Discuss how fashion and appearance are central to the construction of social identities
Social identity has become an ever increasing state of uncertainity, we are constantly presenting ourselves to others through everyday interactions, by the way we speak and how we dress ourselves. We constantly mark ourselves as the same as those with whom we share an identity and diffrentiate with those, we do not. We visualize or imagine ourselves using various symbols or representations. We use these symbols in order to make sense of ourselves in relation to the world we inhabit. Symbols and representations have now increasingly become a feature in the production of identities.
This way we signal our identities to others and how we know which people we identify with and why other people are different. How we speak, dress, wear uniforms or carry flags all offer symbols of identity.
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“When I rummage through my wardrobe in the morning I am not merely faced with the choice of what to wear. I am faced with the choice of images: the difference between a smart suit and a pair of overalls, a leather skirt and a cotton skirt, is not one fabric and style, but one of identity.
You know perfectly well that you will be seen differently for the whole day, depending on what you put on; you will appear as a particular kind of woman with one particular identity which excludes others. The black leather skirt rather rules out girlish innocence, oily overalls tend to exclude sophistication … often I have wished I could put them all on together- just to say, ‘how dare you think any of these is me. But also, see, I can be all of them. ” (Williamson,1986, p. 91).
Appearance and clothes have become crucial in the presentation of self, the information being projected inadvertently reveal more about a person than the information directly or intentionally given. However, with the growing awareness surrounding fashion identity, the clothes we wear has become a statement in itself. “In the case of the sociological interest in clothing and fashion, we know that through clothing people communicate some things about their persons, and at the collective level this results typically in locating them symbolically in some structured universe of status claims and life-style attachments. ” (Davis.F. 1992. p. 4)
Fashion and appearance has become a visual language, with its own structure as well as vocabulary. With a growing amount of other material artifacts to complement the clothing statement, this type of social identity has taken a new form of cliché.
The need to appear in a certain way has propelled media hype to levels never imagined in modern societies across the globe. There are various media through which fashion and appearance has been propelled in the structures of social identity; television, magazines, journals, videos, mostly the internet has been a vital source of information. The culture of fashion draws upon the collective identity of individuals through mass advert campaign with the help of celebrity hype. This has aided the transmission of new social constructions of appearances in relation to fashion.
“Celebrity endorsement of luxury fashion is hardly a new phenomenon, as it has been around for several centuries. Charles Worth, the man who invented haute couture in Paris in the nineteenth century, understood the importance of linking celebrities to brands, even before this was recognized as an important marketing communications tool. To promote his fashion house La Maison Worth, he sought a high society lady and an influencer of the court fashions, Princess Von Metternich, wife of the then Austria’s ambassador to France and close friend of Napoleon’s wife Empress Eugenie.
This celebrity’s patronage and connection with La Maison Worth contributed immensely to the success and status of this couture house as the most influential in the world at its time. ”(Uche. O, 2006). The impact of celebrities, fashions and appearance in the new formations of social identity, has shaped the way one views self. No endorsement is complete these days without a celebrity promoting its content. From designer clothings, to a particular look, from body sizes to particular diets.
The list has included material artifacts like perfumes to jewelleries, and everything in between. Self-presentation has become a complex process, propelling various elements of new fashion structures, the dialectic relationship between fashion contigencies and market branding. Social identities drawn from a social/structure level as well as drawing from a combination of modern technological factors, makes communication a vital factor in shaping personal and individual appearances.
Style is then modified to suit a collective, thereby enabling a presentation of an image or appearance to identitfy a social culture. Appearances are shaped by different factors. Biological factors such as the forms that bodies and social factors such as experiences that are not independent. Identity is a complex interweaving of a variety of different influences:biological factors that are affected by the environment, like the cultural perceptions of biology and social factors that are influenced through the understanding of biology.
Social identity is strongly influenced by feminine and masculine characteristics associated with the gender categories, men and women appearances. Individuals can choose which aspects of gender identity to take up, but choices are constrained by a variety of factors including cultural perceptions of masculinity and femininity. “For men to adopt feminine symbols in dress would be to trangress, in the realm of appearance, the very essence of modern masculine identity.
We have not reached that point, and no sign of the times leads us to anticipate any shift in that direction. Despite the multiple forms of its democratization, fashion remains essentially inegalitarian, at least where gender is concerned. ” (Lipovetsky,G. p. 111). The increasing flexibility accomodates a diversity of masculinities and femininities in appearances. Gender identities are not fixed, often stereotypical, essentialist way, social identities tend to shift and change across time and between cultures.
However, social identities are not something that can be choosen according to individuals, they are shaped by society, the culture that individuals live in, by experiences as well as understandings. The appearances of particular groups of males and females may be constrained or liberated when pitched against historical agendas and social structures such as education and economy. Although there is a freedom surrounding the ability to choose one’s identity, social and cultural factors, which include class and ethnicity as well as gender, contributies to the sorts of identites that one holds.