Fashion And Social Revolution Cultural Studies Essay

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"Fashion as communication", by Malcolm Bernard, was first published in 1996 in New York by Routledge, a British publishing house which is known for academic imprint. This book serves as a research reference for students who were interested in the analyzing of fashion and clothing. The success of first edition prompted Bernard to publish a second edition to provide more support to students.

Currently, Bernard is a visual culture lecturer in Loughborough University School of Art and Design and studied philosophy and some of the philosophical bits of sociology. He indulges in fashion research and tries to explicate why fashion, graphic design and other examples of visual culture look the way they do by using concepts such as meaning, communication, identity, culture, society, power and economics.

In this chapter of the book, "Fashion, clothing and social revolution", Bernard discusses about using "fashion and clothing as revolutionary practices and explain them in ways in which existing class and gender identities may be challenged or contested, as ways in which people may transform their circumstances and conditions".  The idea of revolution of fashion and clothing is discussed through a different point of view: Resistance. In relation to the role of fashion and clothing, the chapter would also allow us to see a bigpicture of how fast fashion would adapt to changes, especially to the most outrageous designs and how fashion and clothing are rapidly incorporated in forms of contestant and challenging identities of class and gender supported with examples:  jean, punks, and hip-hop.

In terms of revolution for fashion, the author agrees and emphasizes that the power and status of class and gender identities is a moving battle, needing to be continually re-fought and re-won in order to maintain the supremacy through the active usage of fashion and clothing. This is well supported by the opposition for the trickle-down theory, discussed in this chapter, suggesting the real seat of fashion is found among the upper social elite class, followed by the lower class. However, this opposition of trickle-down theory could be strengthened with the support from surveys or interviews from other factors instead, like age group.

Firstly, in this chapter, Bernard emphasizes and agrees with the active consumption, which is the opposition of trickle-down theory. Bernard's claim that "active consumption is necessary in order to explain how fashion and clothing may be used to resist and oppose dominant gender and class identities, as well as the positions of power and status that accompany those positions (Bernard, 2002, p132)" and supported his argument with other researches. Some of the researchers like McCracken and Davis are quoted to counter the Trickle-down theory. McCracken points out that fashion needs not comes from the social elites to but adopted simultaneously by all levels with the rise of media and magazines and Davis argued that "one weakness of the trickle-down theory is that it assumes that fashion is concerned only with symbolizing social class...actually about all sorts of other identities…(Davis, 1992, p112)

Jeans, punks and hip-hop fashion are introduced as means of challenges to the dominant mainstream, imposed by commoners and not elites. Even so, these challenges are quickly appropriated or fit in by the mainstream and values opposed by the challenges are adopted. These prove that constant war is essential to keep the supremacy of the power and status of class and gender identities.  

Bernard proposes that jeans may no longer be classified as "sartorial symbolic complex at war…. with class distinctions, elitism and snobbism" which is common in America as they are in the Old World (Davis, 1992, p70, Bernard, 2002, p134). The group of people is "painters, artists" and later in the 30s/40s comes the "activists" (Bernard, 2002, p134). They are the one who took up the trend of wearing jeans, strongly against Americans' "dominant conservative, middle class, consumer-oriented culture" and (Bernard, 2002, p134, Davis 1992, p70).

For punk, it appeared to be in resistance to music and fashion system which becomes :"monolithic, unadventurous and predictable" enjoyed by the dominant, mainstream  and bourgeois (Bernard, 2002, p136). The punks intend to challenge the above groups by promoting what is considered poor taste to them: the dirty clothes, tarty styles and 'tasteless' colors and patterns. They aim to speak up for the neglected constituency of the white lumpen youth. However, to the punks' surprise, their fashion values are taken in by the capitalist system and fashion is adopted by the dominant classes rapidly.

Whereas for hip-hop, originally the blanks wish to oppose the unjust system of legal racial segregation found in the United States, in tandem with the unity with their imprisoned brothers. But this fashion is immediately being accepted and integrated into the dominant classes, which is the elite, white middle class Americans.

However, there is a flaw to this argument. I think that this argument could be strengthened and stronger with more supporting evidence like surveys or interviews. As stated by Davis, there is one weakness of the trickle-down theory …assumes that fashion is concerned by only with… whereas it is actually about all sorts of other identities: sexual, gender, age, ethnic, religious… (Davis, 1992, p112) Bernard did not elaborate upon this factor. There are many factors of identities that Bernard could research upon, but he did not further elaborate it. If this point is proven with statistical values, surveys or even interviews, readers will be more convinced that there are more factors to the revolution of fashion and not just about class or gender identities.


While agreeing that active consumption is common in society now, the author implicitly means that fashion will be constantly changing due to the active conception of consumers to create another level of class and gender identities apart from those common in society. Nevertheless, I believe with more supporting evidence from surveys, interviews or statistical data, there will be more than just class and gender identities implicitly affected by the revolution of fashion.