One very important in the evolution of early humans was the act of decorating the body. All known cultures embellish the body either with marks on the skin or clothing (Entwistle 2001: 33). Body adornment recognizes the individual as a person and communicates aspects of his or her personal and social identity. In the 21st century, fashion as body adornment is still a universal part of a person’s everyday experience (Entwistle 2001: 41-43) yet, there is no one specific definition of fashion. Social scientists, philosophers and gender theorists present distinct understandings of the complexities of the fashion system.
The modern definitions of fashion are derived from the foundational works of Bourdieu (1984), Veblen (1899) and Simmel (1957), who discussed fashion as a tool for social class distinction. Social class is just one element in the study of fashion in the 21st century, where gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and subculture affiliation play equally influential roles in the meaning production of dress (Andrew 2008; Calefato 2004; Crane 2000; Crane and Bovone 2006; Clark and Turner 2007; Entwistle 2001; Kaiser 1997; Swain 2003; Taylor 1997; Tompson and Hayiko 1997). The notion of fashion as a non-verbal communication system is discussed by Barthes (1990, 2006), Calefato (2004), Entwistle (2001), Kaiser (1997), Crane (2000) and Taylor (1997) through the use of semiotics in their analysis of fashion, and their focus on the ways that fashion communicates the wears identity in the daily application of dress. The commonly held notion of fashion as superficial is addressed with its connection to modernity by Kawamura (2005) and Taylor (1997) in their discussion of the constant fluctuations in trends and social drive for reinvention. With no common understanding of what fashion is, the studies and theories surrounding the praxis of fashion are expansive and often contradictory.
The scholarly research on fashion that does not relate to a specific study focuses on three main questions. What is fashion and how do dress, dressing, clothing and costume fit into that definition (Barthes 1990, 2006; Calefato 2004; Crane 2000; Entwistle 2001; Kaiser 1997; Kawamuya 2005; and Taylor 1997). What are the social meanings of styles, body modification, and individual garments (Atkinson 2003; Barthes 1990, 2006; Calefato 2004; Crane 2000; Gage 2002; Kaiser 1997; Kawamuya 2005; Mufflin 1997; Pitts 2003 and Taylor 1997). What roles does the society take in that meaning making process either in conjunction or in contrast to the role of the individual (Barthes 1990, 2006; Calefato 2004; Crane 2000; Cromwell 1999; Entwistle 2001; Kaiser 1997; Kawamuya 2005; Mufflin 1997; Pitts 2003; Taylor 1997 and Zita 1992). Other related questions addressed are what is an identity (Bornstien 1994, 1998; Butler 2004, Cuomo; Fergeston; Taylor 1997 and Zita 1992), how does fashion effect identity recognition (Barthes 1990, 2006; Calefato 2004; Crane 2000; Cromwell 1999; Entwistle 2001; Gage 2002; Kaiser 1997; Kawamuya 2005 and Taylor 1997) and what are the power dynamics embedded in social recognition of an identity (Atkinson 2003; Bornstien 1994, 1998; Butler 2004; Clare 1999; Cromwell 1999, Entwistle 2001; Foucault 1978; Mifflin 1997; Pitts 2003 and Zita 1992). Postmodernism's deconstruction of identity extends to fashion, since fashion is an articulation of that identity (Entwistle 2001; Pitts 2003; Zita 1992).
The emphasis of the studies on the lived experiences of people participating in the complexities of fashion is useful to see how the ideas of the theorist play out. The most recent study I found, explores the communication capacity of textiles, focusing on fiber type association (Andrew 2008). Clarke and Turner (2007) and Tompson and Hayiko (1997) study the meanings individuals recognize and employ to construct identities in their social subcultures. The material culture elements of fashion drive Crane and Bovone’s research (2006). Kawamura (2005)...
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