Liz’s poem ‘Fashion Statement‘ presents images of many different kinds of fashion and made me ponder what fashion is for. I have come to the conclusion that fashion is our outward presentation of what we are and who we belong to. Humans have evolved to be social pack-animals and we need to be clear to others about which pack we belong to – or think we belong to – or want to belong to. Clothing allows us to identify packs which already exist. We can then choose clothes to show we want to be part of these existing packs or start our own. Whether those clothes are fashionable or not will depend on the pack; the same item of clothing can be fashionable in one pack and very unfashionable in another. Take for example neon yellow leg-warmers; they were fashionable in my pack in the 1980’s and are again fashionable in some packs right now, but they are definitely unfashionable in the pack I am in these days.
The big advantage of being able to use clothes as your pack-identification rather than scent, is that they are far easier to change. Of course scent can be masked, and the flavours used to mask them also follow trends (remember the smell of Angel everywhere in the late 1990’s? And Poison or Obsession 10 years before?). However, the scents we wear to cover our own body odour are still affected by the wearers individual pheromones. CKone smells different when worn by men or women, although ostensibly designed to be androgynous. With clothing on the other hand, the choices made and how they are styled clearly identify the wearer be a member of a particular tribe.
Some of these tribes distinctly see themselves as such. Being a Goth is a way of life; Goths recognise each other immediately and non-Goths recognise them too. Goths who have never met before will acknowledge each other and depending on the situation may strike up a conversation to find they have similar attitudes, likes and dislikes, possibly know the same people. There is a visible signal that these strangers have something in common and may enjoy each other’s company as a result.
Wearers of other styles feel less immediate empathy and recognition in others. The similarities or differences between two wearers of ‘jeans and t-shirt’ are more likely to be identified by what is printed on the t-shirt than by the fact that both chose denim and jersey-knit. I doubt anyone would expect a member of the Westboro Baptist Church to feel any instant bonding towards an LGBT campaigner on the basis of both people being clad in Levi’s and Fruit of the Loom.
The flexibility and speed with which clothes can be changed makes it possible to be in one tribe during the day and another in the evening and a third at the weekend. I used to be a business woman during the day, a slob in the evening and a sports person at the weekend (sorry – no pictures of the slob, well not ones I’m prepared to share on the internet!). Rarely did anyone see the slob, and my skydiving friends never really saw me in a business suit. The first time I bumped into a skydiving friend at a client’s office I recognised her face but wasn’t sure from where. A few weeks later we were skydiving together when I suddenly realised why the woman in the navy suit and heels I’d seen in reception had been so familiar. Presenting unfamiliar signals, we hardly recognised each other. The usual signal of similar skydiving clothing was missing. Our business suits did not elicit a reaction of ‘we have something in common’ and we passed each other by. Come Saturday morning, with the intentional selection of outerwear, we each stepped out of the ‘business woman’ personality into the ‘skydiver’ personality. Painlessly and swiftly changing the pack we were associating ourselves with for the weekend and immediately recognising each other at the dropzone.
When I was growing up in the 1980’s Sloane Rangers were a popular tribe – one I really wanted to be part of but couldn’t quite get the styling right to be accepted into. With hindsight, I think that perhaps that lack of acceptance was because underneath it my values and priorities were different to those of the people I aspired to be. And if I were to try and be one of Liz’s orange ducks off TOWIE or Jersey Shore, I also wouldn’t quite get it right either. I know I can’t walk in heels like that so won’t even try.
Snookie probably also knows she can’t really walk in those heels, but she doesn’t care. I know I shouldn’t wear too much bright electric blue, because it overpowers my colouring, but I don’t care. What makes Snookie totter in those heels and me wear this dress is that they show the world the things we like. Our clothes and fashion is our presentation to the world of what makes us tick, what we like, what we aspire to, who we like and who we would like to be, or at least be with. And the great thing is that we can like as many things as we want and show each of the them off with different choice of clothing. I agree with Liz’s nana – fashion needs to feel right to the wearer not the starer.