Fashion: noun \ˈfa-shən\
A) a prevailing custom, usage, or style
B) the prevailing style (as in dress) during a particular time
C) social standing or prominence especially as signalized by dress or conduct
Fashion is many things to many people. To designers, it’s an expression of their artistic vision. To models, it’s what pays the bills. To fashion bloggers, it’s almost a science; to be studied and dissected. But what is fashion mean to the rest of us?
As a fashion blogger, I have heard time and again that fashion simply isn’t important. “Who cares, it’s just clothes?” is a common phrase, dismissive of the industry as a whole. But fashion is so much more than clothing or a means for personal self express. Fashion is a litmus test for the economy; it is the calling card for socioeconomic classes; it is the visual representation of the state of the world.
From ancient civilizations to as recent as the 1900’s, fashion was a representation of your class. Though not as prevalent in most countries today, places like India, China, Japan, and parts of Africa still have a very visible caste system. What you wear shows what caste you belong to. For example, in 1863 in England it would be very easy to tell a Gentlewoman from a Parlourmaid by the clothes she wore. The mode of dress for the titled class was strictly ornamental and not at all conducive to doing much beyond riding in carriages, sipping tea, and going to the theater. The lower classes wore clothes that were more functional and less ornamental; better for working and moving about.
Women also used their clothing to signal availability and means to potential suitors. Gowns for women of a marrying age were not just designed to showcase a woman’s assets (without putting them on display) but were also made to show her family’s wealth. This indicated that she was of gentle breeding and would come with a healthy dowry.
From the 1900’s until now, fashion has played a part in all major changes in the world. During times of economic distress, colors become muted, cuts and styles become more simple, and designers create for function over ornamentation. Looking at the Great Depression and the latest financial collapse of this century, we saw a return to more neutral and simple attire. Fashion mimics the world of that moment, whether things are good or bad.
In the 1940’s, wartime took many men overseas and saw a huge influx of women entering the job market. Women’s attire began to take inspiration from menswear; suits with buttoned jackets, pants, skirts that were narrower and shorter, and the first big use of shoulder pads. Women’s fashion helped women feel in command at their jobs and created new styles that were the foundation of female business attire.
In the early 1900’s, as women were fighting for the right to vote, women’s fashion took note and made some drastic changes to typical female attire. Corsets gave way to regular foundation garments; crinolines and petticoats were cast out in favor of a slimmer shape that made getting around much easier. Women no longer hid or bound their shapes; they put their natural figures out there for the world to see!
With the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s, women’s attire again underwent a big change as the women’s liberation movement swept the country and the world. Hemlines rose, necklines plunged, and bras were burned. Designers responded by creating empowering designs that allowed women to show off the bodies they normally kept hidden.
Today, we see many trends in fashion happening all at once. With prosperity in the economy, we’ve returned to brighter colors, bolder prints, and more opulent fabrics. But the global impact of a desire to reduce our waste, protect the environment, and resuse our materials has led to a whole new trend in fashion; sustainable apparel. Fabrics like bamboo, hemp, and organic cotton point to the consumer’s desire to have less of a negative impact on the environment, and find other ways of creating garments. More and more locally made clothing lines are popping up and promoting their items that are made in the USA and created with sustainable materials.
Where do you think fashion will go next?