In a metropolitan city like New York City, where people appear to be on display even when walking on streets and others subconsciously judge you by your outlook, fashion is important. What a person wear may represent who they are, as Georg Simmel comments that fashion “unites those of a social class and segregates them from others”, hence how a person presents themselves reveals their social status and identity. In Elizabeth Wilson’s work “Fashion and City Life”, the author traces the social and cultural history concerning fashion in the early 20th century. She writes that “in the metropolis everyone was in disguise, incognito, and yet at the same time an individual more and more was what he wore.” Having to constantly interact with strangers, a person must survive by self-manipulation and presentation through the use of fashion. (Wilson 137) The link between fashion and city life that Wilson pulls, can also be applied to the life nowadays.
There are “codes of dress” that people have to follow in order to fit in the society and be considered fashionable; these “codes of dress” are usually the updated trends and styles that people choose to wear. Wilson asserts that “interpersonal relationships in big cities are distinguished by a marked preponderance of the activity of the eye over the activity of the ear.” People superficially judge with their eyes and criticize on others that they think violate the “codes of dress”. Wendy’s photo of a tshirt that writes “Leggings are not pants”, is an example of a way that people opposes to a popular “codes of dress” nowadays – wearing leggings as pants, as leggings are initially created to be worn under a skirt or dress, to avoid too much exposure of skin. However, it should noted that everyone has their own sense of fashion and their own standard of beauty, therefore everyone may have different opinions to what really is the “codes of dress”. This brings us to another photo Wendy posted, that shows a pile of colorful fabrics. As said in Wendy’s caption, “fashion is constantly changing or “in process” because of the difficulty of understanding fashion. We lack the understanding of the symbols behind the forms, colors, textures, and postures.” This can be referred to the concept written by Fred Davis in his article, Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion, called “undercoding”, which occurs “in the absence of reliable interpretative rule persons presume or infer… on the basis of such hard-to-specify cues.” Because each clothing does not have a particular meaning or symbol, it is hard to interpret what fashion is trying to communicate. Moreover, the aesthetic expression that fashion gives off is interpreted differently depending on the viewer. (Davis 153)
Davis also mentions in his reading that fashion is “highly context-dependent.” This means that what an individual piece of clothes or a specific style or an entire outfit represents, depends on the identity of the wearer, the environment or the situation. The feeling that the outfit conveys can also mean different things to the wearer and viewers, depending on their mood. In one of Wendy’s photos, a classy lady wearing a versatile Chanel suit of the 1940s, that is apt to be worn in all occasions and throughout all times of the day. Our other classmate, Rebecca also posted a photo to depict a similar theme, showing a versatile combination of modern clothes and accessories that is suitable for women to wear from day to night in most occasions, as it is business-like and womanly.
Many of us will argue with what John Malloy says that “dressing to succeed in business… and dressing to be sexually attractive are almost mutually exclusive.” Yet, Wendy showed an extreme example of famous celebrity, Beyonce, performing at Superbowl, wearing a sexually revealing outfit. For her case, it is necessary to appear sexy and seductive to gain audience’s attention and appreciation, therefore achieving success in her career. Nonetheless, extreme exceptions as such can only be applied to public figures like Beyonce, as if any normal woman go to a job interview dressed like her, I am certain that she will not get employed. (Wilson 140)
Wendy also used a photo from the movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic, to relate to how the innovation of department stores marks the change of women’s life at that time. Compared to the days when it was only proper for bourgeois women to be seen in public with their husband, department stores “assisted the freeing of middle-class women from the shackles of the home” and created a new rite of consumption, providing them a place of safety, comfort and leisure away from their constrained lifestyle. It is also a place where women can break free from men’s control and feel independent. However, since department stores are meant for the bourgeois class to shop and spend their leisure time, it further emphasizes that it is impossible to neglect the concept of hierarchy when it comes to fashion, as money and time are luxuries and privileges for the lower class. (Wilson 150)
To conclude, although Wendy mostly focused on the Wilson’s work, I think her curation has captured the key themes from our week two’s reading and class discussion, as we explore how professionals and writes think about fashion. However, it will be even better if she can find another photo that illustrates the concept of how fashion divides social class and status, because wealthier people are usually the leadership of the fashion hierarchy. She can also post photos to demonstrate how dressing in a unique style can help the wearer heighten a sense of self, or to even show resistance to certain trends. Fashion is indefinable, because every style can be perceived differently in each person’s eyes; fashion is inconsistent, because people always seek for innovations and changes in trends; fashion is manipulative, because we are the ones that create meaning for each clothing. We are in control of what we want to represent, what we want others to identify us as, and what makes us most pleasurable.