fashion as self-identity

Today I’m just going to update you with a little overview taken from the indicative literature review I carried out over summer; the first part of which deals with fashion as self identity.

Fashion is recognised today as being more than just the latest trends in clothing and accessories. Rocamora (2002, p. 342) states that “fashion can provide invaluable insights into [the] sociology of cultural consumption and production”. This is in line with Bourdieu (1996, np) whose research focuses on high fashion and “the consumption of culture”; the idea that fashion is about buying into a lifestyle. Bourdieu’s work has been criticised for its focus on luxury fashion and for being more relevant to Parisian culture and might therefore be considered less relevant when discussing fashion involvement at a more mainstream level, where “fast” and “disposable” fashion is growing in prominence (Entwistle and Rocamora, 2006); however it does contribute to what is becoming a global arena for fashion discussion, where luxury fashion forms a significant part.

… blinding themselves and others to the fact that they hold their jobs partly because they look like executives, not because they can work like executives, (Goffman, 1990, np).

As my research will look at various aspects of identity construction (fashion and online), Goffman’s theories are a good place to begin. Goffman (1990) maintains that identity can be expressed through aspects of everyday life, where individuals seek to control how they are perceived by others by managing their personal settings, appearance and manner.

Kleine and Kleine (1993) explore the relationship between consumption and identity and the differences between the “self as I” which links to thinking and behaviour and the “self as me” which combines possessions, attitudes and beliefs, and social attributes; fashion as a way of expressing identity would relate most closely to the “self as me” aspect of Kleine and Kleine’s research. They also stress the importance of achieving identity-related goals and schema. Schema is an inner repository of knowledge relating to specific identities which enables one to express that identity; this is mostly made up of experience and feedback from social interaction rather than stereotypes, in line with findings from Chassin et al, (1985). Other interesting observations include the extent to which individuals will adopt a number of identities and the subsequent use of “identity salience” which is the value individuals attribute to an identity and this can influence the extent to which this identity is adopted.  These themes will be considered throughout the proposed research.  

Bourdieu (1984, np) identifies ways of dressing amongst other expressive communication as manifestations of taste and the identity. Fashion is seen as “cultural capital” which can be used to create a “sense of belonging”; this is in line with studies into the construction of social identity online where, particularly in earlier research, users were found to seek a sense of belonging through groups.

Fashion events are a key part of the industry’s lifecycle and are therefore a central arena in which fashion commentary takes place. Communication has become more instantaneous with the advent of online social media and new players like fashion bloggers, with collections being ranked in terms of their coverage on social media.

Fashion events are a core aspect of the industry’s generic lifecycle. Today, a number of cities around the world host “fashion week” events and these form part of the “industry’s calendar”. Singer (2013, np) estimates that there are around eighty of these events in the world today and discusses two types of fashion week: those in the fashion capitals that serve as working events for the industry; and those in which the “spectacle of catwalk shows is treated largely as an end in itself”. In fact there are so many fashion weeks held across the world today, that it is difficult to find a complete list.

Despite its ostensible aim to simply showcase next season’s fashionable clothing, we suggest that LFW’s main function is to produce, reproduce and legitimate the field of fashion and the positions of those players within it, (Entwhistle and Rocamora, 2006, p. 736).

Fashion weeks are acknowledged today as being “an important moment within the life of the industry” (Entwhistle and Rocamora, 2006, p. 736). Entwhistle and Rocamora’s research focuses on a study of London Fashion Week (LFW); an event that they feel embodies fashion as a broader sector. One of the important characteristics that they emphasise is that the event brings together influential people within the industry, representing designers, journalists, buyers, models, celebrities, stylists and students. This is in line with Bourdieu’s (1996) field theory which focuses on culture and power and concurs that an event such as LFW is about much more than just showcasing the latest fashion collections; it is concerned with “position taking” (choices which individuals take to signal their position) and “habitus” (lifestyle and values of social groups). This theory will be considered as part of my research, particularly in terms of identity construction, the role of the actor, and to help evaluate the intended message.

