Everyone is involved in fashion, whether we like it or not.
I can hear the shouts of disagreement already. "It's just fashion, there's more important things in life!" But here's the T.
Every day, we get up and get dressed. Sometimes we dress for the camera when we plan to take an #OOTD. Other times we dress down because we don't want to be noticed. Some people build their street cred through their LV x Supreme gear while others have a hard time finding a pair of jeans that fit. As sociologist Joanne Entwinstle wrote, "[W]hen getting dressed one orientates oneself to the situation, acting in particular ways upon the body." It's precisely the intimate relationship between clothes and the body, coupled with how it is also a social practice, that makes clothes something worthy of talk.
In the more delicate sphere of issues, people make political statements with their Make America Great Again hats or through headscarves, which on occasion have incited violence. Other times women are victim-shamed for rape because they are told they asked for it with what they were wearing.
These are just a few examples of how clothes are more than just clothes.
OK, so clothes speak volumes. But not all clothes are fashion, are they? What is fashion anyway?
To many, Fashion - with a capital F - is this exclusive and desirable world of glamour, where powerful voices like Vogue and Anna Wintour proclaim what is and isn't fashion. I longed to be part of this world, as a starry-eyed 20-year-old nervously sending out cover letters to fashion magazines in Singapore asking to be an intern. I became a serial intern, sometimes working for free in exchange for other material and immaterial rewards. I learnt plenty and was blessed to have come across people who guided me patiently. But! The Miranda Priestlys so crucial to the fiction of this world exist too. In this light, fashion may also appear to be a realm that's superficial and toxic as hell, and so people reject it completely.
Yet, whether you're a fashion blogger with a million followers or someone who claims to be completely out of the fashion conversation, in the choices we make when we dress ourselves, we plant ourselves somewhere in relation to fashion. Even anti-fashion speaks to fashion. Rob Horning argued that though antifashion emerges to transcend fashion's patterns and the accompanying social dynamics, it is clear that, "Both fashion and antifashion are integrated into the fashion industry; they merely cater to different and often simultaneous consumer fantasies."
To be 'in fashion' means to be aligned with the current popular aesthetic. Time, therefore, is an important factor when we define what fashion is. Fashion, as argued by many scholars, is synonymous with change. In this way, fashion is also mostly seen to be embedded within fast-paced Western modernity, which already gestures at global-scale power struggles in its exclusions.
Fashion is also a system. It is a system of production, dissemination, consumption, and representation, that very often, through its glamourised imagery, hides the realities of unfair and unhealthy labour in third world economies, environmentally damaging practices, human rights infringements, and the list continues.
As my colleague cleverly put it, "Fashion manifests the best and worst of capitalism."
Very broadly put, looking at the world through fashion can reveal its problems. Very dramatic, I know.
Wait ... how did we go from the starry-eyed 20-year-old to this fashion/capitalism enigma?
I applied for the MA Fashion Studies course at Parsons Paris because, from the fashion journalism and marketing internships I've done + the publications I've read, I had an inkling that there was so much potential to how we think about fashion than what was in my scope at that time. I've been studying this for a year now and good Lord, the Pandora's Box has (sometimes delightfully, sometimes painfully) opened. Shopping has become a morally challenging exercise and my feelings towards capitalism fluctuate like my moods on a sleep-deprived day. But this is all part of the learning. And it's made me question phenomena I previously accepted as simply the way the world went round.
This past year I've had the privilege of resources, time, space, guidance, and critical distance, to delve into topics very close to heart. I've used psychoanalytical theory to analyse Instafame, investigated how Singapore attempts to create a fashion identity, and studied the tensions of race and sexual identity underlying disco culture, among other explorations. With my classmates, we've curated two major exhibitions; the first one on creative labour in the fashion industry, and the other on the role of the study collection in fashion museums. As a matter/meta of fact, we just published a magazine critically discussing fashion magazines. These, of course, do not come without the generous sharing of ideas by some of the most brilliant thinkers I've met through the year.
I'm starting this blog, therefore, to share some ideas and pose some questions (and hopefully get some thoughts from you in return!). It comes from the perspective that we cannot take certain workings of the world for granted. Perhaps it will give a better understanding of what Fashion Studies is, though we scholars often can't decide what it is. It's also a way of making ideas accessible because academia sometimes alienates others through its jargon and confusing databases. Lastly, it's a work-in-progress; a place to navigate many (often conflicting) strands of thought as I work my way through the field.
This isn't a fashion blog in the conventional sense, but it thinks about fashion seriously and uses fashion as a lens to understand the wider world. I don't promise any conclusions, but the point is to keep the conversation going.