top of page
  • Avni Jain

EXPLORING THE INTERSECTION OF FASHION AND POLITICS IN MODERN SOCIETY

Avni Jain,

O. P. Jindal Global University

Introduction

As Anna Wintour said “Fashion is a reflection of our times. Fashion can tell you everything that’s going on in the world with a strong fashion image.” Nothing survives history untouched. It is challenging to conceive anything in the globalised society we live in that is not continually affected by political, economic, social, and ecological events. It would be the same with fashion, of course. Fashion has always been a form of expression. No one doubts that fashion has unmatched power, whether as a reflection of social change or a vehicle for political expression.

From runway shows to streets, fashion is now a platform for political commentary and activism. Whether it's the use of sustainable materials, the inclusion of diverse models, or the incorporation of political slogans, fashion has become a tool for designers to express their political beliefs and for consumers to make a statement through their clothing choices.

Politics is being incorporated by designers all over the world, whether they are independent start-ups or internationally renowned Maisons, into every aspect of their companies, from the runway fantasy to the practical details of how collections are made. Alongside activists and organisers, these designers are creating change rather than just producing clothing. And that’s a selling point. What they make, how they make it, how they speak about what they have made—everything is politics.

The politicization of fashion has also had a profound effect on the choices made by the general public when it comes to fashion. Increased brand consumption, increased importance of political messages, and increased interest in diversity and inclusion are some of the consequences of this trend as fashion evolves and politics intersect to see how this dynamic continues to shape the industry It will be interesting. It is the system in which we live and manifests itself in all forms. Politics on your phone and politics on your street. And, yes, there’s the politics of your clothes.

Fashion is not only about the clothes we wear but is also a reflection of our values, beliefs, and identities. The multi-billion dollar fashion business influences how we dress, consume, and express ourselves. Its influence reaches beyond the glamorous world of the red carpet to sweatshops in the far-flung streets of Bangladesh and as near as Los Angeles. Along with challenging social conventions and reflecting back what society believes about itself, fashion also evokes society's dreams. Nevertheless, the question "Can fashion be political?" exists. The suitable reply must be, "Wasn't it always?" Sumptuary regulations from the Middle Ages forbade commoners from clothing above their level, but sansculottes wore hardy trousers as a sign of working-class pride during the French Revolution. While the 1980s "Greed is good" era saw power suits and pouffe skirts sublimate Reaganite corporate triumphalism, the Black Panthers used clothing to both seize and resist power, adopting a uniform of leather jackets and berets to signify their deputization as a counter-police force. Numerous instances of this kind of intersection exist. Therefore, we come to the conclusion that he incorporation of politics into fashion is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, clothing has been used as a tool for expressing social and political messages, from the suffragette movement's adoption of the colour white to signify their cause to the punk movement's use of ripped and safety-pinned clothing as a symbol of rebellion against mainstream culture. Today, designers are increasingly aware of their social responsibility and are using their platforms to address issues such as sustainability, diversity, and social justice. This intersection of fashion and politics has not only been the power of the makers but it also reflects cultural attitudes and beliefs of the wearers.

“Fashion functions as a mirror to our times, so it is inherently political,” notes Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Politics is being incorporated by designers all over the world, whether they are independent start-ups or internationally renowned maisons, into every aspect of their companies, from the runway fantasy to the practical details of how collections are made. To better understand this, we have divided our evidences from sources into three broad categories: Gender labels due to fashion, fashion as a means to display one's social standing and the beauty standards adopted throughout the world.

Gender labels due to fashion

Fashion's gender labels are a reflection of political conditions and have been influenced by them. Clothing has traditionally enforced societal expectations surrounding gender roles, with designs for men and women designed to reflect these norms. In the 20th century, however, the feminist movement challenged traditional gender expectations and called for more inclusion and fashion trends Fashion companies presented gender-neutral images great relationship responded in their collections and advertising campaigns promoting both genders such as Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang Or the Gucci mu brand and others display such products.

Despite the progress made in integrating gender into the clothing industry, traditional gender labels and expectations are still reinforced through clothing design and marketing This persistence has provoked criticism and activism from women and LGBTQ+ communities encouraging greater flexibility in their identity expression. Social media also has an important role to play in advocating for inclusive art by showing that influencers and activists use their platforms to challenge these norms

The article "Construction of Gender through Fashion and Dressing" by Zoi Avanitidou is evidence to this claim. It talks about how dressing and fashion are the two social-cultural aspects that influence gender. A chorography demonstrates varied definitions of masculinity and femininity, particularly in the last two centuries. For example; the struggle for women's access to trousers—in which Hollywood icons Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn is an evidence marker which confirms the differential treatment of men and women. Not only this but male and female roles are also guided and shaped by fashion, which is fundamentally the fantasy of escape from the traditional role of individuals and major fashion designers are significant players in defining these roles. Thus, this article speaks of style and fashion highlighting the differences between the sexes.

Thus, from the reading of different academic sources we gather that the fashion world is inherently intertwined with politics and gender. Classifications in clothing based on gender are both a reflection of and an influence on political circumstances. It is imperative to comprehend the political implications of these labels for advancing ethical and all-encompassing measures within the industry.

Dress as a way of displaying one's social standing

The potential of the fashion industry to express social position and class has long been recognised. A person's social standing has traditionally been communicated through their clothing, with particular brands and styles being linked to wealth and luxury.  Ancient societies used clothes to identify social groups and occupations, with the rich donning more elaborate and expensive attire. The way people dressed in medieval Europe was governed by the law, with certain materials and fashions being reserved for the aristocracy. Clothing remained to be a significant indicator of social rank and money during the Renaissance. The fashion industry has amplified the connection between clothes and social status in the modern era. With their designs and high pricing, luxury fashion labels like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci have become as emblems of wealth and status. Traditional notions of luxury fashion have also been challenged by the growth of streetwear, with names like Supreme and Off-White emerging as markers of cool and social standing among young people. Dress as a social status indicator, however, is not without debate. Thus it is seen that the class divide and inequality is sustained through the connection between particular brands and fashion trends and social standing.