 

References

Bourdieu, P. (1993). The field of cultural production. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. J. D. (1996). An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Chassin, L. et al. (1985). Self-image and social-image factors in adolescent alcohol use. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 6.

Entwhistle, J. and Rocamora, A. (2006). The field of fashion materialised: A study of London Fashion Week. Sociology. 40(4). Pp. 735-751.

Goffman, E. (1971). Relations in public: Microstudies of the public order. London: Penguin.

Goffman, E. (1990). The presentation of self in everyday life. London: Penguin Books.

Kleine, R.E. and Kleine, S. S. (1993). Mundane consumption and the self: a social identity perspective. Journal of Consumer Psychology. 2(3). Pp. 209-235.

Rocamora, A. (2001). High fashion and pop fashion: the symbolic production of fashion in Le Monde and the Guardian. Fashion Theory: the Journal of Dress, Body and Culture. 5(2).  PP. 123-142.

Rocamora, A. (2011). Personal fashion blogs: screens and mirrors in digital self portraits. Fashion Theory. 15(4). Pp. 407-424.

Singer, M. (2013). It’s always fashion week somewhere. [Online]. Available at: http://www.style.com/trendsshopping/stylenotes/011413_Global_Fashion_Weeks/. [Accessed on: 16th Mar 2013].

My blog is me

Just like a paper diary, weblogs are structured around ‘I’ narratives. They present the life of a sovereign subject who has a continuous identity and a coherent history, (Reed, 2013, p. 226).

In his article “my blog is me”, Reed explores the identity of bloggers; focusing mainly on the “kinds of person these digital texts can become” and how their identity might be received. This is something I’m interested in exploring with my research, where I will look at the message that the sender is trying to communicate (e.g. via a photograph on Instagram or post via a blog) and how this compares to the message that is actually being received; this will help me to draw conclusions about the identity of the author (or that which they are consciously trying to portray) vs how followers perceive the identity of that author:

Indeed, I believe we need to more regularly ask ourselves (as we do with most other kinds of artefacts), what kind of person is this text? Who does it substitute for? How is agency extended? Into what kind of matrix of relations does this ‘person’ enter? How is the ‘person’ composed and how does that composition alter over time? (p. 224).

An interesting aspect of this could be the extent to which the communicator actually considers the communication and how it might be received before posting it. The instantaneous and ungoverned nature of social media has made it perfectly simple for anyone to share their thoughts and photographs almost without conscious thought. Reed reflects on this:

At the heart of journal blogging is an ethos of immediacy. Weblogs entries are meant to be ‘of the moment’, a record of how the individual felt or thought at that particular point in time, (p. 227).

Although bloggers might reveal quite personal information about themselves, Reed argues “there are always aspects of the subject that remain outside or beyond the text, impressions that they cannot or do not want to post [and] while individuals are happy to assert that ‘my blog is me’, they also insist that ‘I am not my weblog’.”, (p. 230). Where a blogger has followers who they actually know offline, Reed argues they are likely to be more considered in their communications.

In terms of methodology, Reed draws inspiration for Gell (1998) who: “describes four kinds of entities (or subjects): the ‘index’ or material object itself, the ‘artist’ or attributed creator of that thing, the ‘recipient’ or viewer or consumer of it and the ‘prototype’ or entity depicted by the art-object (such as the landscape in a painting)” (p. 223). Reed reviewed a number of blogs, mostly from London, and met some of these bloggers face-to-face; these bloggers maintained that their blogs were “unreserved” representations of themselves. The continuous nature of a blog, where communication is instant and ongoing and a blogger’s story will build up over time, makes the text seem “alive”, (p. 227).

Reed discusses bloggers’ motivations where the most common motivation was to vent or offload personal thoughts or feelings, much like a diary. One of his research participants states: “blogging gets them out of my head, it’s a thing to get all that stuff out of your head that otherwise you couldn’t put anywhere”. Reed identifies that these bloggers often view blogging as being very separate to their work. I would hypothesise that this might be different for fashion bloggers, many of whom might be motivated by career progression, using their blog as a personal portfolio and encouraged to update this regularly due to the dynamic industry’s expectations. Another motivation for most bloggers is to attract more followers and retain existing ones. Bloggers rely on their followers and one of Reed’s participants likens blog posts to “the graffiti that one finds across the city, texts left for strangers to read”, (p. 232).

