by Barb on January 7, 2011
I was talking on the phone with a friend the other day when the question came up of if I have become materialistic because I work in fashion turned up. It didn’t take me more than a second to quickly reply “no,” as well as provide an explanation. You see, dear reader, I had been thinking about a relevant question for quite some time before this one was posed. Another friend had asked me some time ago why I enjoyed working in an industry “promoting sheer consumerism and superficiality.” Now that one was a doozy and required a lot more thought to answer than the more recent question.
To address both questions, we’re going to have to treat some relevant discussions. Firstly, it can be considered a huge misconception that the fashion industry is based solely on achieving the goal of having consumers purchase items continuously and cyclically. And while you could for sure argue that it is partially true, it is not so in its entirety. We can examine the counterargument from three lenses – that of the designer, that of the advertisers and that of the consumer – that both concentrate on the idea of self-expression.
The notion that fashion is a form of art is an often debated in scholarly papers and journal articles (e.g. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body, and Culture, and The Guardian). It can rightfully been seen as a category of art through the idea that designers are in fact creators, finding a means of self-expression through the canvas that is the human body. And while the more conventional idea of an artist is one who puts paint to canvas, it should be duly noted that the fashion designer acts similarly in transferring imagination to reality by piercing his or her needle through fabric. What is often produced by the fashion designer (I opt for the use of the word “designer” as opposed to “brand,” because of the fact that chains produce clothing for the masses [i.e. kitsch effect], as opposed to embody the vision of a creator) is a voice dictating their views and perspectives. Even though, there are, admittedly, trends and similarities between each show during each fashion week, every collection shown is unique and spins the particular trend in question in their own way. In any case, look at some of the ensembles from some designers’ collections; realize that some of these designs aren’t wearable in everyday life, and ask yourself, why was it created then?
Given that the concept of the fashion designer having his or her own voice is somewhat understandably acceptable, what about that of the advertiser? To say that the advertiser cares for self-expression may be difficult, especially since his goal is to sell you, the consumer, something. Keep in mind, though, that one has to maintain a sense of branding and the voice of a particular designer or fashion house; in which case, the tone, fractionally, is still reflective of the created. More interesting, however, are the many references that one can find between advertisements and classical art (take for example, this comparison between Michelangelo and Weber). From one perspective, you could call such advertising as being “kitsch” for its eagerness to culturally satisfy the public; however, kitsch itself merely eliminates the step of comprehension required to achieve satisfaction in understanding text or image. These references and allusions, seemingly, create ties between the categories of art, so as to say that they are in fact related so much so that they can borrow from one another to reinforce the other’s purpose.
The consumer may be the easiest to explain in terms of reinforcing fashion as an art. The means of expressing oneself on a daily basis can be difficult; not all of us are willing to keep a blog, or to tweet every single thought that crosses are mind. In fact, incorporating these habits into our quotidian lives may be what is inhibiting our behaviors. What we do find in many of our habits, though, is the fact that we often travel to and from our work or from gatherings. And when we do so, we have to find some kind of outfit to present ourselves. Thus, what can be said is that what we wear is our easiest and most basic means of self-expression. For instance, we may opt for colors to communicate our moods, or for silhouettes to express our self-confidence. Given that social norms are consistently implemented in our lives, the latest trends and styles seem to be the boundaries of conformity that permit us to experiment with self-expression, while maintaining a sense of cohesiveness in a community.
To answer the question of whether or not I have become more materialistic because of my continued involvement in the industry, I pose this question: if you are an enthusiast for technology and work in the industry, does you insatiable desire to tinker with the new mean that you are materialistic? Perhaps. But not necessarily. There is a greater appreciation and keener eye for the new and for the improved; the skepticism that something can replace the old is ever more heightened, as you hold the latest tablet in hand, trying to find its flaws or to ensure that it warrants your merits. Materialism in itself is the philosophy of achieving satisfaction through obtaining physical goods; however, the technology specialist obtains satisfaction through the marveling of evolution and change. What I mean to say in my case is that I have not become more materialistic, but rather, I have curated a finer appreciation for not only the workmanship of clothing, but also the vision and passion that a designer communicates into everyday wear, as well as a more nuanced understanding of balancing conformity and self-expression.
Image courtesy of Style.com