When we think about fashion, the imagery that tends to come to mind first is of glamour, trends, supermodels and fashion weeks.
Although that’s part of the fun, to me, fashion is about culture, identity and manipulation (in a good way!).
Fashion is the invisible conductor that reflects and influences the way we behave as well as our self image. Through portrayals in the media, there are certain stereotypes associated with those who love and are conscious about fashion, whether that’s being air-headed, wealthy or eccentric.
Despite this, one of the first and most interesting things about fashion is the fact that it always has been and always will be relevant. I can’t think of many industries which have existed for as long as humans had conscious thought. In every era and culture throughout history, fashion and what we wear has been key to society. Historically, certain colours (such as purple) had allusions to wealth or social standing. Fashion is an identifier; what you believe, the way you see yourself, your priorities and your financial authority can be deduced (or at least assumed) from what we wear; when we flip this thought, that means that we can cause people to see us in a certain way depending on how we dress. Of course, fashion and self image are subject to societal rules (often implicit), however they influence each other; there is no dictator between the two. As long as humans have conscious thought, regardless of which trends resurface, fashion is always relevant because people care about what they wear and society cares about what we wear.
Fashion is also a massive influence in our daily lives in that, apart from the tangible facets, it’s about our concept of beauty and worth. In an age of self-love and acceptance, we see fashion as what we, as individuals, find beautiful. Whether our idea of beauty is dictated by society, or whether we choose to forcibly look for beauty outside society, fashion tells the world about and reaffirms our visions of beauty.
Of course, as we go through life and various experiences, we change and amazingly, so does fashion. Fluid and never stagnant, there is always a resurgence, a new trend or even an old trend reworked- we have the opportunity to change as we want with no time constraints placed on our individuality. The blessing of having fashion in this current era is that despite this fluidity, we are under no instruction to change with ourselves along- no matter how many editors, bloggers (guilty!) and magazines crow about ‘The Latest Trend’, we are in a time where we have choice and our choices are mostly valued.
Going deeper into the intangible powers of fashion, it can be likened to a magic mirror; it reflects what society’s standards are, but in fashion, we have the opportunity to change those standards. This comes across in the increasingly important issue of diversity and genuine inclusiveness. With consumers demanding more representation in fashion and media, the attempts (and there is still so much more to be achieved) of the industry to cater to this demand have led to new definitions of ‘socially acceptable’ beauty. The rise in the positive visibility of darker skin and models of different ethnicities has also changed how we define ourselves. This positive representation leads to higher self esteem and a greater appreciation of our worth as unique individuals, which is an attitude that carries on into other aspects of our daily lives and also influence our attitudes towards other people. These may seem like smaller changes, but the impact of this can be seen on a wider scale throughout different ‘levels’ in society.
Dreams and social justice is great but fashion is also no stranger to cold, hard cash. According to this report, the fashion industry indirectly contributed around £46 billion to the UK economy in 2014. Although this isn’t a current statistic, it’s perfectly logical to assume that this figure has only risen over the years as a result of factors such as technological advances. The industry has a number of opportunities whether that’s in manufacturing, designing, retail or distribution and despite the notoriety that it’s had for competitiveness, fashion is multi-faceted and consists of a number of roles outside the confines of ‘designer’.
Aside from all of this, it would be irresponsible to ignore the damage that comes with fashion; for example, waste and pollution from producing and distributing products, the exploitation of labour in manufacture and the misuse of power when it comes to models and other staff. Of course, fashion has a mountain of issues that reflect society’s shameful side, but as conscious consumers and fashion participants, we can do better by encouraging sustainability, intelligent activism and constant discussion about the change we want to see.
As for me, I believe fashion can change the world- not because of how great it is, but because of all of us who are tied to it.