Bloggers regard each other as equals; they point out that the visitor to one weblog is always the prototype (and author) of another, (p. 232).

This quote is of particular interest to me, as it was my main motivation for setting up this blog. In order to carry out my research, I would like to actively engage with fashion bloggers in their own environment, in what Reed would describe as “conversations between texts”, (p. 235).

 

References

Gell, A. (1998). Art and agency: An anthropological theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Reed, A. (2006). “My blog is me”: Texts and persons in UK online journal culture. Journal of Anthropology. 70(2). Pp. 220-242.

Blog ambition

… the average person, too often estranged from fashion, is taking ownership of it, (Robin Givhan in Harper’s Bazaar, 2007, in Pham, 2010).

Interestingly, Givhan later goes on to state that fashion bloggers can become “biased” where “passion gets in the way of truth telling”. This is how Pham (2007) begins her discussion in the article “blog ambition”, where she explores fashion blogs and discusses the extent to which these can be considered as democratisation of fashion communication.

Pham observes that, although most people in the Western world do have internet access to set up a blog, it might take a certain amount of investment (time, money, training, etc) in order for users to optimise this so it ranks highly in searches. Without question it will take time to build up an army of followers but I’d argue that today this can be done through social media and existing networks rather than investing heavily in search engine optimisation in the first instance.

Pham highlights the difficulty in keeping track of the exact number of blogs that exist due to a lack of standardised definition; however the majority come from the USA and are published in English:

A tiny fraction of these blogs are dedicated to varieties of fashion and style that might be grouped as celebrity, street, couture, luxury, indie, mass-produced, masstige, vintage, and eco or green [and] might be personal, informal, public, referential, and participatory, (p. 4).

Many successful fashion blogs in the UK could be classified as being “personal”, as they are often written in the style of a diary, where the blogger will discuss fashion and style in the context of their own life, referring to the past and alluding to a future. They often talk directly to their audience, using words like “you”, “we” and ending their post with a “x”; all of these elements can help to encourage a loyal set of followers. This is in line with Pham’s “horizontal communication”, where the power sits evenly between blogger and follower, as both have a level of reliance on each other.

Pham also explores some interesting points regarding identity construction in blogging; I’ll come back to this in a future post as it’s an area I intend to explore in my own research.

 

References

Pham, M. T. (2010). Blog ambition: fashion, feelings and the political economy of the digital raced body. Camera Obscura. 76(26). pp. 1-37.

Changing parameters of fashion communication

The communication revolution is here! (Allen, 2009, p. 2)

Although I’ll draw some inspiration from more traditional means of fashion communication (magazines, print ads, etc), the focus of my current research is online media. I’ll be looking, in particular, at fashion blogs, Instagram and Pinterest and analyse messages from a range of “actors”, including opinion leaders, fashion critics, fashion designers and emerging voices.

Instagram and Pinterest are still relatively new media (both were launched in 2010), and there is only limited research into their use as a tool for fashion communication. Blogs, on the other hand, are one of the earliest forms of online “social” media and have played a big role in the democratisation of communication; with fashion bloggers being recognised in their own right as “the new member in the fashion industry”, (Zhang, 2010, np). The control has shifted from sender to receiver and there is a new emphasis on engagement and interactivity, as opposed to top-down instruction. 

Allen (2009) discusses blogs in her exploratory study of the changing parameters in fashion communication, where she draws on earlier theories, for example that of Roland Barthes, (1967). She makes an interesting observation about the lack of a credible “gatekeeper”, where traditionally this control would sit, for example, with the editor of a fashion magazine like Vogue.

