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For centuries individuals or societies have used clothes and other body adornment as a form of nonverbal communication to indicate occupation, rank, gender, sexual availability, locality, class, wealth and group affiliation. Fashion is a form of free speech. It not only embraces clothing, but also accessories, hairstyles, beauty and body art. What we wear and how and when we wear it, provides others with a shorthand to subtly read the surface of a social situation.
Fashion is a language of signs, symbols and iconography that non-verbally communicate meanings about individuals and groups. Fashion in all its forms from a tattooed and pierced navel, to the newest hairstyle, is the best form of iconography we have to express individual identity. It enables us to make ourselves understood with rapid comprehension by the onlooker.
How we perceive the beauty or ugliness of our bodies is dependant on cultural attitudes to physiognomy. The accepted beautiful female form that Rubens painted is subliminally undesirable nowadays, if we are to be thought beautiful in a way that the majority accepts in the 21st century.
Today an inability to refashion and reshape our bodies whilst constantly monitoring the cultural ideal leaves us failing the fashion test. Those that pass the fashion test invariably spend their lives absorbed in a circle of diet, exercise, cosmetic surgery and other regimes. This includes the rigors of shopping in search of the ultimate garb.
Our reluctance to give ourselves a regular makeover through diet, exercise, and consistently conscious use of specific dress styles infers that we have the personality flaws of a weak willed human. We become in the eyes of fashion aficionados somewhat inadequate and imperfect in the fashion stakes. Thus we strive to keep a culturally satisfying appearance so that we feel better, whereas in fact we are striving to stay in the tribe, whatever type of tribe that may be.
Group affiliation is our prime concern with regard to fashion. As long as some group similarity is identified within the group, our personal fashion whether current or dated can belong to any tribe. It is the sense of belonging marked by how we fashion ourselves that gives us the tribal connection.
An innate characteristic of human beings is the desire to strive for differentiation. The removal of Sumptuary Laws and rigid dress codes has enabled the individual to use fashion as a means to identify clearly the many different rôles that a person plays in any one day.
Sociologists borrowed the word 'rôle' from the theatre because, like actors individuals play many parts and each part has to be learnt. Rôles are continually learned and rehearsed and relearned. They are also shared, because like the actors on a stage, fluid interaction only occurs if all the performers know the behaviour expected.
The Edwardians were socially stratified into those who wore tailor made clothing down to those who wore other people's cast offs. The poor simply looked poor, because their raiment betrayed them. Whilst the rich and nouveau riche displayed their wealth through an iconography of signs and symbols that enhanced their body image in the eyes of those that saw themselves as socially inferior.
Foremost in Veblen's mind must have been the fashions of the 1890s a decade that gradually favoured increasing conspicuous consumption by the rich. A century later the vogue for power dressing in the 1980s saw excessive indulgence and conspicuous consumption in fashion. Fashionable behaviour was the epitome of conspicuous waste, but the purest form of relief in a stressed, angst ridden society.
One of the most favoured forms of semiotic distinction is fashion, because fashionable clothes, accessories and body adornment are easy for others to observe at glance. Incidental items, particularly branded specific handbags footwear, jewellery, accessories and new hairstyles act also as important status symbols.
Wearing an occupational uniform puts an employee in the position of being a visual metaphor. We learn quickly to associate different uniforms with different rôle conceptions and different rôle expectations. We connect the policeman or security guard's uniform with authority, law, order and help. Likewise we associate the nurses or paramedic's uniform with help, care, protection and mothering. By contrast the jaunty overall and hat of the ice cream vendor with the promise of pleasure.
When people put on a uniform they adopt what they think it symbolises, but even people who don't wear a specific occupational or leisure uniform tend to know vaguely what to wear. Those who adapt their wardrobe to "fit in" with their company, succeed much faster in terms of upward job mobility.
The young have not always been dominant in fashion history. Until the Victorian Era a fashion look took between 10 and 15 years to permeate country areas. Once rail travel improved mass communication between country and city, the cycle of fashion speeded up so fast, that by the Edwardian Era in 1901, fashion was moving in a yearly cycle.
Emancipation of Women and the contribution of all classes of women to the 1914 - 1918 war enabled and encouraged women to adopt more practical clothing and to try out new styles in fashion, hair and beauty.
By the millennium everyday changes in lifestyle included fitness and health pursuits, car and air travel and centrally heated environments in homelife. All created a need for clothing fashion designed for the way we live now. How we perceive our persona and what we want to say to society in a very visual camera obsessed culture, is still expressed through our bodies, the way we wear clothes, jewellery and body art.
Today fashion and beauty can be affordable for everyone. There is always a range such as Avon that provides quality beauty, make up and accessory products at a prices most can afford.