Has fashion lost its identity in the past decade?
Fashion is a cultural construction. If fashion is cultural, then fashion subcultures are groups organised around or based upon a certain features of costume, appearance, and adornment that render them distinctive enough to be recognised or deﬁned as a subset of a wider culture . Fine and Kleinman (1979) propose that subcultures are kept in a constant state of ﬂux because of the actions and interactions of individuals transmitting ‘cultural elements’ between groups . Each era or decade has its speciﬁc signs which give it an identity. There are subcultures that underpin each time-frame but the most commonly adapted fashion becomes the mainstream one and is considered the identity of that time. Though there are more than one sub cults at any given time, one subcult dominates and goes on to form the identity of that time, as was illustrated in the decades preceding the one just passed. Using the semiology and the sign-signiﬁer-signiﬁed system of Ferdinand de Saussure, the different fashions and trends are the signiﬁers and the era in which they are most popular in is the signiﬁed. There have been different signiﬁers that portray a particular time frame. The ﬂapper dress signiﬁes the Roaring Twenties, the shiny jumper suit the Seventies, the bustle the Mid-Victorian era, and so on and so forth. Diffusion is the spread of fashion within and across social systems . Diffusion of fashion across societies and classes has been
spread through various means and different theories have been made at the form of diffusion. The trickle-down theory as developed by Veblen’s (1899) and Simmel’s (1904) followers, implies that fashion is starts at the peak of the social structure and works its way down to the bottom . This theory is however turned upside down when the street-style, which can be termed as the bottom of the ‘modern social structure’ gets adopted by the high-end designers, the ‘modern peak of the social structure’. Since 1970, it has no longer been the case that fashions are launched by the aristocracy or the bourgeoisie, and then ﬁlter down into the general population: fashion now moves upwards, from the street into the salons of haute couture where it is adapted and imitated . This can also be called the trickle-up theory. Modernity typically denotes “a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period”, in particular, one marked by progress from agrarianism via the rise of industrialism, capitalism, secularization, the nation-state, and its constituent institutions and forms of surveillance. Postmodernity conveys an idea of a shift from, or a transformation of, modernity. A deﬁning feature of postmodernism is the transformation of reality into images . Images, here relates to the visual reality which transcends the actual reality through the media of television, advertising, video and home computers. Through them, postmodernism has spread through both high and popular culture, making itself a part of daily life. The modern boundaries have broken down both horizontal and vertical hierarchies developing a culture that is outward and disjointed.
The hammerblows of superindustrial revolution are splintering the society. We are multiplying these social enclaves, tribes, and miniautomotive options. The same standardizing forces that make for greater individual choice with respect to products and cultural wares are also de-standardising our social structure. That is why we are living through a ‘subcult explosion’. We are all deeply inﬂuenced, our identities shaped, by the subcults we choose to identify our self . The boundaries, geographical, social and cultural ― horizontally or vertically dividing ― are blurring. In the era of Postmodernity, the development of ﬂexible forms of technology have generated the capacity to produce an expandable range of highly specialised products (fashion) to meet rapidly changing market demands. The acceleration of new fashions has been matched by an accelerated turnover time in consumption. High street store Top Shop and its online counterparts topshop. com is updated ﬁve days a week with over 300 new products . Others will have a similar ﬁgure. Thanks to such a competition for the consumer’s attention, mainstream designers are driven to bring out more than the biannual collections. And this has slowly begun since 1960 when there was a decline of the seasonal look and mainstream fashion had to deliberately construct itself as a variety of looks . The instant recall on history ― fuelled by having all the relevant data at hand thanks to the media ― has produced a non-stop fashion parade in which fashions from different decades are visible at the same time without having
any continuity of history . The postmodern 80s and 90s have been decades of subcultural fragmentation and explosion, with a glut of revivals, hybrids and transformations, at the existence of myriad styles at any one point. This has enabled postmodern subculturists to ‘style surf’ . You don’t see a revival of fashions just in the postmodern society though. Christian Dior, with his New Look, had traces of Belle Epoch while the 70s had a lot of ethnic inspirations which showed vintage chic. So from intermittent trends to a more regular trend, the recall on history and its fashions has always been present. But even in the 80s and 90s, there still was a major trend followed superseding the others. While 80s was about power dressing , 90s’ ideology of fashion was ‘less is more’ . The decade 2000-2010 though can’t say the same. The style surﬁng has intensiﬁed. At any given point you see mods, hippies, goths, punks, etc all in the same time frame. Also, the virtual reality has also given another opportunity for people to express themselves. So, maybe a punk follower in real life may have a hippie-like virtual identity. It’s all about the choice now. Of what you choose to be and what you portray to be can be different from each other as there is liberation of choice. Media discources are instrumental in the fast wide-spread of subcultures. But as Thornton rightly puts it, they also serve as a subcultural kiss of death by which the moment the subculture attains widespread exposure, it loses its standing with the originator .
I wrote this fashion theory essay on whether fashion has lost its identity over the past decade.