Allen makes another valuable point, this time around the style of this communication, which tends to be informal and conversational; on the one hand, this enables bloggers to engage their followers on a more personal level, but it can also lead to careless mistakes and bad grammar; this carelessness is made worse by the general lack of governance and instantaneous nature of social media, where a blogger can communicate a message instantly with relatively no thought or reflection beforehand. 

Blogs connect with their readership in two ways firstly by the conversational communication style of the blog content which includes both written discourse and visual communication. Secondly by the fact that the reader views this on a device that is closely viewed often as a solitary activity and a device owned by them, (Allen, 2009, p. 5).

Allen draws on examples from well known fashion blogs such as Style Bubble and highlights the importance of regular updates and the creation of a sense of “insider” knowledge, in order to encourage a loyal following and appear credible. A good example of language which she uses is the term “I popped to the private view” (Style Bubble, 2009, np).

This article is insightful and I found it a useful starting point for my research.

 

References

Allen, C. (2009). Style surfing  changing parameters of fashion communication – where have they gone? In: 1st Global conference: Fashion exploring critical issues. 25-27 September 2009. Mansfield College: Oxford.

Barthes, R. (1967). The Fashion System. USA: University of California Press.

Style Bubble, (2009). When you’re a boy… [Online]. Available at: http://www.stylebubble.co.uk/style_bubble/. [Accessed on: 17th October 2013].

Zhang, C. (2010). Fashion blogs: the new member in the fashion industry. Journal of Digital Research and Publishing. 3(1). Pp. 153-160.

A user’s guide to artspeak

For those of you who are interested in the language of fashion, here is an interesting article from the Guardian on International Art English or “artspeak” which they name as “the pompous, overblown prose” used to describe exhibits. For those who have not encountered this before, it is believed to be most evident in art gallery press releases.

With its pompous paradoxes and its plagues of adverbs, its endless sentences and its strained rebellious poses, much of this promotional writing serves mainly, it seems, as ammunition for those who still insist contemporary art is a fraud. Surely no one sensible takes this jargon seriously? (the Guardian, 2013)

It seems that even artists themselves find this amusing and the Guardian present different views on the subject with Levine (an American artist) showing some support for this: “IAE is about trying to create a more sensitive language, acknowledging the realities of how things [made by artists] work”. He argues that the earlier trend in art criticism (50s and 60s) was “politically chauvinistic [and] authoritarian”; something that had to be “overturned”. On the other hand, Rule (art critic and sociologist) believes it to be oppressive and “not particularly healthy”.

Both Levine and Rule claim they are “guilty” of IAE use and find it particularly interesting. They have produced a critical essay where they carried out a content analysis of a number of gallery press releases and their findings are presented online. It’s a really interesting read. Both critics agree that, to some extent, the use of this type of language is fitting with the sense of exclusivity amongst the art set where: “the more you can muddy the waters around the meaning of a work… the more you can keep the value high”, (Levine, 2012) and art is no longer merely decorative but “sold with a garnish of rhetoric”, (the Guardian, 2013).

We probably shouldn’t expect that the globalised art world’s language will become … inclusive. More likely, the elite of that world will opt for something like conventional highbrow English, (Rule and Levine, 2012).

This article poses an interesting comparison to the language of fashion and, in particular, that of fashion magazines like Vogue, where these have become more inclusive in their writing style; still there are elements of jargon but generally Vogue has moved away from the more technical detail and towards a greater focus on the desirability and wear-ability of a garment, (Konig, 2006).

 

References:

Konig, A. (2006). Glossy words: An analysis of fashion writing in British Vogue. Fashion Theory. 10(1/2). Pp. 205-224.

Rule, A. and Levine, D. (2012). International art English: on the rise – and the space – of the art-world press release. Triple Canopy. 16.

The Guardian, (2013). A user’s guide to artspeak. [Online]. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/jan/27/users-guide-international-art-english. [Accessed on: 6th Feb 2013].

 

Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening, (Coco Chanel).

This is one of my very favourite quotes by Coco Chanel; and she has a lot of quite fabulous ones! It’s the last part that I find particularly interesting: “Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening”. It just goes to show how ahead of her time the designer was where fashion has continued to evolve and surround our everyday lives. Is there anywhere that this is more evident than in our use of online social media?

