What Is Fashion?
Fashion is a concept that holds a different meaning to each and every person on an individual level. It is a reflection of oneself, and the creation of an identity that singles out individuals who together make up a whole. In my opinion many different factors play a role in how we perceive fashion and the role it plays in our lives. Some of these factors are ideological, such as opinions and ideas we are socialized into by the societies we live in. On the other hand, other factors are cultural or traditional roles passed down from generation to generation. Overall, fashion is tool that allows us the opportunity to express ourselves and go against the grain.
Growing up in New York City has taught me that location has a great influence on fashion, and the capacity to which it is expressed. I feel that in cities like our own, we often encounter and more easily accept behaviors, including fashion that would be questioned elsewhere. On a few occasions in which my cousins have visited from other locations, they are amazed at the degree to which New Yorkers express themselves. As a New Yorker myself, I feel that our constant exposure to these levels of individuality are the reason why we most often don’t find ourselves questioning others choices in how they decide to dress. While outsiders might describe certain forms of self-expression as crazy, weird, or unbelievable, we see it as normal and simply accept it for what it is. New York City has an atmosphere that removes limitations and rules, and instead promotes diversity and creativity through self-expression. This “anything goes” approach creates a fashion playground in which we are free to construct and present our own self-concepts. I think part of this acceptance for the individual, simply comes from the diversity of the city. Living in the melting-pot, we learn to accept and engage with people of different backgrounds from our own. This fusion of different cultures, nationalities, and ideas allows New York City streets to serve as a runaway where we are each models displaying our individuality. The blog “Humans of New York” is a very popular example in today’s social media that represents this expression of individuality in New York City. The blog catalogues New York City inhabitants in their daily lives through a collection of portraits taken spontaneously as the photographer travels throughout the city. As a follower of the blog, I have always been in awe over the beauty and individuality presented in each portrait. As a New Yorker, I think its beautiful knowing that all these different individuals walk the same streets I do, and that we live in a place where freedom of expression is able to exist as freely as it does.
Multiculturalism and the integration of different cultures is an important aspect of life in New York City. Family traditions, culture, and religion are all factors in how individuals choose to dress themselves. While I don’t strongly identify my sense of style with my culture, I do think that it played an important role in my life as a child growing up. Coming from a household where my mother is a native of Venezuela, and my father from Greece I have always been surrounded by an array of very different cultural traditions. As children, my sisters and I spent a majority of our Thursday nights and Sunday mornings at St. Georges Greek Orthodox Church in Hollywood, Florida. Our enrollment in Greek school would eventually lead us to creating stronger ties with our cultural identity. When taking part in cultural events such as parades or customary Greek dancing lessons we wore traditional costumes. As a child, I remember my disdain for these costumes and my mother’s struggle each time I had change into these costumes (which never came easy but always resulted in her victory and me in costume while sporting a frown on my face).
As a child I viewed these garments as nothing more than costumes, or a few pieces of fabric brought together. The older I became I began to understand what they stood for and learned to respect and appreciate them. It is important to understand not only the background of the garment itself, but also its historical and geographical significance. These folklore costumes are derived from the costumes of the Byzantine Empire, and vary from region to region throughout Greece. The greatest variations exist between the costumes pertaining to the mainland and those of the Islands. While most of the garments share the same foundation, each region has its own elements of the costume that differentiate it from others. These features can be as simple as color scheme, fabric, embroidery, and choice of shape. These factors help identify one villages costume from another. Each costume is made up a basic foundation which includes several pieces, each with its own name. They include a long sleeve shirt (Poukasimo), an apron (Bodia), a vest (Segouni), a sash (Zonari), a scarf (mandili), and shoes (Tsarouhia). Head coverings such as hats or scarves are also part of the overall costume. The costumes pertaining to women are different from those of the men. As stated in Stallybras article, the gendering of clothing by society and the attitudes towards clothing as a result of gendering are important.
I realize these garments were not just costumes; they were representation of culture and a nation’s identity. Collectively, Greeks are very proud of their culture and heritage which plays a very important role in the traditions and rituals that have been passed down from generation to generation. Holidays and sacraments such as baptisms are very important in our culture, and times in which the importance of clothing is exhibited. In 1996, I was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Religion at Saint Konstantinos Church in Pireus, Greece. Greek Christening adheres to a strictly followed process. First, the child is immersed into the baptismal font three times and then handed to the godparents who wrap the child in a white sheet. The white is a symbol of the new baptized Childs purity. As we have learned in class, color plays a very importantly symbolic role in fashion and culture. Once in the sheet, three locks of hair are cut from the child’s head in the form of a cross. Following this sacrament known as chrismation, the child is changed into its baptismal outfit. In Greek tradition, Godparents traditionally pay for the baptismal outfit, either a gown or suit, depending on the child’s gender. The clothing is blessed with oil that has been blessed by the patriarch. In addition, the child is given a cross necklace on the godparents behalf. My godparents, my grandma and grandpa, provided me with both my baptismal outfit and cross pendant. While my grandparents have passed away, my baptism gown and cross chain serve as a reminder to me of my roots and initiation into the Greek Orthodox religion. These materials serve a very high sentimental value to both, my family and I.
Cultural rituals related to cloth and the making of clothing is also very common in the tradition of marriage in the Greek culture. While no longer as common as it once was, female family members of the bride create a handmade dowry. Grandmothers, mothers, and aunts all work together to embroider sheets, towels, handkerchiefs, and dollies. Depending on individual family traditions, they may choose to create other handcrafted items as part of the dowry. Other traditions include the bride preparing for the wedding with only the help of females. It is interesting because it demonstrates the cultural gender roles present in Greek society. It is considered bad luck for the groom to see his bride prior to the wedding ceremony. This relation between fashion and countries identity is a concept that Ortoleva illustrates in his article “Buying Italian: Fashion, identities, and stereotypes”. However, with the clash of fashion and culture emerges a series of stereotypes that become associated with each nation.
