels, not looks.
To be blunt, and to use a tactic shunned by English teachers everywhere, the change simply begins with you. You, whoever you are reading this essay, whoever realizes the negative effects of fashion judgments and fashion fixations. This journey to acceptance begins with you realizing the reality of how fashion impacts our world, and then applying your newly changed attitude to those around you. Try compliments instead of judgments, and if you see something you don’t like well, it doesn’t matter. No one has a designated right to inform someone that their fashion since is failing. Honestly, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder—cliché, but so true. The answer is to not spread hate and judgment, but love and kindness. It doesn’t take starting your own clothing line or business, but it does take the courage to speak and think these more positive things, rather than what the rest of society wants us to. It’s up to you to break our fashion fixation.
Flugel, J. (1966). The Psychology of Cloths. London: Lowe and Brydone Printers Limited.
Langer, L. (1959). The Importance of Wearing Cloths. Canada, Toronto: Reginald Sanders Publishers.
Nguyen, T. (n.d.). Visual-You, Inc. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from http:/www./visual-you.com
Taylor, M. L. (2008). Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society Fourth Edition. Courier Corperation/Kendalville.
Tolman, R. (1973). Guide to Fashion Merchandise Knowledge Vol. 1. Bronx: Milady Publishing Corperation.
Wilson, C. (1939). Fashions: Since Their Debut. Scrantion: International Textbook Press.