The Complexities of Fashion and Style

Recently, fast rising singer-songwriter, Simi has been garnering a lot of buzz on social media. Surprisingly enough, this has more to do with her fashion choices than with her debut album “Simisola” [ But hey! any publicity is good publicity, yes? ]. With many people describing her fashion choices as poor, the singer quickly came to her own defense stating that she didn’t come into the industry to be a “fashionista“. Everyone felt the need to chip in and express their opinions about the situation which eventually led to the realisation that most people do not understand the intricacies of the words style and fashion.

What Exactly is involved in the conceptualization of Fashion and Style?

Fashion in a sense is change – Wilson, 1985.

Sisiano SS18

Simply, when the word “Fashion” comes up, what crosses the minds of the average person is clothing. Thus, a predisposed conclusion is formed about fashion being only relatable to clothes. Fashion in itself is a whole lot more complex than that.

Fashion is a specific social change, independent of any particular object – Lipavetsky, 1994

The concept of fashion is applicable to any object or behaviour or way of thinking. Fashion exists in different spheres. German Shepherds were considered to be fashionable in the 1920s. Cars with fins were fashionable in the 1950’s.

There is fashion in almost everything but the underlining difference between fashion in relation to clothes and every other form of fashion is the fact that clothing gives a more personal and intimate experience than other forms of fashion.

Chi & Ebs via instagram

Fashion is cultural technology that is purpose-built for specific locations – Craik, 1994.

Products created for the purpose of fashion are designed to have a short lifespan in westernised, capitalist societies. In a nutshell, fashion is created to last only for a short while. This was the idea that birthed the concept known as planned obsolescence. In turn, this gave rise to the various fashion seasons; Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter, Resort/Pre-Fall with the two major seasons being Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Basically, fashion is created to die. The western fashion system hinges on this concept and more recently, a couple of African designers seem to have adapted the seasonal format.

Tongoro Studio

Style on the other hand, is basically the fashion of the individual. Both of the concepts are interwoven and exist within each other which often leads to one being mistaken for the other. As fashion is an art form, style is the expressive side of it. It stems from the need to speak without saying a word as it is semiotic in nature. Style is an extension of our personalities-a part of our identities. It usually gives room for the exhibition of uniqueness of an individual which in turn involves a dance between two opposing forces-the desire to fit in and the desire to be different.

Tokyo James #AW17

In her book, Fashion and Psychoanalysis, Alison Bancroft tries to give an understanding of how fashion concerns itself with both body and mind which ultimately transcends to the psychic process of identification, desire and language in the form of style. The bridge between clothing and identity is projected in a number of ways which includes linguistic code, gender, sub group analysis (counter-cultural modes, youth culture and street style).

Pith Africa’s ‘One Strap Orange’ bag.

The most prominent of these bridges is the social class. Bourdieu (1984), stated however,

That clothing’s role as a marker of class in which dress is an aspect of cultural capital, part of how elites establish, maintain and reproduce positions of power, reinforcing relation of dominance and subordination.

More recently the dominance of class in the account of fashion has been challenged. Style can be shaped by social and economic forces, and used to mirror current social and cultural concerns.

African fashion is becoming global but we don’t have to follow the same rules, we have the space to innovate our own fashion ideals based on our environment and what we understand as style.
Every African has their unique voice, fashion houses and the culture in general need to identity with what’s truly African, what our culture is moving forward.
We need to own our style, be fashionable with our own taste level.

Ify Obi

Multifaceted individual and lover of the contemporary arts with interests in fashion, music and visual arts

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