Part of the month-long series on fashion as text
It blindsided me this morning this article. I have never thought about fashion in any of these ways but it really is a social and cultural influencer. Not just as iconic pieces are but more the everyday wearing of pieces to show your support and ‘self’ to others. Great piece.
Thank you for this interesting look at the ways we use fashion! It's got to be one of the foremost ways we identify with our 'tribe' as a teenager, and then even as we grow and change.
Loved this piece, Kate. If you haven't already given it a listen, I highly recommend the Articles of Interest podcast --> https://articlesofinterest.substack.com/. I'm a little behind on my listening, but the American Ivy series is what hooked me.
Friedman asks the philosophical question in “What Freedom Looks Like”: “Is it fashion's responsibility to ease acceptance of different identities; to foster tolerance and understanding – or to promote a specific aesthetic expression of liberty?"
I think that's the biggest takeaway for me from this post. In general, I think postmodernism has liquidated the power of fashion to do anything, including political statements. Especially after one takes into account popular Chinese fashion online outlets like Shein and Temu that put forth hundreds, if not thousands, of styles almost instantaneously relative to longer periods of trend endurance in the past. France might be an exception, but with the fashion industry on steroids will there be such a thing as new fashion in ten years?
In terms of a fashion aesthetic of liberty, I don't think that's possible. That, or it's very difficult. Not to be too hard on the mini-skirt, but a lot of prostitutes wear mini-skirts and most of the time they aren't liberated. (In some countries mini-skirt-wearer = prostitute; it may or may not be sexist, but if that's the only type of person wearing it in any one location, arguments about sexism won't do anything to change the minds of locals if daughter wearing mini-skirt = daughter looking like a prostitute) That fate says a lot about sexual freedom, of course - namely that it isn't as free as many say it is - but most of all it says that any attempt by fashion to represent something as abstract as freedom is extremely fragile. Fashion is a very easy symbol to appropriate: cowboy hats have symbolic connotations of freedom, but some African dictators have had a penchant for them as well. Since fashion is inextricably associated with our outward appearance - and dependence upon looks is also not frequently synonymous with freedom, since people can be slaves to their image at the cost of their intellectual integrity - it may well be that it's less about the appearance itself, and more about the process.
Because image-dependence inhibits intellectual integrity by frightening people into self-censorship so as to not look bad either in public or on social media, I would also disagree about it being fashion's responsibility to foster tolerance beyond the greater tendency to live and let live; on the whole, I would say fashion is helpless in that scenario. Philosophy, religion and ethics are better places to seek out that kind of thing. Literature also has a role, since it places us in other people's shoes. Fashion doesn't appear to have a similar type of function; I don't think me wearing a Lakota headdress, cool as that would be, would bequeath upon me the knowledge of what it's like to be a Lakota brave.
In my view, the hand-knit Christmas sweater is the most representative of freedom. No political tribalism, no exploitative factories if the material comes from the right sources, and both men and women can wear them; there's the Christian element, but many non-Christians love Christmas. It is the garment least dependent upon freedom-inhibiting factors in the world. Apart from the weather. And no garment is truly free from that consideration.
Great post! Hope you don't mind my long response, but as you can see it did get me to thinking. And that's what a good post should do. :)
Thank you for opening my mind and eyes to this topic, Kate. I don't think I've ever thought about fashion in any of these ways, so this was quite fascinating.
Yoga pants are so ubiquitous now and, even though I was conscious of that, I hadn't ever considered the role of other pants in terms of altering/hiding/reshaping/changing form, whereas yes indeed yoga pants are entirely not doing that. They look comfy though 😄 plus, as much as there may be some aspect of vanity attached to them (for some), I do always like seeing the increasing number of people who are being more active and exercising.
A few years ago, I realized I was so tired of wearing jeans and T-shirts, that I had to make a change ... to what? I explored the Ross racks for ideas and had a blast. Yoga pants of course formed a foundation of my particular (and peculiar) fashion statement. Living in the American West, a person is far away from the sophistication of the East. Also, jeans and Tees are a uniform of the lower- to mid-middle class woman. Upper middle class women will most likely wear clothes that flow more easily around the body. For decades I had avoided such clothing, but after playing with non-denim and cotton apparel, I loved the feel and movement, the slimming affect of such clothing. It was not only a lot of fun, but an epiphany for me to climb out of the uniform and express my love of color. Thank you for this revealing article.
Friedman is truly remarkable in the level of depth and breadth she brings to her discourse around fashion. (As opposed to so many writers in her field that focus on the capitalist aspects of fashion — what’s selling, which house is the latest to be consumed by LVMH, etc.) I've made so many fascinating connections through her writing over the years. Thanks for this great exploration!
Fascinating and I'll have to read more of her articles. My own "fashion" choices have been dictated by my career path, such as donning the required reflective yellow vests, and a propensity for the free mining gear handed out at conferences (usually in yellow hi-vis). Other than those choices, I've always opted for thrift store finds, about a particular 5K that was given out years ago, or my current favorite a black shirt with yellow writing from a helicopter med-evac company (fits with my drone flying business). I think it might be time for me to be a bit more conscious of the things I have previously ignored.