Fashion and Identity

In the book, Culture and Everyday Life, Bennett, (2005: 115) asserts that fashion is a key resource through which individuals construct their identities and position themselves in relation to others. Although identity is considered among the most contentious aspects in humanities, it is the role of fashion that is more striking. Indeed, fashion is inextricably influential in the determination and construction of one’s identity. For instance, the manner in which people position personal fashion statements is related to their contradictions in their daily lives. In similar fashion, people are wont to declare who they hope to be through their choices of appearance. Most importantly, fashion presents people with a window to express who they do not want to be or associated with thus determining their own identities (Negrin, 2008). In this sense, therefore, appearance is a cumulative determinant of fashion through physical features such as hair and skin as well as grooming and clothing preferences.

In today’s modern world the society is characterized by an ever changing embodiment of consumables. The rate at which these aspects change and evolve is highly unpredictable in ways never seen before. The dynamic nature thus gives rise to an increased competition among the various aspects of life such as gender, fashion and social politics. In particular, fashion is an important player in the determination of one’s niche and the extensive construction of one’s identity (Barker, 2012). Moreover, fashion is integral in the expression of personal identity in a world that continually heralds changes in these aspects. The situation is far worse in large cities where a collection of strangers interact and mingle with each other on a daily basis. This, coupled with the globalization of the world and the entry of social media means that people must find creative ways of expressing their identities. The role of fashion in this regard, cannot therefore be gainsaid as it goes beyond clothing.

Fashion is an instantaneous process of communication and expression that is largely concerned with symbols and meanings. It is a cultural phenomenon that employs the use of accessories and clothing in communicating statements regarding to one’s identity. By providing such an avenue, fashion enables people to communicate their beings through such associations as preferred social groups and styles. Despite its huge association with clothing, fashion is also attributed to such aspects as the type of hairstyles as well as other items that do not include clothing (Lewis, 2011). It is not surprising therefore that one’s fashion statements can be invoked upon in identifying one’s inclination in the world and the social groupings that they associate with. Further, one can make an accurate determination about one’s origin through a mere observation of their clothing accessories and hairstyles. The choice of vehicle that one purchases may also communicate a lot about their identity and social inclinations. Fashion is therefore an extension of one’s self and their identity and is one of the most accurate pointers of one’s social facts.

It is important that an understanding of the concept of identity is achieved before any connection is drawn with fashion. It is thus a type of social representation that relates an individual to their social world (Mathur, 2013). Everyone is entitled to feelings of great urge to express their identities largely due to the need to connect and associate with different people. Issues of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and religious beliefs, social and economic status compel people to express their identities. In this sense, fashion presents an opportunity for people to not only express their identities but also expel misconceptions regarding their identities. For instance, a person wrongly termed as a homosexual may use their sense of fashion to dispel any such misconceptions on their identity. The main beauty of fashion in this undertaking is that it helps in the visual communication of these facets of one’s identity without the need to use words. Accordingly, the fashion worn on a body is a direct communication of the wearer’s economic status, sexual orientation, educational attainment and taste, among other things.

In terms of communicating the one’s social and economic status, fashion is highly accurate. In fact, it is regarded as an inherent visual statement of wealth and affluence (Riello, 2010). For instance, one can communicate their economic superiority through the choice of clothing and accessories adorned on their bodies. Similarly, the use of fashionable items is a sure way of expressing one’s association with a particular social group. Still, the wearing of these fashionable items can be interpreted to communicate a huge distance from the low social groups. It is no wonder that high level government officials associate themselves with highly fashionable suits and watches thus communicating their social and economic identities. It would equally be improper for a poor man to wear highly fashionable watches and attend expensive restaurants. Perhaps, the theory of conspicuous consumption is more appropriate in explaining this relationship. Indeed, the consumption of fashionable goods not only communicates one’s awareness but their wealth and good taste in that front (Berger, 1998). Fashion therefore helps in the formation of bonds between people in the same social strata while creating disparities with others that are in lower ranking social groups.

Among the most prevalent concepts in the link between fashion and identity is sex and gender. Although the two are related, gender is the result of cultural construction while sex is biologically determined. Sex and gender can thus be used in the determination of one’s fashion sense and their identity in extension (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). For instance, men are naturally conservative and their fashion does not therefore change frequently across seasons. In contrast, women’s nature compounds them to change their fashion across different seasons. Perhaps the rationale behind this setting is that men are culturally providers and are considered the active sex in the society. On the other hand, women are the passive sex and therefore considered as the most fashionable within the society. The choice of men’s fashion is thus dependent and tied to their ability to practicality and their functions as opposed to aesthetics. In this sense, men can choose clothes that facilitate efficient production in their fulfillment of society constructed duties of providers. However, women’s fashion is largely tied to the designs and aesthetic appeal of the products despite having some small connection with practicality.

