Why is image so important?
Fashion, as what we see it today, exists since very recently, compared to the thousands of years of recorded history we have and of which we try to make sense by putting together the pieces we have.
Initially, clothing had a purely functional role. For the prehistoric person, fur and leather had no other significances than protection against the elements and a more comfortable life. But, right from the moment when man began to develop culture and social constructs, clothing became more than just a tool with a utilitarian use.
People rapidly started to adopt clothes that reflected these social constructs. If life in different tribes was pretty much the same, the only thing that could set them apart and clearly state that they were different from one another were the clothes they were wearing. A simple change of color could have marked a big difference.
These marks of belonging developed as human societies continued to grow and continued to change and soon marked differences within the community itself: each individual had to wear the clothes that described his or her status and position. The peasants wore simple clothes, while the king gets to wear a crown.
In ancient Rome and Greece, things were already very clear. The codes of imagery were so well established that everyone knew them and breaking them was extremely frowned upon. Even though the important men in Rome used to wear the same toga, it was the details that described their roles and status: a simple stripe or a detail in a ring was a clear indicator of what someone was and consequentially, how he should be treated.
Even though clothing and marks of belonging continued to develop and to become more and more subtle throughout the Middle Ages, which were a time in which images were very important and the focus of interested shifted from the realism that was popular in ancient times to symbolic representations, the biggest change was yet to happen.
The 19th century was a time that marked a very important time in fashion, ideology and the connection between the two. In the century of the industrial revolution, quite a few people knew to read and write and were more educated than people had been before.
Even though education was reserved to a certain class, the number of people who had access to education, arts and politics was quite big. And what some of them did, changed the world completely. When French painter Édouard Manet exposed his painting “Olympia” at the Paris Salon in 1865, it literally caused such an outrage that the people destroyed the paintings that were showcased in the exhibition. The painting survived only because it was placed high on a wall and by the time the police came it had not been reached. You might wonder what had caused these people to act so aggressively towards a series of paintings, including one of a naked woman lying on a bed? It was not like the Renaissance had not been full of images of nude bodies. Those people reacted that way because those particular painting (many are of course lost) were contrarian to the standards of the age. They were against the stream both in terms of subject and painting manner. You were not supposed to paint in the manner Manet did and you were not allowed to represent nude women nominally and in the manner in which he had done it. It was the equivalent of the lèse-majesté or laesa maiestas, but in the case of art there were no sanctions.
It was the first time in history when a group of people had enough resources to combat the stream and create a whole movement that was not only against the stream, but that was powerful enough to compete with the status quo of the age.
And so, not only was the impressionist movement born, but a whole new world appeared. Of course, when impressionism became to be considered “classic” new movements took over and that process continues to today.
One of the main channels through which a (contrarian) movement can affirm itself is through image and fashion as a part of it. From there, everything simply falls into place: feminist women wore pants as a sign of their beliefs; they cut their hair and worked in factories to prove that they are equal to men. Later, when the standards of masculinity and femininity were again clearly defined, the youth movement stated once again that they were against the standards and they did it through image and music. For boys to wear long hair in the 1960s was not just a fashion statement, it was a political affirmation they wanted everyone to know!
The 20th century has seen a lot of such manifestations come and go. It is very important to note that the technological progress has extended the means of expression of the new ways of thinking that appeared: fashion became extremely connected with music; it seems that every subculture has its own sound, which was popularized by the way people listened to music. When beat boxes were the hit, it was the discos where people manifested themselves, when they could take the boom box on the streets; it was the streets that became the place where the music played.
The reason why all these eventually disappeared was generally either because they were no longer needed, as the new ideas were integrated in the mainstream culture, or because they simply were not very sustainable.
While today we have more complex mechanisms to signify our ideology, the basis is the same: the “simple change of color” used by tribes to set themselves apart one from another is similar to people who take sides in sporting events. They all wear the same uniform, but the only thing that indicates what their ideology is, is the color they wear.
Just as a disclosure, we want to state that Attire Club is a concept that is not based on an “as opposed to” paradigm but on constructive concept.
Today, we have come to learn that different cultures can coexist and that society can be a complex mosaic. Of course, this is not the case all around the world, as in many parts people still react to novelty like the men who destroyed the impressionist paintings. But there are still movements which try to fight the mainstream or another counter-culture. Some things are still way too shocking to be brought in the mainstream today, so their manifestations remain in small circles that express themselves privately or on online mediums. The online world has really had a big impact on the way we express ourselves, as we don’t need to walk out dressed up a certain way in order to express our ideals; we can do it from home and express ourselves to the world through the Internet. It is interesting to study how cultures can develop without affirming themselves to the public. They exist without actually existing.
In short, our clothes, our ideas and our environment are connected and are ways through which we express our ideology to the other people, whether we want to do it or not. The clothes we wear are not so much an expression of who we are and what we do but a tool we use to convince the people around us that we are as we want them to perceive us as.
Our clothes reflect not only ourselves, but our times, our space and many other elements. Fashion relates to the economical world and to the spirit of the time. Clothes are a very important part of any culture. They express our belonging or aspirations and the things that matter to us.
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S. What do you think? How do you express yourself through your clothes? Which manifestation of the past did you like most? Share your thoughts on fashion and ideology in the comments below!