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Feminspire | April 16, 2014

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Is Fashion Frivolous?

Is Fashion Frivolous?

Fashion sometimes dictates how others initially perceive us. To some, our fashion sense is relaxed, exciting or funny. As a result, these people peg us as lovers of folk or punk rock music, as world travelers or sports enthusiasts. Others see our fashion and, as an extension, ourselves as intimidating, pretentious, snobby, cold, dull or  too wild for their tastes. Our ripped jeans or knee-length skirts can supposedly communicate whether we are potentially dangerous hooligans, or reliable, diligent and studious young people.

Some might consider fashion fuel for our already too vain and consumerist society. Yet fashion also acts as an impetus for others to forge friendships and other relationships with us. These interactions, in turn, help shape our lives and mold us. In effect, fashion becomes significant because it transforms our lives.

People observe our fashion choices to determine more than the cliques with which we might associate, or what personality traits we might possess; many times, these people believe (correctly or incorrectly) our fashion choices signify our socioeconomic class, our ethnic and racial heritage, our relationship or non-relationship with a given religious sect, and/or our values.  A pricey pair of Jimmy Choos might insinuate – or wrongly suggest – we grew up in the richest one percent of the American population.  Some might believe only shoppers of a certain race or ethnicity purchase the brand of jeans we wear or shop at the store from which we purchased our earrings. If we sport a Star of David or Crucifix on a chain around our neck, those with whom we interact might conclude we strictly ascribe to a given religion. Sometimes these assumptions might be the suppositions we hoped people would make, but, in other instances, we might loathe the rash judgment that we value a certain kind of sex life due to the length of a hemline or our choices to shop at particular stores.

Due to the fact that our fashion influences these peoples’ perceptions of us, our fashion also motivates or dissuades them from cultivating relationships with us. People oftentimes gravitate toward those with whom they believe share similar interests, intrigue or entertain them, or retain other qualities they consider favorable. Fashion is suggestive to them of whether we could become their future best friend or significant other. Conversely, our style might prompt some others, who might believe our fashion choices contribute to what they perceive as an intimidating or standoffish persona, to avoid us or refuse to foster close relationships with us.

Those with whom we forge connections oftentimes expose us to new situations. These friends and lovers might ask us to accompany them to concerts, movies, parties, clubs, sporting events or dinners. They might persuade us to taste new foods or teach us how to ice skate. They even might convince us to join them on something as life changing as an expedition to a foreign country, while others could end up offering us employment.

These experiences shape our views of the world – we find our views or apathy concerning politics, religion and culture affirmed or denied. We learn about love, hate and trust through these situations as well. Overall, the accumulation of such experiences constitutes our lives, and the opinions we consequently form our personalities.

As we accrue new experiences and allow our personalities to evolve, we actively change our fashion to match these intangible transformations. Much of the time we have this innate desire to express creatively, via our hair, clothes, makeup and accessories, or lack thereof, how we see ourselves and how we want others to view us. Thus, we use fashion choices as symbols that conspicuously can contribute to others’ perceptions of ourselves.

In his 2010 New York Times essay, “The Hipster in the Mirror,” Mark Grief explains how different portions of the hipster subculture use symbols of “taste,” including fashion merchandise, to distinguish themselves as cooler than hipsters associated with different socioeconomic classes:

Both groups [“trust fund hipsters” and “ upper middle class liberal arts college graduate hipsters”], meanwhile, look down on the couch-surfing, old-clothes-wearing hipsters who seem most authentic but are also often the most socially precarious — the lower-middle-class young, moving up through style, but with no backstop of parental culture or family capital. They are the bartenders and boutique clerks who wait on their well-to-do peers and wealthy tourists. Only on the basis of their cool clothes can they be “superior”: hipster knowledge compensates for economic immobility.

Like many, hipsters use their clothes to communicate their shared experiences. Their ironic T-shirts and worn-out plaid button downs are often indicative of  the fact they grew up in the middle class, interacting with friends who likewise lacked cultural or economic capital, and they now work hourly wage jobs catering to the urban nouveau riche. These hipsters simultaneously rely on their fashion choices to express how such experiences make them  incredibly unique people compared to other so-called hipsters and the population at large. Their carefully created outfits ultimately tell passerbys the following: “I am a part of the lower-middle-class hipster subculture. Take me or leave me.”

Like the rest of hipster and non-hipster society, these lower-middle-class hipsters’ fashion choices likely will influence their future interpersonal relationships, experiences, and choice to maintain or abandon their current style of dress.

So, next time you put on your favorite pair of jeans or buy a new purse, remember how much more there is to what you wear than proverbially meets the eye.

What does your fashion sense say about you personality? Answer in the comments below!

Written by Amanda Travers