With a first degree in communication and a job history in marketing, I now work in a teaching role where I contribute to the BA (Hons) Fashion Management course at Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University, Scotland. Upon graduating I completed a Masters degree in Project Management, a management discipline which I feel can be fabulously useful in today’s fast paced working world. However, given my interest in communication, social media and fashion (of course!) it seems appropriate that my current research should focus on this link between fashion and communication.

“Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening”; I’m interested in the evolution of these words and, more specifically, that of fashion communication.

Traditionally, fashion commentary was an exclusive entity, where experts in the field of fashion (experienced designers, editors and journalists) contributed to style columns and, to some extent, dictated the success of trends and styles. At the same time, magazines were critical by omission, only covering styles, trends and designers who their editors deemed worthy of inclusion. The power of fashion magazines is evident in the case of New York’s ascendance as a fashion capital (Rantisi, 2004), where the editors of publications, such as Vogue, played a huge role in helping New York reposition itself, alongside Paris, as a creator of world class designs.

For those who are interested in the changing nature of fashion communication, Anna Konig’s article “Glossy words: An analysis of fashion writing in British Vogue” is a really interesting place to start. This article has formed the basis for my literature review on the subject.

Text contributes to an understanding of fashion by assigning descriptive or interpretative meanings to the objects and images presented on fashion pages, thereby mediating a cultural understanding of the phenomenon, (Konig, 2004, p. 207).

Konig (2004) examines fashion writing in Vogue over a twenty year period (1980-2001) and the extent to which this has evolved. She recognises that this change has come, partially as a result of changing readership perceptions; this is in line with research by Rocamora (2001) who explores the differences between high fashion and pop fashion. Konig deconstructs writing in Vogue through the following categories: content; tone; lexicon (use of words, terms and phrases); and cultural references (presence of cultural references outwith main focus of article).

In terms of content, Konig found that, over the period studied, lengthy articles, consisting of often quite technical terminology and description of garments were reduced to shorter, more concise text which often focuses on more abstract concepts relating to “fashionability”, (p. 211). More recently, in recognition of the changing demands of the audience, articles have focused on providing behind the scenes insights into the world of fashion. Konig makes some valuable observations about the changing tone of Vogue, in particular the use of irony which “has been used so liberally that it can be recognised as a significant indicator of shifting attitudes toward fashion”, (p. 212).

Lexicon is something that Konig found has changed quite dramatically, where early editions of Vogue included unconventional syntax, tautology and a shift in discussion of garment construction to purely aesthetic elements; where earlier editions of Vogue drew on French language to discuss technical aspects of garments, later editions used this mostly for “ironic effect”, (p. 214). Lexicon is something that Barthes (1995) also explores in his semiotic analyses of the language of fashion and the fashion system. Barthes’ work focuses on what clothing actually says in terms of signs and symbolic meaning; something which we will discuss a little later.

The aim of my research is to build on some of the earlier theories in fashion communication and I will seek to investigate social media as a tool of fashion communication in order to answer the following questions:

1)      What is the nature and purpose of online fashion communication today and who is this aimed at?

2)      What is the producer’s intent and how do they go about projecting this through online identity?

3)      Is the message which the producer is trying to project consistent with that which is being received?

If you are interested in this research or would like to be involved in any way then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’m going to be updating my blog over the next few months with various images, anecdotes and reviews of literature which will (hopefully) be of interest to anyone who shares my passion for fashion and communication.

 

References

Barthes, R. (1995). The Language of Fashion. Oxford: Berg.

Konig, A. (2006). Glossy words: An analysis of fashion writing in British Vogue. Fashion Theory. 10(1/2). Pp. 205-224.

Rantisi, (2004). The ascendance of New York fashion. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 28(1). Pp. 86-106.

Rocamora, A. (2001). High fashion and pop fashion: the symbolic production of fashion in Le Monde and the Guardian. Fashion Theory: the Journal of Dress, Body and Culture. 5(2).  PP. 123-142.