Similarly to how clothing can associate us with a particular culture, it is capable of associating us as members of other groups as well. Growing up, I attended Catholic private school from elementary school throughout high school. As a result, it is fair to say uniform dominated most of my childhood and teenage years. As Calefato present’s in his article “Introduction to Dress Language Communication” in some instances clothing serves a social function of establishing a close relation between an individual and the community they belong to. In the case of school uniforms, the social function would be the relation between the student and the school which they attend. Much like the concept Calefato presents on uniformity, Stallybras expresses a similar idea in his article “Worn Worlds”. Stallybras asserts “The gift of dress was the essential act of homage, effecting the incorporation of the subject into the ruler’s body”. In my opinion, this idea is one that can be applied at a lesser extent to school uniforms. By wearing uniforms we make ourselves subjects as students to a higher authority, which would be the educational facility which we attend.
While I’m not highly fond of school uniforms, having worn those most of my life they provide an important function. I think that uniforms serve and meet the purpose of why they were incorporated into educational facilities. Much like culture and fashion are linked to national pride, uniform creates a sense of pride amongst students. It creates an identity for individuals as students, and a link between themselves and their school. It promotes an environment in which all students wearing the same uniform become a collective whole and stand together as one. Much like participation or membership in any group, it most importantly creates a sense of belonging. As an alumnus of Saint Francis Prep high school, I still find myself wearing old uniform sweaters and sweatpants. Although I may no longer be an actively enrolled student at this school, I continue at heart to be a member of the Saint Francis Prep community. The school mascot, a terrier, and our school colors red and blue are symbols I associate with my past as a high school student and continue to wear with pride. In addition, I have often encountered other individuals wearing Saint Francis Prep sweaters or garments, and we are automatically linked by a sense of community. In my opinion, I think unity is one of the most prominent achievements of the incorporation of uniforms in educational facilities. Uniform is an example of the strong links created by clothing that Calefato presents between individuals and community.
In addition to creating a sense of belonging, uniform also has many other positive functions. I have heard over and over again school administrators speak out how requiring all students to wear the same clothing causes less distractions to students, and in turn allows them to focus more on their education. In my opinion after having worn uniform for so many years, I think one of its best advantages was how quickly I could get ready for school in the morning. Instead of having to choose clothes to wear each morning, uniforms provide a quick efficient solution. In addition, in the long run it save money since you aren’t required to constantly buy other clothing throughout the school year. On the other hand, after having worn uniform for so many years I feel that uniform places a very big limitation on freedom of expression and the right to individuality. As reasoned by Calefato, Uniforms are containing devices for the body; they promote social order and create a uniform external appearance. As students, I felt that we always tried to find ways around these restrictions; however we were always challenged with more dress code guidelines.
In a sense I feel that fashion is a paradox, while it is capable of making us an individual it still retains the ability to categorize us within a group. This group solidarity it creates can be positive in its creation of unity, but also has the aptitude to create restrictions on individuality. As seen in the case of uniform, it positively promotes community but negatively puts a stop on freedom of expression. In my opinion, fashion is vital to how we identify ourselves and our individuality. I think that many women use their style choice to compliment their personalities. It gives us the opportunity to rebel or go against societies conformities. When we choose what to wear, we are creating a self-image of how we want to be perceived by others. Fashion is a tool of change, it allows us to jump from one style to another and create a self transformation. In a way it is a mask because it allows to easily switch from how we are seen one moment to the next, but in another sense it is the opposite because it allows us to create and present a self construct of who we are.
I have always thought it was interesting to think about all the work and artistry that goes into every garment created. I feel that fashion is a form of expression as art for those who create it, as well as those who wear it. I think it is fair to say that a finished garment is to a fashion designer, what a canvas is to a painter. Designers have the capabilities of taking a vision and turning it into something palpable. It is a creative process in which an individual brings together different ideas, and includes personalized touches to his or her liking. As seen throughout the history of fashion, many designers have been directly influenced by the fine arts. For example, Cubism and Art Deco both greatly influenced the fashions exhibited at the 2014 Milan Fashion Week. Big names such as Gucci, Prada, and Fendi all incorporated sharp colors, and geometric patterns representative of the art deco movement of the 1910’s to 1950’s. In addition, I think the link between art and fashion was one prominent in Antionini’s film Le Amiche.
My appreciation of fashion as an art form extends from my love for art itself. Since a young age I was always drawing, coloring, painting, and exploring new mediums. At one point, I was even convinced that I would one day be a fashion designer. In my sophomore year of high school I took an art class in which our final project required us to make a new object out of old or recycled materials. For my project, I decided to work on a dress made out of recycled board game pieces. For the foundation of the dress I used duct tape to create a corset inspired top which I then spray painted yellow. I then added the black and red pieces from the table game connect four to decorate it. For the bottom of the dress I used uno cards connected by paper clips so that they could follow the motion of the individual wearing the dress. Overall, it had a very fun and playful, costume like essence which matched with its Classic American table game theme. It was the first time I had successfully carried out a vision and created into a wearable garment. Overall, I think fashion is ambiguous and is significantly different to each and every individual. I feel that the different perspectives on fashion and the industry we learned about this semester were very eye opening, and earned a new appreciation for fashion.
Article by Stephanie Salales
Stallybrass, P. (1993) ‘Worn Worlds: Clothes, Mourning, and the Life of Things’, https://bbhosted.cuny.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-15816271-dt-content-rid-47571973_1/courses/QNS01_ITAL_45_01_1142_1/stallybrass-3.pdf