Does fashion influence culture?


Fact Box

  • In the September 2020 article of Vogue, Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stated, “Fashion functions as a mirror to our times, so it is inherently political [...] It’s been used to express patriotic, nationalistic, and propagandistic tendencies as well as complex issues related to class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.” 
  • While America perfected the “blue jean” under the German-born immigrant Levi Strauss, the jean cloth and blue jean color (from the fabric being dyed indigo) first originated in Genoa, Italy as far back as the 15th century.
  • Fashion varies across cultures: a sari is a silk or cotton garment worn in India, the kimono is a traditional robe from Japan, and the kilt is a knee-length pleated skirt based on Scottish origins. 
  • According to Zippia, women’s clothing makes up the largest portion of the US fashion market as of 2021; it is estimated to total $804 billion, while the men’s fashion market is about $483 billion.

Maha (Yes)

Despite being seen as a mere industry, fashion is a force that has proven to make waves in everything around it. For instance, it has become ingrained in France's economic and cultural landscape. And it most certainly has touched cultures worldwide. After all, fashion is a form of art. It's a 'manifestation of human art and communication', expressing individuals' physical and emotional goals. Had fashion not been considered art, it wouldn't be on display in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

Fashion is also considered a Zeitgeist—'the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.' It has helped define specific eras in history and even introduced ideological shifts in society. Take, for instance, fashion in the 1960s and early 1970s. The arrival of 'American fashion' helped fuel the Soft Power cultural movement by resisting the mainstream. As a result, individuals of the era were labeled creative, rebellious, and expressive. 

To this day, fashion continues making changes—even in strict modest wear. From being limited solely to black, modern abayas have become infused with daring colors and prints thanks to innovative fashion brands.  

Albeit problematic, the fashion industry's cultural appropriation can also be considered proof of its influence on culture. Cornrows, for example, quickly moved from fashion ramps to real life. It wasn't uncommon to see people sporting them regardless of their race. Ultimately, fashion deserves acknowledgment as a force of change that can and has historically impacted societies.

Elisa (No)

While many believe fashion influences culture, the fact is, it's the other way around: culture influences fashion. Quite simply, fashion is a direct reflection of culture, even related to socioeconomic themes. To be more accurate, history shows how time and place influence fashion. The Roaring 20s is a perfect example of this, where women were more rebellious with their clothing after much conservatism waned, almost in a state of rebellion. 

Further, examining ancient history shows how time and culture influence fashion, from flower cross-stitching to Cowichan knitting. When reflecting upon history, each culture has had its own fashion based on the climate, socioeconomic structure, and landscape. The emu bird feather, for example, is often found in Australia because it is a native bird, so it is not easily findable anywhere else. 

Fashion trends often reflect the general feel of a political climate, especially if one explores the fashion trends in the 1900s in the United States. The 1960s is a perfect example, where politics had a direct impact on fashion trends. The 'trendy' hippy style is a direct representation of the political movement of the time. Simply put, 'fashion is a very reflection of our society.' Take the grunge scenes of the 1990s, where music and fashion were intertwined. Many feel the grunge culture was a rebellious result of the energetic and positive vibe of the 1980s. So the fashion and music that resulted was a general reaction to what was happening in the culture at the time

Overall, time, history, and even climate influence fashion, and while we'd like to believe trendy celebrities are influencing us, the truth is, it's the other way around: fashion is a reflection of the times.

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