written by liz ash - as always. If you haven't heard of Georg Simmel by name, I am sure you've at some time or another heard of his theories. Georg Simmel was a German sociologist, philosopher, and critic who lived from 1858 to 1918. It is very important to think about the context of when he was living in relation to his theories - World War 1 and so forth. While his theories were not accepted by academics at first, today he is in the canon of Sociology. His ideas on how humans are dualistic by nature, his structuralist theories, and how identity and culture play into fashion (which is a completely "irrational" thing - meaning we do not NEED fashion, we need clothing to cover our bodies but not fashion) as a complete social construct are very very relevant. In this blog, I will be speaking specifically about his essay "On Fashion" (1957). Moreover, Fashion can be read into or analyzed as any other social construct - as a symbol or symptom of what is going on at the time.
If we think about fashion as a symptom or symbol of what is currently going on in society - a mirror in many ways - what is fashion saying right now? With the entry of Fast Fashion into the world - the Zara's of the world - luxury fashion or style has been made accessible to the lower classes and much more quickly. Also think about technology and how this plays such an implicit role in today's consumption of fashion. I mean we have Fashion Bloggers now - these women and men dictate what to wear and the majority of them influence users to buy new things all the time. They are being paid by brands. It's incredible this age that we live in. It's a very interesting time to look back at Simmel's theories and see how at the present moment everything has sort have been turned on its head. Production time has been put on fast-forward.
Millenials are one of the most interesting subjects to study when it comes to fashion and trend due to fast fashion - with its low prices and swiftly developing trends, fast fashion has facilitated this demographic’s endless switching up of garments...but that’s not to say the millennial shopper isn’t attuned to the finer things in life, which is where luxury accessories play a key role. For millennials, these kinds of items represent better value as they’re a way to affiliate with a brand or lifestyle but can be worn across multiple looks and in different stylings.In fact, among luxury brands, Gucci handbags were among the most purchased among millennials, experiencing a growth of a whopping 595 percent in the first half of 2017. Other popular brands included Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, Valentino and Dolce & Gabbana, according to the Edited report. Millennials are also spending more on these items — shelling out an average of $1,465 on a full-price handbag in comparison to $1,414 in 2016. At the same time, non-discounted sales increased by 22 percent (source).
How many logos did you see today as you've been walking around outside or looking around on the internet? Why do people wear logos? What does it mean to them? What does it mean to others? This is where Simmel's idea of the individual needing to imitate and differentiate is key. Here's one of my favorite quotes from his essay “Fashion:”
Basically, fashion is a social creation and serves as an indication of social class. Fashion is not just about clothing, it's has a cultural context, it’s also about sending a message to those around you. Depending on how someone is styled, different inferences can be made about that person. Fashion changes quickly, so it’s fairly apparent when someone is wearing an “outdated” look. Outdated looks are often associated with lower social classes - however there is a difference to be made between hipster/vintage and "outdated" looks. Clothes also show wear, so when someone is wearing damaged clothing, this is an indicator of a lower social class as well.
I have an ongoing joke with my best-friend. We made up a hypothetical situation that we continually reference. Whenever we see someone wearing clothing with an "explicit label" like a shirt that says GUCCI or a bag with the LOUIS VUITTON logo all over it, we go up to them innocently and acting completely perplexed and fascinated.
[Tap, tap, tap on their shoulder, they turn around]
Me: "um...excuse me? I am so sorry to bother you but I love - I MEAN LOVE - your shirt [bag,jacket,etc]. It's so beautiful. Where did you get it?!"
Them (clearly surprised, annoyed, and looking at me like I'm from a different planet..they either ignore me altogether, or they pass me off for another 'dumb blonde' and politely say the designers name, then walk quickly away.) Last response:
"Are you serious? [awkward laugh while simultaneously looking my clothing over to see if I'm playing a game]! It's Gucci. [Points at the logo/name on the shirt].
Clothing labels - such as the example above - indicate class more explicitly because they can indicate the cost of a garment. There is a reason some people want to wear them.
Simmel discusses how clothing simultaneously individualizes us and groups us. When we have the resources to choose our clothing (not everyone is privileged with being able to choose) we tend to select looks which we think match “our style” or mimic a style we hope to achieve. I have heard so many times when shopping, “I love this, it’s so unique!”. In my experience, many people try to separate themselves from the majority and assert their individuality. We forget, however, that the “unique” items we are buying are often produced in mass quantities and sold across the country to millions of other shoppers hoping to look just as “unique” as ourselves. As much as we try to be unique, it is nearly impossible to actually achieve this.
Just as there are many people looking to assert their individuality, there are also people who want to “fit in” with the norm or fit in with the look of a certain social class (think about the intermission above). These people recognize which designs (often labels) are associated with their look. Here, I am thinking about the girls from my high school who drooled over Deisel Jeans paired with a Petit Bateu tee shirts. and topped with a Northface fleece. (I went to high school in Washington, DC. and Mean Girls was based off of my school.) These girls had an unofficial dress code and if others wanted to achieve the privileged upper class look, all they needed was the outfit and others would assume they belonged. Hence, people walk around with their LV monogram Neverfull Bags or their CC Chanel Handbags, and participants should know the difference between the two wearers: one bag cost $5000 [Chanel], the other costs $600 [Neverfull]. Clearly, they are from two different groups or classes. I find it strange too, that they will most likely get along with another person wearing the same logo or style bag better than the average person because it is of that group to which they feel they belong, and would like the world to know they do. It's these subliminal clubs and cues that I find so interesting.
[There's a whole other aspect to this conversation, which I won't include but it's the fake/faux bag industry and how many people will spend more than $200 for a fake bag. It also creates an interesting dynamic with the owners of the real designer garments bc 99% of the time, they know they are fake. And groups actually get some sort of pleasure out of pointing fakes out as it's usually obvious (except to the person carrying it who has this new "confidence" because of their fake bag).]
While clothing has practical uses (can shield us from the weather), fashion does not. Fashion is a different shade of blue; it is a different hemline, a different cut of jeans. Fashion has purpose, though. It is an indicator of class; it distinguishes us from others while simultaneously grouping us. And there is so much more, but I will save it for another day. Thanks!