Fashion Identity

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‘‘Fashion provides one of the most ready means through which individuals can make expressive visual statements about their identities’’. Bennet, A. (2005). Culture and Everyday Life. London: Sage. p. 96.

Discuss this statement with reference to individual examples.

As Bennet suggests in the above statement, People use fashion as one of the easiest and realistic ways in which they can express their personality and their true identity to show to others in their everyday life to show their own idealistic attitudes and values and to what kind of person they are. But can we as an audience truly make an assumption as to a person’s character from simply what they wear? Particularly focusing on the male identity and fashion masculinity; this essay will explore the many contradictions of how the twenty first century male has evolved and changed his fashion identity over the years, to become what we perceive as a more fashion conscious man of today. Or is he?

In ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (1890), Oscar Wilde speculated that ‘‘With an evening coat and white tie anybody, even a stockbroker, can gain a reputation fro being civilized’’. Profoundly suggesting that one merely needs to change his appearance to become someone else; Wilde explores the idea that appearance and not identity is defined by what you wear, dismissing Bennet’s original idea that we form our identity from our choice of fashion. Is it that a man as non-reputable as a stockbroker can simply change his identity with the addition of a white tie to his outfit? Can a man who begs in the street in the morning be given enough money to purchase his own white tie and wear it that same evening ending the day with a different persona to what he started as? Is it that in today’s modern media world that we mentally make the judgement of who the person in front of us is - whether they are on the streets or at a dinner in a white tie - by simply what they are wearing?

Bernard Roetzel says that ‘‘A real gentleman is always a gentleman, even without his clothes. Clothes are the visiting card of a personality, and should therefore be chosen to match it’’ (2004). Here we are presented with the idea that no matter how a gentleman presents himself, he will still represent the idea of ‘a gentleman’ no matter how he dresses because of the characteristics said gentleman would inhabit. However, Roetzel defines a gentleman’s personality by matching it with the attire he is seen in when in another’s company. Perhaps the phrase ‘judging a book by its cover’ is seen in two aspects here. Society will judge us whatever we do, whether it be what we wear, what we say, or what we do because it is naturally humane to do this. A man’s clothing should not take away the underlying personality of who he is and what he contributes to society; but what he does choose to wear should compliment the persona he has created for himself.

Grayson Perry the British Turner Price winning artist and designer is known for his remarkable pieces and extrovert ideas. But what will he be remembered most for? His out of the box contribution to the arts, or his eccentric yet eclectic fashion choices? One would instantly judge Perry for his feminine style and cross-dressing because it contradicts the stereotype of ‘the gentleman’. Roetzel pointed out that no matter what the gentleman will where, he still is one, and Grayson Perry is merely showcasing his elaborate personality to the world through his outfits. This is not to say he isn’t a gentleman just because he isn’t wearing what perhaps society would expect him to wear today. Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Perry says “I think that one of the big unspoken addictions in our society is adrenalin. We are addicted to drama, everything has to be exciting, black and white there’s no middle ground’’. Perhaps here he is suggesting that identity - like his own - has to be exciting enough to create attention. Much like his work and his pieces (which could be...
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