According to the research paper titled ‘Consumer Preference for Status Symbolism of Clothing' by Elena Millan and Banwari Mittal, once the basic needs for clothing are met, consumers value much of the variety in clothing's styles and branding for its symbolic meanings. People who are concerned with their status are constantly aware of the status they currently hold and are motivated to protect and flaunt it. High status concern is a requirement for and is likely to engender desire for clothing status symbolism since clothing is an effective way to convey the wearer’s status. According to the results of their study, consumers who are cognizant of their status and who are aware of their public persona favour clothing that conveys status symbolism. The study of status-related anxiety highlights the significant motivational role that status in modern society currently plays in influencing consumer clothing.

Therefore to conclude a careful reading of the sources establish a connection between clothing and social status which was established in ancient times, with clothing being used to identify social groups and signify wealth and luxury. In modern times, luxury fashion labels and streetwear brands have become symbols of status and coolness, which is valued by people who are concerned with their social standing.

Beauty standards adopted throughout the world

The fashion industry has a long history of upholding specific standards of beauty that have changed over time and between countries. The adoption of beauty standards around the world serves as a means of enforcing social norms and expectations. The definition of beauty has changed significantly over time and between civilizations. For instance, a curvy form was admired in ancient Greece, whereas a small waist and a fair complexion were admired in the Victorian era. Modern times have seen a rise in the globalisation of beauty standards, with the fashion industry and media all around the world promoting particular notions of beauty. Among the most frequently emphasised aesthetic ideals in the fashion business are youth, pale skin, and thinness. However, the promotion of particular beauty standards can have unfavourable effects, perpetuating inequality and discrimination. Because being thin is now equated with beauty in Western societies, eating disorders and body dissatisfaction are on the rise. Light skin is often linked with money and privilege in some cultures, which encourages the marketing of skin-lightening products and supports colourism. Additionally, the fashion industry has come under fire for its lack of diversity and inclusivity, with some believing that certain racial or ethnic groups are the only ones who can achieve certain standards of beauty. There have been complaints that there should be more representation of all body types, races, and ethnicities due to the criticism surrounding the use of mainly thin, white models in fashion advertising. 

According to CNN's discussion with beauty and health writer Kari Molvar, beauty standards adapt to the changing political and social environments and do so even today. She discusses how a lot of the current definitions of beauty have political undertones to it. It serves as a relevant reminder that everything from gender politics to industrialization has impacted the beholder's perspective. Despite the fact that cultural norm-shirking can occasionally influence beauty standards, they may be repressive by nature. The ideal figure changed from corseted curves that were nipped in at the waist to a straighter, more androgynous shape that "freed women's bodies." According to Molvar, the purpose of makeup has changed from merely smoothing out a person's complexion to one that is "intended to shock, and stand out."

Conclusion

I would thus conclude that fashion is politically charged. The fashion and beauty sectors have both positive and negative political repercussions since they reflect, influence, and are affected by the political climate. Understanding these implications is essential if we want to promote inclusive and ethical practices in the industry. Although the fashion industry is working to advance body positivity, sustainability, diversity, and inclusivity, there is still much to be done to challenge and dismantle ingrained gender norms and hierarchies. Fashion can convey social status, but as clothing lines become more diverse and gender-neutral, existing rules and hierarchies may be questioned. Although the fashion and beauty sectors have also been tasked with upholding exclusive beauty standards, there has been an increasing push in recent years for inclusivity and diversity. Greater respect and inclusivity for people of all backgrounds can be fostered by a more diverse and inclusive fashion and beauty industry, which ultimately promotes greater social cohesion. Recognizing how these sectors affect how people perceive beauty in different cultures is crucial, as is working to create a more varied and inclusive industry that supports inclusivity and questions preconceived notions.

References

a.      Singer, Maya. 2020. “Power Dressing: Charting the Influence of Politics on Fashion.” Vogue, September 17, 2020. https://www.vogue.com/article/charting-the-influence-of-politics-on-fashion.

b.     Desai, Shraddha. 2022. “Influence of Fashion on Politics: The Power of Political Dressing.” Fashion Law Journal. December 30, 2022. https://fashionlawjournal.com/influence-of-fashion-on-politics-the-power-of-political-dressing/.

c.      Vilaça, Julia. 2022. “The Constant Intersection Between Fashion & Politics - Fashinnovation.” Fashinnovation (blog). May 12, 2022.   https://fashinnovation.nyc/fashion-and-politics/.

e.      Miller, Joshua I. “Fashion and Democratic Relationships.” Polity 37, no. 1 (2005): 3–23. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3877060.

f.      Dolan, Leah. 2021. “A History of Beauty Trends – and the Standards That Shaped Them.” CNN, June 1, 2021. https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/beauty-trends-history/index.html.

g.     Millan, Elena, and Banwari Mittal. 2017. “Consumer Preference for Status Symbolism of Clothing: The Case of the Czech Republic.” Psychology & Marketing 34 (3): 309–22. https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.20990.

h.     Tiwari, Aastha. 2020. “Deconstructing The Gender Politics Around Clothing.” Feminism in India, September. https://feminisminindia.com/2020/09/24/clothing-politics-gender-caste-class/.

 

 

Σχόλια


bottom of page