Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fa Fa Fa Fa Fashion

I am not a very fashionable person. Does that mean that I am old-fashioned? Not exactly. Non-fashioned might be closer to the reality. I just don’t get the concept of fashion. Why should anything be the right thing to wear, the right thing to say or the right thing to believe at any given time or place? Who or what determines this? The market or marketeers? The trendsetters?

The whole concept of fashion arises out of the need to fit in, to belong to a group. So it is not precisely about the external item per se, but about the set of beliefs and values that it incorporates. The need to belong is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history. Survival depends on being part of a strong group: without the group we are nothing; weak groups are quickly eliminated. Once upon a time, we did belong to a particular group: our tribe, our village. With the rise of industrial society, these naturally occurring social groups began to break down. People began to move into the larger cities to find work, resulting in the mixing of people from all kinds of groups and communities. Larger groups and communities began to arise, such as the “working class”: people sought unity, community and identity based on social class or job description. More recently, in urban environments, new tribes, “gangs” have emerged. Neighbourhoods have sought to take the place of tribes. But many of these new tribes and groups lack the natural, geographic and organic link that bound together the tribes and villages of our past.

As a vestige of our tribal past, we try to define our identity within a group that dresses, talks and thinks in the same way that we do; although, more often, we change the way we dress, talk and think to fit the group. The problem today – or one of the problems – is that fashion is such an ephemeral phenomenon. It is difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with the trends. We are always in danger of falling out of favour with the group. This introduces an underlying anxiety into our lives, that is probably new to our times. We cannot depend on our membership in the group for the belonging and stability which we desire, because the requirements of the group shift and change all the time. This is made worse by the fact that these group norms are not even determined by the group, but by external forces: celebrities, designers, corporations, which have their own agenda.

I began by saying that I did not get fashion. But perhaps I do. I share the need to belong. Perhaps I am not willing to change what I do, think, wear, or enjoy in order to achieve that belonging. I would rather find a group with which I share many of those things already. So, group, if you are out there, let me know.

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