“Conformity is a type of influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group”. In relation to the fashion industry this need to change can be in response to imagined or real group pressure. Dating back centuries ago social groups used fashion as a way to express their identity through their clothing. Brand name clothing and the material the garment is made of tend to be associated with status. I attended a private kindergarten through eighth grade school that required uniforms. Although I didn’t enjoy being one of three ethnic students in the entire school, the uniforms created a solidarity between all students. Anytime I saw a child on school grounds wearing a navy sweater and plaid jumper, I knew they were a student who attended Our Lady of Guadalupe. That was our identity. As a 22-year-old female millennial, I now turn to social media as a means to pick trends that express my personal style. I am certain that most people my age do the same in regard to finding the hottest trends. Mainstream fashion is a growing tool used to express one’s status and self-expression through a filter called conformity.
Fashion is an ever-changing ideal that has grown conceptually in the last few decades. Georg Simmel ( German sociologist, March 1, 1858 – September 28, 1918), Herbert Spencer (English Philosopher, April 27,1820 – December 8 1903) and Ferdinand Tonnies ( German sociologist and philosopher, July 26, 1855 – April 9,1936), Thorstein Veblen (American economist and sociologist, July 30, 1857 – August 3, 1929) all argued that fashion is about the process of imitation. With its imitative nature, fashion is a crucial phenomenon in understanding society, and the social hierarchy embedded in the system. This implies that the imitators are the ones who are in the lower end of the social spectrum and the imitated ones are the ones in the upper level. This is a key principle of a “trickle-down” theory of fashion. Fashion is a symbol of the relationships between superiors and inferiors that functions as a social control. There are various expressions of respect and deference through badges, titles and costumes that express domination and submission. Fashion represents one’s social rank and status. Fashion is an expression of the wearer’s wealth. What people wear is the evidence and the indication of economic wealth at first glance. What is not expensive is considered unworthy or inferior. The less practical and functional a dress is, the more it represents high class. It is an indication that one does not need to earn one’s living or is not engaged in any kind of productive physical labor. The dress may require help to put it on. Elaborately elegant, neat, spotless clothes are also a marker of the leisure class.
“Truth always rests with the minority,” wrote the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion.” In other words, according to Mr. Kierkegaard, there’s no way all of you actually like Drake, Louis Vuitton bags and pumpkin spice lattes. At least some of you would prefer something entirely different, if only you gave yourself the chance to deviate from popular opinion. The conformity paradox in fashion looks something like this: Say you are an individual in the truest sense, and everything you do, and wear is so unique that everyone who sees you acknowledges that you are different and interesting, a real trend-setter. As a result, your Instagram photos routinely get Pinned across the cyber planet and end up featured prominently in trend analysis reports by mega-retailers like Zara. In a matter of months your quirky unique style becomes everyone else’s. You are forced to evolve or become just another clone of yourself. So, you evolve, again and again, until the only thing that makes you appear an “individual” is the fact that your style keeps evolving. The paradox lies in the fact that being “an individual” doesn’t seem to be possible in fashion. Eventually, we all end up dressing the same, liking the same things, and posting the same Instagram photos. Dr. Jonathan Touboul, a neuroscientist at the Collège de France, theorized the phenomenon called the “hipster effect.” He found that even people who identify themselves as nonconformists will ultimately conform to the norms of a group simply because of the impossibility of keeping up with rapidly changing trends. Have you ever wondered why as people get older they stop pushing the envelope on what they’re wearing? Their style becomes easier and less outside the box. Not only does it take an incredible amount of work to be a nonconformist, it eventually becomes impossible.
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According to Market Line, a business information company, the global apparel industry has been growing at a 4.78% yearly rate since 2011. It is now valued at nearly $1.4 trillion dollars in sales for 2017. The industry shows no signs of slowing as the market is projected to experience 5.91% yearly growth over the next three years. The market size of the apparel industry is expected to reach a mind-boggling $1.65 trillion sales in US dollars worldwide by 2020. I was surprised when I discovered this amounts to an enormous 60% increase in the market size since the $1.05 trillion-dollar pool in 2011. Simply put, this rapid growth means that the average consumer in the world is now buying more than 1.5 times the amount of apparel they did just 6 years ago. Personally, I believe it has to do with the way that fashion is evolving.
I believe that if we want to understand why sales figures keep getting higher and higher, we must learn from examining the emergence of fast fashion in the 21st century. Fast fashion: the place where cheap and trend-heavy outfits are king. Fast Fashion retailers produce clothes that embody the style and fashion trends of the modern world. They transform the designs of high society brands such as Prada or Louis Vuitton into their own mass-produced items that are less expensive for consumers and bear a strong aesthetic resemblance. Companies like H&M, Forever 21, Zara and Uniqlo fit this mold as these category of brands tend to produce low-cost mimics and basic essential pieces that rotate company shelves frequently.
