Sociology of Fashion

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Introduction In this essay I will compare and contrast the fashion styles, trends, culture and ethos of the post-war era of the 1950’s and the youth revolution of the 1960’s. I will address the ways in which fashion was utilised by members of society at this time to shape class-based identities. I will address consumption as a cultural phenomenon and theory on fashion of communication as a backdrop. Following this and in order to gain a degree of critical depth I will focus on two British subcultures the ‘teddyboys’ and the ‘Mods’ drawing on the work of cultural theorist Dick Hebidge and illustrate the ways they utilised style in order to symbolise the values and meanings they shared as two distinctive subcultures one from the 1950’s and one from the 1960’s Slater argues that all consumption is cultural ‘consumption is always and everywhere a cultural process, but ‘consumer culture’ – a culture of consumption – is unique and specific: it is the dominant mode of cultural reproduction developed in the West over the course of modernity’(1997:8). He offers four explanations to support his argument (1997:132). Firstly consumption always involves meaning, that is perceptions, as opposed to only sensations, so in the context of style and fashion, textiles or clothing are interpreted or ‘read’ by consumers in many ways. Secondly these meanings are shared by members of the same cultural or sub-cultural groups. Thirdly consumption is a culturally specific activity and therefore carries different meanings in different cultural contexts, and finally it is through consumption that we produce and reproduce cultures, social relations and society itself. We build identities as members of culture by enacting ‘meaningful structures of social actions’. Slater gives the example of contrasting families who sit down to dinner contrasted with families who graze and says through these differences ‘altogether different families and family relations are being reproduced.’ While Slater does not address fashion consumption per se his arguments can be applied to the consumption of style especially in relation to how style is utilised by consumers to build culturally specific identities based on shared meanings. He cites Bourdieu’s work on taste and lifestyle and how they function socially arguing that ‘Cultural reproduction involves forms of competition and power … in which individuals and institutions have a stake, above all competition over value and legitimacy and competition over access to valuable ‘cultural capital’ (knowledge and competent ease in exercising taste and making distinctions). In the process culture comes to be seen as a battleground of class struggle and competition.’ (1997:160) Fashion as Communication Barnard (1996) in his book ‘Fashion as Communication’ addresses the ways in which fashion and clothing communicate class, gender, sexuality and social identities. He cites Simmel (1971:301) who argues that the establishment of fashion in society is dependent on two tendencies the first is a need for union and the second is the need for isolation in other words individuals must possess the desire to be part of a larger whole society and they must also possess the desire to be and considered unique and outside the whole in some ways. The whole history of society, he says, is reflected in the conflict between ‘adaption to society and individual departure from its demands,’ (Simmel 1971:245). Should one of these forces be absent, there will be no fashion. People appear to need to be social and individual at the same time and fashion and clothing are ways in which this complex set of desires or demands may be negotiated. In order to understand fashion and clothing as communication Barnard argues that it is not sufficient to understand communication as the simple sending and receiving of messages rather he cites Fiske’s definition of communication as ‘social interaction through messages’ (Fiske 1990:2-3 cited in Barnard p.29)....
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