The role of fashion in the contextualization and socialization of gender and sexual roles is widely accepted. It is obvious that fashion and clothing help in the determination of socially accepted sculpting of female and male images (Edwards, 2011). It is not surprising therefore that man with a sense of fashion have been considered unnatural around the world. In contrast, women that embrace men’s fashion such as trousers are considered aggressive and accepted in society. At some time in society, the norms of men as unnatural fashion lovers have been broken through such movements as the rock bands that dominated the 1980s. In this time, the society embraced femininity in men such as the wearing of makeup and the application of nail polish. Perhaps, the growth of such tendencies can be attributed to the development of the rock culture as well as the improvement in art and music. Today, such trends continue to dominate the society with occasional appearances of men that embrace femininity. Regardless, the first judgment of one’s gender and sexual inclination is their fashion and clothing (Barker, 2012). Indeed, one’s gender and sex is clearly identified through their attire thus forming conceptions on whether they are heterosexual, homosexual or simply men and women.

In modern society, issues of gender and sexuality are perhaps more complex and complicated than they were in ancient times. For instance, feminine attributes that were traditionally associated with women are prevalent in men including their fashion statements. That notwithstanding, one’s identity is largely constructed through their culture and not just through their biological attributes. As thus, one’s identity may clearly be determined through a dissection of their genders rather than their sex (Bennett, 2005). It is common to come across many men whose sex is male but with genders that are not inclined in that direction of identity. There are countless models with many attributes of femininity including skinny, hairless legs and long wavy hair. Through one’s way of dressing and fashion, a determination of their gender can be made such that many men are now homosexual and androgynous despite being men by sex. In part, the subversion of culturally constructed norms of male and female dressing help in differentiating between different sexual orientations. Evidently, therefore, sexual orientation, gender and sex form the first main judgments about another person.

Despite gender and sex, the expression of one’s identity is also manifested through the race, nationality and ethnicity of an individual (Branston, 2010). Naturally, human beings are more attracted to people of this nature and those that have similar attributes and preferences. It is no wonder that people sharing common background and history are likely to become friends. The concept of globalization, otherwise termed as a global ethnoscpope has resulted in the mass movement of people across different parts of the world. The mixing of people from different regions has led to the evolution of fashion as well as the urge to express one’s background and origin when in a foreign country. In part, the need for this expression is attributable to the urge to communicate and relate with people sharing a common history and background. For instance, people from a similar past have the tendency of wearing an ethnic dress that is adapted to traditional items of cultural heritage. Indeed, almost all countries and religions have specific connotations of the perceived male and female image. These connotations are perfectly depicted in different national dresses that identify citizens of the respective countries (Barnard, 2014). The same concept is applied in countries with distinctions across cosmopolitan cities prompting the adoption of national dresses to identify specific ethic groupings.

India serves as the perfect example of countries made up of an array of religious and ethnic identities (Maynard, 2004). It is common to come across a collection of Muslim and Hindu women that are highly distinguishable from their mode of dressing. While the Muslims wear the religious dress called burkha, their Hindu counterparts can be seen wearing the national dress of India otherwise called saris. Also, the burkha couples as the ethnic and national dress for women in other countries such as Saudi Arabia. The Islamic religion requires women to conceal their bodies through clothing and their identity can therefore be distinguished from miles away. In Muslim countries like Iran, people have been killed for disregarding their religious and national identity. An attempt to challenge these norms is considered an attack on the religious identity thus resulting in such instances.

The subcultures of youths are highly important in understanding the issues of culture in fashion and identity. In Britain, for instance, reforms initiated in the 1950s resulted into more disposable income for the youths (Kaiser, 2012). In part, some of the youths now spent the income on fashion through embracement of gregarious fashion styles. However, the economic prosperity did not last for long thus leading a widening gap of generations. The effect was the culmination of many subcultures based around distinct styles, ideologies and cultures. For instance, there were Mods, Teddy Boys and Punks that were easily distinguished through their styles of dressing and social behavior. The emergence of subculture is endeavored to bridged problems that emanate from differences in social and political structures. As thus, sub cultures express different identities that are easily identifiable whenever one is not within the collective group.

The Punks are the most important subcultures in fashion and identity having dominated Britain in the 1970s. These people would borrow everyday life items and incorporate the same into their dressing and thereby communicating different meanings in the process. The changing face of the Punks was not a coincidence of sorts but a result of the contradictions in the social situation of the time (Barker, 2012). They thus communicated the overall joblessness and poverty of the time through the incorporation of safety pins, chains, dyed hair into their fashion statements. The anti-fashion nature of their dressing can be interpreted as an expression of frustration and anger to the issues facing the youth of the time. In addition, the anti-fashion dressing adopted by the Punks communicated a unique style of fashion in itself. Furthermore, their body modification rituals such as piercing and tattooing communicated much more regarding their identities.

There is no doubt that fashion and identity are closely related in both meaning and expression. In fact, the choice and expression of fashion communicates a great deal of one’s identity including their sex and gender as well as their social and economic status. The process of identity construction is highly influenced by the expression of fashion among different individuals (Milestone, 2012). The consumption of fashion itself results from cultural production as individuals associate fashionable goods with different meanings and symbols. In addition, fashion is attributed to the communication of religious, ethnic and national identities of a people through the clothes they wear as well as accessories applied on their bodies. In this regard, fashion does indeed provide a sure way for individuals to express their identities.



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