In the fashion world, body image plays an enormous role. Society and the media constantly create limits on what is and is not acceptable. You’re too fat, you’re not tall enough, your body is not proportional. Companies switch models because their look is “too dark” for an African woman, they prefer a lighter shade of brown. Plus-size companies post pictures of a skinny model next to a plus-size model with the caption “real women have curves”, as if skinnier women with less curves aren’t actually “real women.” The requirements on our physical appearance are at an all-time high, the discrimination is present, and the separation is real.
With the phrase ‘body posi’ (“Body Positive”) seeming to eclipse its predecessor ‘thinspo’ (“Thinsperation”) in terms of social media hashtag popularity, these days it would be easy to assume the fashion industry’s ideologies are slowly shifting to that of a more inclusive standpoint. Social media is making it increasingly easy to build a platform to speak out on issues. Industry insiders have used their online leverage to campaign for change throughout all facets of fashion. Models such as Charli Howard and Leomie Anderson have shown that they are far more than “clothes hangers”, appearing more outspoken than ever on the issues that matter. Charlie Howard is challenging modeling agencies sizeism, while Anderson is taking to Twitter to contest the lack of suitable shades of make-up for darker skin tones at fashion shows). However, when push comes to shove and the statistics roll in after each fashion week, the reality is far more bleak. Despite the fact that models existing outside the perimeter of fashion’s skinny, white norm consistently walking on runways, The 2016 Spring Summer fashion season showed over 70 per cent of models at New York Fashion Week were white. And with diversity pning many facets of body image including, size, gender identity and race, it can often feel a case of one step forwards, two steps back.
Doesn’t it seem peculiar that an industry trying to get you to buy expensive clothes and accessories, chooses to market them via semi or fully nude models? The short answer to this; sex sells. The fashion industry and mainstream media’s narrative of women tends to place their value on their sexual appeal that should be for the man’s gaze. This not only adds to the warped perception of female beauty but also adds to the impossible pursuit of perfection. Whether it’s the whole body or just parts of it, this kind of objectification results in stripping women of dignity and ends up playing a role in the mistreatment of women usually for sexual gratification. One 1998 study found that girls made body-conscious by wearing swimsuits while they did a math test in an empty room did worse on the test than girls completing the same test while wearing sweaters. There were no differences in test-taking performance between boys wearing swimsuits and boys wearing sweaters, suggesting a link between self-objectification and shame and anxiety in girls. The pressure to conform for girls starts out even younger than boys, and there is a real negative mental impact.
In a newly published study, researchers went through the children's offerings of 15 national retailers. High end stores such as Neiman Marcus to inexpensive stores such as Kmart and Target were all participants. All of the clothes were sized and marketed for toddlers and pre-teen children. The researchers asked a random selection of adult raters to judge 5,666 clothing items. They were required to determine whether the clothing items revealed or emphasized a sexualized body part such as the chest or buttocks and whether they had sexy characteristics such as sexualized writing, slinky material or leopard print etc. The raters also looked for childlike characteristics such as frills or butterflies. Of all clothing items, 31 percent had sexualizing features, the researchers found. Most of these, about 86 percent, had childlike characteristics combined with sexy characteristics. Abercrombie Kids was the worst offender, with 72 percent of clothes featuring a sexualizing aspect. Neiman Marcus boasted about 38 percent sexualized clothing. Conformity in fashion is nearly impossible to ignore, but the negative aspect in the culture of over sexualization of women, is now trickling down to young girls who want to express their independence.
I find it difficult to believe that 4 out of 5 people think it’s a must to own at least 15 articles of clothing with the Nike Swoosh depicted in bold, because it’s that irresistible. Conformity is the tendency of an individual to change their thinking and behavior to the social norms. The most apparent effect of conformity is shown in fashion and style. The history of fashion shows a direct distinction between social classes. As our timeline moves forward, with help from big clothing companies mass producing high end retail look-alikes, the middle class started to imitate high class trends to display the illusion of wealth. This type of sale has been increasingly popular amongst young individuals who are mainly restricted to using fashion to express themselves. The many pressures of fitting in for us young adults seem imperative as we find our way in the world. Celebrities and public figures are plastered across every avenue of advertisement. Their totally toned bodies and flawless makeup and outfits, praised by popular social media create a completely unobtainable goal for normal people. The fear of looking different than what society tells us is beautiful shames the individual into conformity. There was a time in my life when expressing myself would alienate me into shame and isolation from my peers because I had a different idea to represent than the normative. My ideas eventually grew quiet, and later became silent. The pressure to conform is inevitable and hard to fight. To be this age and live in our era, it is completely impossible to escape conformity. This silent epidemic affects society as a whole and almost every aspect of each individual.
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