How Are Fashion and Appearance Central to the Construction of Social Identities?

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How are fashion and appearance central to the construction of social identities? Fashion can be defined as the prevalent style and custom at a certain point in time. Besides being necessary and protecting us, clothing also shapes and defines us in the cultural, social and psychological aspect. It has been a part of culture and identity since the earliest of times. We live in a world where fashion and clothing play a significant role in shaping and determining the identity and social image of people. This physical appearance often determines other people’s impressions of us and becomes a measurement of our self-worth. Nowadays with an increased self-consciousness, establishing the social identity of a person, fashion and appearance have played a crucial role. Wilson (1992: 13) has said, ‘clothing in fact, has the unique characteristic of being able to express ideas about sex and the body while simultaneously it actually adorns the body.’ While sexuality for both men and women has largely been shaped by the central ideas of fashion and appearance, there is evidence indicating women have been impacted more by the influences of fashion than men have. Therefore it is possible to say women, who are strongly influenced by fashion, may be more susceptible to social identities as Craik (1994: 176) said, ‘women are fashionable but men are not.’ Although Finkelstein (1996: 56) has argued that, ‘fashion has been seen as a device for confining women to an inferior social order,’ showing that these identities have not and are not always positive and empowering. In the concept of the ‘male gaze,’ the relationship between sex and sexuality in women’s fashion is entirely geared towards pleasing and catering to the male sexual desires. Although Craik (1993: 156) argues that, ‘despite the rhetoric that women dress to please men, other evidence suggest that women primarily dress to please other women. Further, there is no clear pattern as to whose ‘eyes’ women view other women...
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