Secondary Research Article – ‘Can Fashion ever be Democratic?’

What is it?

An article which is questioning whether fashion can ever be democratic.  As my notes highlight there was lots of valuable stuff in this article which has the potential to inform my overall research process and my final FMP proposal.  However, in a nutshell, the author argues that despite the use of democracy as a ‘buzzword’ in relation to fast fashion, this is a marketing exercise masking the fact that the exclusivity of the industry hasn’t really changed.

Who wrote it?

This article was written by the editors of Vestoj;

 ‘a forum where academia, the museum world and the fashion industry can work together and with active communication…we write about the cultural phenomenon that is fashion in a manner that opens up for dialogue between theory and practice in order to raise awareness for fashion as a cultural phenomena and field of research and cultivate an even greater understanding for the discipline. Vestoj will exist outside of seasonally-based trends and news-focused articles. Instead we aim to encourage and champion the critical and independent voice within fashion as well as absolute creative freedom’ 

Despite the business context of this masters, this is how my research approaches fashion through a lens of culture and theory. Plus, anyone who knows my research would understand how relevant Vestoj’s values are to my own, which has made it’s questioning articles an incredibly valuable secondary resource.  Mirroring Vestoj’s intentions through this publication, my ultimate aim, is to implement my theory in practise through the creation of a brand-concept operating as a fast-fashion counter discourse.

How does it inform my research process?

1. This article challenges the long naturalised assumption that fast fashion equates with democracy.  The fast fashion model only succeeds in making a singular definition of ‘fashion’ available to everyone.  This is a ‘fashion’ dictated from on high by a select group of people, which the rest of us are conditioned by the discourses constantly bombarding us, to copy.  This maintains a fashion-class structure as only the wealthiest can afford the ‘true fashion’ and access authentic design, quality craftsmanship and creativity, whilst the rest are forced to make do with watered-down poor quality high street interpretations. Essentially the mainstream consumer is conditioned to strive for an ideal they will never be allowed to fully inhabit. This psychological state of not being good enough, which drives want and consumption within the fast fashion model is far from democratic.  My brand concept aims to destabilise this class structure masked between a facade of ‘democracy’, through providing less well-off consumers with access to authentic design, quality craftsmanship through a customisation model where they participate in the creation of their own ‘fashion’. This will enable them to subsequently take ownership of their identity as an individual.

2. Highlights how social media has manifested as the biggest challenge to the top-down fashion system, since the 60’s youth quake.  The rise of bloggers status in the industry, has disrupted the hierarchy and reframed what was fashion’s exclusive monologue as a dialogue. This ‘bubble up’ shift, has empowered people as individuals, persuading them that they have the power to define their own fashion away from seasonal trend cycles and the dominant structures of the industry which continually mark them as not quite enough.

3. Provides a concise theoretical perspective of the history of the fashion system, from George Simmels 20th century trickle down model’ to it’s dynamic in relation to postmodern culture as it stands today.  This will be incredibly helpful when it comes to providing the context for my FMP final proposal due at the end of this term…

‘Since the 1960s much has been made of the idea that fashion is becoming evermore democratic. But what does this mean? Well, whereas fashion traditionally has been seen as solely a marker of status, prestige and class, available only to the higher echelons of society, this dictate has come to be increasingly challenged. The industrial revolution and the development of modernity already helped transform fashion into something which was not only for noblemen and royals, but rather “the commodities on which international capitalism was founded”, to quote Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass in Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory. The sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel wrote in 1904 that fashion was created by an elite in societies where mobility forms part of the social fabric and meant that trends “trickle down” from high status groups in society in order to be emulated by lower status groups who want to climb the social ladder. Once the higher status groups begin to feel threatened by their lower counterparts their fashions changed in order to differentiate themselves and maintain their alleged distinction. This is the traditional way to analyze fashion and much can be said to argue for its continued relevance. But it’s not the whole story anymore. The youth quake in the mid twentieth century, alongside many other challenges to the dominant culture, brought about a new way of spreading fashion, one that ensured that the “bubble up” effect was as  New technology that meant that clothes could be mass produced on a vast scale brought with it a dissemination of fashion which made it available to all echelons of society. Buzz words of the era, like “authenticity”, “cool” and “individuality”, meant that the focus on being fashionable, at a time when fashion was readily available to all, shifted from a way to show your social standing to a way to show your individuality. As the British sociologist Dick Hebdige has pointed out, subcultures became an increasingly influential part of the mainstream, and the counterculture of the 1960s went from being a marginalized minority to instead becoming a vital part of culture to covet, be inspired by and count with’. 

In terms of my thinking, this aspect of the article highlights that the 60’s youthquake triggered a series of counter discourses to challenge the hegemony of the classed fashion system.  However, critically it acknowledges that despite these cultural shifts which have brought with them both questions and opposing practises, the inherent dynamic of the system has not altered as the nature of fashion consumption means that who define what fashion is, still remains in the hands of a select few. It is undeniable that Designers often reference street-style or take inspiration from sub-cultures.  However to me this of no more significance than ‘trend plundering’. Ultimately, the assimilation of these influences into a ‘trend’ transforming the meaning of these symbols, devalues the authenticity of these subcultures, colonises their identities and flattens their voice, which again, to me,  is the opposite of ‘democratisation’. Surely democratisation can only truly occur if there is an alternative accessible retail model to this system, which puts fashion in the hands of the consumer?  Despite this postmodern shift in culture, the existing fashion system prevents this being put into practise through fashion. This is something my FMP brand concept intends to challenge.


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