October 27, 2006
why fashion might be important
I propose that because fashion coincides with societal change and development, it is a better indicator of current societal attitudes and moralities than political events are.
That is because, in a more or less democratic society, the more people are comfortable with an idea, the easier it is to convert that into real political action.
It sure is easier to change your clothes than it is to change your Member of Parliament. But if enough people change their clothes, the politician has to change as well to stay in favour.
Also, while political activists often represent a “radical fringe” and are treated as outsiders… perceived as anti-fashion, shrill, and eccentric…
Fashion spreads the word seductively… first shocking, then desireable, then available, and finally absorbed into the zeitgeist.
While female activists struggled shrilly to be heard at the turn of the 20th century, it wasn’t until mainstream society was comfortable with women in short skirts and short hair, cigarette smoking and career girls, that the actual momentous political turning point (getting the vote) occured.
This is a recent historical pattern in the western world, to my mind. The political axis doesn’t turn until the social axis has already completed the rotation; and always, the fashions predate the historical events.
I think the hippie movement is another example. For the radicals it really was a mission: anti-war, environmentalist, sexual liberation… this was the serious stuff that made the sixties unlike any other decade. But it was the fashions, not the vision and rhetoric, that eased the ideas of gender equality and civil rights to mainstream acceptance, followed by political change.
After that, the fashions changed again… just see how many hippies were hippies in fashion only and reverted to yuppie-ism in the 1970s and 80s. But because politics lags behind, the political changes effected remained in effect. The social benchmarks have shifted.
It seems to me that this kind of pattern can only happen reliably in a capitalist, democratic society.
I could be totally off the mark, but I think this is a pretty compelling argument for justifying the pursuit of fashion to anti-fashion intellectual radicals, if you meet any. There seems to be the possibility of effecting desired social change subtly by the simple act of choosing what to wear.
Also, whatever seems the most ridiculous, cutting edge, and offensive to mainstream sensibility, is also the harbringer of the next social benchmark.
Which side of the current social benchmark are you when you dress or when you buy? Is it conscious or unconscious?