What does ‘fashion’ mean?

By Isabella Lock,

[Image above by Krysten Resnick]

According to the dictionary, fashion means a popular style of clothing, hair or decoration. To me, fashion means expression of the soul. Like other forms of creativity, fashion allows us to illustrate who we are to the world. However, the growth of the fast fashion industry has re-defined the meaning of “fashion” in Western countries. Fashion is no longer about expressing one’s unique self, but rather conforming to society to fit in. However, fashion has different meanings in different cultures.

I recently asked my mother “what does fashion mean to you?”, to which she replied “creativity” and “expression”. We developed the conversation regarding the lack of creativity nowadays. Particularly, she mentioned that when she was younger people wore what they wanted to wear. On the other hand, today, everyone wears the latest trend, which has created a “uniform-like” society. In shops, such as New Look and Zara, we see the same fashion items. Having grown up in a Western culture, I do feel the pressure to look a certain way and wear certain outfits. In this way, fashion appears to be about conforming. Perhaps it gives us a sense of belonging? 

I would like to consider the evolution from tradition to fashion. In Hindu culture, the traditional bindi is coloured dot worn in the middle of the forehead. It is described as “the sacred symbol of the cosmos in its unmanifested state”. The tradition is held by Hindus across the world, including in Bali, Malaysia and Singapore. The bindi is of great religious significance from over hundreds of years ago. However, the tradition of the bindi has evolved into a fashion statement in India today. They are often worn purely for decorative use or as a fashion statement. The stylistic use of the bindi today has spread internationally and encouraged by celebrities, such as Selena Gomez and Madonna. There has been great controversy as to whether this traditional symbol should be used as fashion. Nonetheless, it is interesting to consider how fashion can signify the evolution of tradition. 

Image: Selena Gomez MTV Movie AwardsKevin Mazur/WireImage / Today

In 1929, the cheongsam or qipao became the national dress of the Republic of China. The dress became a symbol of the women’s liberation movement in the 1930s. The outfit further evolved over the years and, like the bindi, has become popularized internationally. Today, the traditional wear is continued and worn for festivities, such as the Chinese New Year. However, the outfit has also been fashioned by Western countries. In shops, such as Urban Outfitters, the cheongsam design is used on tops and dresses. It has sparked a lot of controversy, but mainly amongst Westerners, rather than the Chinese people themselves. I recently asked my Chinese friends about this matter. To my surprise, they replied that it was a good thing. They explained that it showed an interest in their culture and they were happy to see other countries embracing the traditional wear too. Although they do not speak for the entire country, it is interesting to consider how traditional wear can be fashioned and embraced without upsetting anyone. 

Image: Urban Outfitters Cheongsam 

Fashion represents culture. In order to create new ideas, we must look for inspiration in other cultures. In this way, it is constantly evolving. Artists create and society follows. As humans, we search for a sense of belonging and community. There is certainly something wonderful about creating new fashion styles inspired by other cultures in order to unite one community.

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