Fashion and Semiotics

1926 Words8 Pages
Ever since their invention many centuries ago, clothes have been used as a way of communicating. The message communicated relies on a number of factors including the social background of both the communicator and the receiver, and the context in which the message is communicated. Although at times the exact message or symbolism one is trying to portray may not be clear, it is evident that clothing has long been embraced as one of the best ways to project one’s desired personal image to those around them. For many centuries clothing was used namely as a form of symbolising one’s ascribed class and social honour. A good example of this was evident in Feudal European times when sumptuary laws were created in order to regulate and specify the clothing that could be worn by certain classes. In 1463 Edward IV went so far as to ‘[declare] that purple silk was to be the prerogative of the aristocracy’ (Finkelstein 1991, pg. 137). As purple dye and silk were both very expensive and sought after this declaration demonstrated quite simply that those who were in possession of such materials should command respect and were of high social standing. Eventually these laws were abolished as, instead of ‘confining people to their designated rank, the laws provoked an intense interest in fashion and a desire to transgress the codes, both in the process of prestigious emulation and as an act of rebellion’ (Craik, 1994, pg. 205). This abolition allowed groups and individuals to establish their own chosen style or ‘marker’ in order to indicate their place within society. By allowing such freedom, ascribed social status gave way to that which was achieved. This not only meant that many more people were able to engage in the ever-expanding culture of ‘Haute couture’ but also that honour was no longer perceived as a birth right but rather as something that could to be obtained. Such a shift in symbolism provided a way for those of not so noble a birth to portray themselves as the latter through a variety of means such as renting or stealing clothes and buying counterfeit copies (a common occurrence in today’s society also). In the late 18th century the Industrial Revolution occurred causing a huge shift in the ways in which clothing was produced and subsequently altering the ways in which clothing was perceived. For decades preceding industrialisation men and women of high so... ... middle of paper ... ...o contextual influences and past experiences. Therefore it is almost impossible to pre-empt the ways in which others will perceive you. Over time ideas will change and therefore alter the ways in which we look back on past clothing choices. Whilst symbolism in fashion may no longer be subject to laws as it was in the 14th century or defined by strict social rules in the 17th century, the clothes we wear are still today subject to imposed social ideals. Apart from distinguishing one status group from another, a style of dress may also aid group cohesiveness, provide the individual with an identity and a feeling of belonging, and communicate the wearer’s attitudes and interests. The ways in which we interpret others and present ourselves for interpretation is the only true way that we can be individual. Symbolism in clothing may not seem as obvious or important nowadays as it was in times of extreme social bigotry, but it is still highly prevalent and has remained one of the most effective ways to project our desired image to those around us. ‘The state of a person’s clothes is synonymous with self respect and is a sign of responsibility’ (www.
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