Fashion is an important social and cultural phenomenon. It is often used to convey status, power and prestige, but it can also be seen as a form of rebellion or resistance. Fashion is constantly evolving and changing, with new trends appearing and old ones disappearing. The process of observing, trying on, buying and styling clothes is known to boost dopamine in the brain, making people feel good. The clothing industry is a major economic force worldwide, employing millions of people in design, manufacturing and retailing.
Fashion reflects the era in which it is created and can also communicate an individual’s personal style and taste. It is an important way of expressing oneself, especially for women, as it allows them to create a unique identity by choosing what to wear and how to wear it. Fashion can also be a powerful form of activism, as demonstrated by Professor Helen Storey MBE and chemistry Professor Tony Ryan’s Catalytic Clothing project, which used textiles to purify the air in cities.
One of the key concepts in understanding fashion is semiotics, which is the study of signs and symbols. In fashion, the signs can be related to a garment’s style, color, pattern or even the way it is worn. A tailored suit may communicate power, formality and professionalism, whereas ripped jeans and a T-shirt can suggest casualness and youthfulness. In addition, the symbolic meaning of a particular outfit can change over time and vary across different cultural contexts.
The concept of fashion has changed over the years, and now it is more about a person’s personal sense of style and how they dress in relation to their environment and culture. For example, pre-Industrial Revolution garments were locally sourced and produced, reflecting the place and culture in which they were made. With the rise of industrialization and mass production, the styles and materials available began to expand rapidly, with fabrics being produced in a more standardized way. This enabled a wider range of people to access and wear the latest styles, with the middle classes and the wealthy leading the way.
This led to a shift from the traditional idea of fashion being an exclusive look for the elite, to something that is accessible to everyone and can be easily copied by consumers. This trend was reinforced by the rise of the media and celebrity culture, which has encouraged people to follow fashion trends. It is not unusual for people to wear the same clothes as their idols, with some even going as far as attempting to copy the exact look of a famous person. However, with the large choice of clothing available to Westerners today, it is much more likely that people will choose what they like to wear based on their own tastes and personality. The term ‘fashion victim’ refers to someone who slavishly follows the latest fashion trends. However, a person who simply enjoys and appreciates clothes for their aesthetic qualities is said to be a “fashionista”. This article has been adapted from the original, written by Laura Martin and published in the New Statesman.