Expression by Fashion

RE: New Sensation Daily Challenge

Fashion. A word whose semantic meaning is uncontested, but whose practical meaning could hardly be more controversial.

One would be hard-pressed to find an English-speaking individual who doesn’t know what “fashion” means. One would be similarly hard-pressed, however, to obtain a consensus about what exactly is “fashionable”. However, to resolve this apparent contradiction by pointing out that fashion is “subjective” or “in the eye of the beholder” is to attribute to ourselves that which is externally determined.

The fact is, as much as people may use fashion to attempt to differentiate themselves from their peers, we do not determine what we like, or what we find fashionable. This is hinted to in the definition itself: “fashion – a popular trend, especially in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior” (Source: Google). A “popular trend” is by nature liked by many people (otherwise it would be neither a trend nor popular).

So how, then, do people use fashion to express their own individuality? I posit that by choosing a particular style, we ask of others that when they look at us, they see (in some sense) not us but the aggregated characteristics of those who share that particular style. For instance, when I wear a fat-suit to go to parties, I’m not trying to get everyone to see me as fat – I’m trying to get them to see me as friendly (though I’d also accept jolly). In a sense, then, the “individuality” we express is more about what group we want others to view us as belonging to then it is about our uniqueness as an individual. If fashion were a test question, the answer would therefore be multiple choice format, rather than short-answer.

Where do these aggregated characteristics come from? Associations, broadly speaking. Specifically, we associate the characteristics of the people we’ve seen displaying similar styles with the style itself – and we then display the styles (by wearing them) with the implicit hope that others will share our association (i.e. if we like people who wear tophats, we’ll wear them, assuming on some level other people will share this liking and extend such affection toward ourselves). The associations can also be manufactured deliberately, e.g. by clothing manufacturers advertising a particular item on an actress, so that people’s associations with the actress might be extended to those of the clothing item. One last source is perhaps the most interesting: the Hemline Index. This is a theory, presented by economist George Taylor in 1926 (WikiPedia):

The theory suggests that hemlines on women’s dresses rise along with stock prices. In good economies, we get such results as miniskirts (as seen in the 1960s),[3] or in poor economic times, as shown by the 1929 Wall Street Crash, hems can drop almost overnight. Non-peer-reviewed research in 2010 confirmed the correlation, suggesting that “the economic cycle leads the hemline with about three years”.[4]

In summary:

  • we use our clothes to express other individuals’ individuality
  • we use our clothes to express our oddly-accurate predictions regarding the state of the global economy
  • Footwear has not improved appreciably in 700 years (see image below and tell me it does not look better than your Uggs) source


  • Fashion is a scam.

Lemme know if I missed any of the nuances.



Expression by Fashion

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