Elements of Fashion

Although the word ‘fashion’ can mean different things in different contexts, for example, a fashionable car or furniture, it is generally used in regard to clothing. The way fashion is recognised by most people is through the recognition of style and dress on the body. The meaning also includes a reference to the ‘new’, as designers strive to bring out new collections several times a year, and as photographers and other image makers work on producing fashion images that are new and exciting to consumers.
In this essay, fashion is taken to refer to new styles of clothing decided on and or worn by a group of people that will change frequently and that has an impact as a business opportunity.

In philosophy, phenomenology is the study of human consciousness and self-awareness. It studies the structure of various types of experience from the first-person point of view. Its central principle is ‘intentionality’, which is that our experience is always directed toward something, it is an experience of or about some object. Our consciousness is directed towards a body and so we are made aware of it.
The content of an experience is the representation of the object in the mind, and in the mind we arrive at meanings of this representation. Being aware of our bodies, we clothe or adorn it and this gives rise to fashion.
The word ‘fashion’, by definition, is to do with the body. A person is said to be fashionable, a manikin wearing designer clothes cannot be. It is now accepted that the body is a necessary condition to using the word ‘fashion’. The dress has to be worn by somebody to be in fashion as it is “the body that fashion speaks to and it is a body that must be dressed in almost all social encounters”.

The experience of dressing the body is a subjective act of attention to the body; it makes the body an object of consciousness, and there is a constant dialectic between body and self. People desire clothes for various reasons and it often because they find them appealing or think they will make them attractive.
Dress is a basic fact of social life and this, according to anthropologists, is true of all known human cultures: all people ‘dress’ the body in some way, be it through clothing, cosmetics, tattooing or some other form of adornment. Dress or adornment is one of the means by which bodies are given meaning and identity. We become social and cultural beings through the wearing of dress or some other form of adornment.

Style is a way of doing something that shows a distinctive appearance, usually determined by way something is designed. When a thing is in fashion there is a consensus among people for a certain sense of style.
To dress a body is to create a sense of style, however minimal that may be. It’s an appearance that implies some thought about the design of the garment worn and the look it creates on the wearer. An old leather flying jacket indicates a certain style adopted by the person and may be considered stylish by others.

Fashion Pluralism

Which styles are successful and become ‘fashionable’ largely depends on the ‘cultural, artistic, or linguistic community’ (Giovannelli, 2005). This community is the fashion industry itself. The various people who produce, sell, photograph and write about fashion, together, set the styles and trends that others follow. They decide, as a result of ‘negotiations’ between various parties, what should be considered fashionable in the moment.

The evidence for this is found in the many magazine publications and media outlets, particularly social media platforms, that each day tell us what we should regard as being in fashion, for example, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan, among many others. They are not just print magazines but social media outlets. These magazines generally show editorials from high designer labels. However, there are now many mainstream and high street brands that promote on social media, and they, too, influence what is fashionable.
Roland Barthes has said that ‘clothes are the material basis of fashion, whereas fashion itself is a cultural system of meanings.’ The contingent and the historical both come to bear on meanings given to clothes in this diverse society. Different looks draw on both the contemporary context as well as history in arriving at meanings.

The character of modern societies is fragmentary; people are no longer subject to a self-evident set of common cultural values that the individual internalises, but rather to external forces that provide associations that modify behaviour.
As society has become more diverse and pluralistic, so fashion has become more varied, showing a never-ending supply of ideas, styles, looks and designs. The growth of the fashion conscious has led to ‘diversity not homogeneity, to enormous stylistic variation rather than uniformity’.

Fashion Photography

Fashion photography constantly plays with its subject matter, clothes, hairstyles, body postures, notions of beauty, and these elements are neither fixed nor do they need have a purpose. They are there to be explored. The images are not just about surface idealism, desire or triviality or the chemical magic of promotion, and are not necessarily a reflection of society’s preoccupations. Rather they are “far more variously even densely anchored” .

The photograph went from a record and a form of entertainment to the explicit creation of consumer desire. Thus the growing circulation of fashion photographs, in the first two decades of the 20th century, also saw the emergence of modern advertising techniques.

With the explosion of digital cameras and social media, the content of fashion photography is now whatever may attract attention in that cultural moment of time. There is now infinite content and no standard of quality, and so photographs depict fashion images in any number of ways.

The image does not communicate a message about clothes, instead it conveys an aesthetic effect. Images in fashion are mostly fictional, their ‘reality’ is a construct designed to present value to the consumer, and to elicit a response.

Fashion Business

Fashion is a major economic force and is among the top industries in developed countries. As a creative industry, fashion is characterised not only by the “centrality of creativity and aesthetics in the production process, but also by the importance of the consumption process” (Barnard, 2014).

It is an excellent example of how aesthetics is being used to drive the affective economy in social media. Fashion is both an economic and an artistic activity that creates symbols for the consumer, objects laden with meaning. Consumers use these objects to develop their own meanings and personal narratives.

As Bauman writes about the fashion world, ‘the spiritus movens of consumer activity is not a set of articulated, let alone fixed needs, but desire’ (in Svendsen, 2006). As a result, fashion brands produce strong aesthetics and narratives to encourage this desire.
The world of fashion is obsessed with novelty and adopts changing aspects of culture to continually evolve as an art form. It does so to excite and attract an audience with the hope of turning them into consumers as fashion.

Fashion as a business is driven by visual images. They are taken from catwalk shows, photoshoots, lifestyle images, et cetera, and are increasingly presented on social media accounts such as Instagram. They are carefully stylised along a continuum ranging from the everyday to images with high production values in order to promote brands and sell clothes.

Using Format