Monday, February 1, 2010

Fashion as Communication

by Mathilde Jansson

Fashion as Communication by Malcom Barnard investigates the connections between the concept of fashion, communication and culture. It aims to clarify that fashion and clothing are means of communication. The aim of this chapter is also to examine what statements clothes make and what kinds of communication are involved, also, if fashion and clothing are cultural phenomena and what type. Barnard says in the introduction; “And it will argue that clothing and fashion, as communication, are cultural phenomena in that culture may itself be understood as a signifying system, as the ways in which a society’s experiences, values and beliefs are communicated through practices, artefacts and institutions.”

Above the Satorialist in the Marais, street culture reveals everyday codes of communication

“Fashion, Clothing and Communication”
Here the key point is that fashion and clothing are forms of nonverbal communication where no spoken or written words are used, but they send silent messages. He argues that there are two main schools in the study of communication, both subscribe to a general definition of communication as ‘social interaction through messages’ but they each understand that definition slightly differently. The first school is called the ‘process’ school, where they believe that “communication is conceived of as a process in which someone says something to someone else in one or other medium or channel with some or other effect.” Where in this case, the garment would be the medium used by one person to send a message to another person, consequently it is the garment who carries the message the wearer wants to communicate. Although he argues that this school rises a problem as to who sends the message, if it is the wearer or if it is originally the designer. The second school, called the semiotic’ or ‘structuralist’ school, says that communication as ‘social interactions through messages’ constitutes an individual as a member of a group. Rather that a member of a group communicating with other members of the group, as the first group applies. On the process model, the meaning pre-exists the process of communicating them. On the semiotic model, it is the process of communication that produces or generates messages.

He argues that the semiotic model is more plausible since it avoids the problem who creates the message since the message is created by the group as a whole. It is the social interacting, by means of the clothing, that produces the individual as a member of the group rather than vice-versa, that one is a member of the group and then interacts socially.

The American practice of wearing sports clothing communicates an alliance to a team's ideological territory. It also evidences the sign as free floating.

Fashion, Clothing and Culture
He argues that fashion, “clothing and dress are signifying practices, they are ways of generating meanings, which produce and reproduce those cultural groups along with their positions of relative power.” That means that clothes are used to separate groups in our society, which turns culture into a general signifying system. We communicate a society’s beliefs, values and experiences through practises, artefacts and institutions. Where, in this case, the practises, artefacts and institutions are fashion and clothing.

Above the system of personalization of values. At the "society" level people are largely anonymous but are united by sharing law. At the cultural level, people share language and a language of forms. At the subcultural level things begin to be more specific and separate from culture as a whole. The subculture asserts slang and visual codes of modification. Below the subculture of prep is defined by preparatory school but also the recreation of those forms outside of school.

Fashion, Clothing and Ideology
Here he discuses how fashion and clothing are used to separate and distinguish different cultural groups in society. According to Douglas and Isherwood (1979) fashion and clothing can be used as fences or bridges. This argues that individual garments may be innocent , but how they are used and the functions they fulfil are not. The uses and functions of garments are social and cultural therefore not innocent. To clarify fences and bridges; fences separates groups and keep people apart while bridges are there to join groups. Fences and Bridges also separate groups at the same time as they identify common values within a group.

Below, denim is a bridge across class and status. It was associated with the student of May 1968 as a clothing of rebellion to the establishment but now even Sarkozy wears jeans. It is also iconic as in the style of Jane Birkin.

Another way to see Douglas and Isherwood’s theory, he argues, is to see it as weapons and defences. Where you either challenge or try to sustain positions of dominance and supremacy. It is fashion and clothing, used as weapons or fences by different groups, that creates the social order. When fashion and clothes are used as weapons in a group, they express their ideologies against the ideologies of other groups in the social order. He says that fashion and clothing, as cultural phenomena, may now be understood as practises and institutions in which class relations and class differences are made meaningful.

Designers are working with the system of capitalism, advancing consumption and mediating the boundaries and values of clothing communication.

Fashion and clothing, in addition to being forms of cultural production and communication, are ideological phenomena used to maintain, establish and reproduce positions of power.

Wealth and status looks different in different cultures. Below, an image from 1945 with the caption "Upper class woman in India" indicates only the status of the clothing and not the other values.

In his conclusion he says that Fashion and clothing are cultural in the sense that they are some of the ways in which a group constructs and communicates its identity and also that they are communicative in that they are non-verbal ways I which meaning and values are produced and exchanged. Finally, he says that fashion and clothing, as cultural and communicative phenomena, are closely related to status and power.

Above this image for Gucci would normally be received as an image of luxury and wealth. Considering the image for its moral value of fur or skin exposure or considering it for function, as in demonstration of leisure, or for femininity are other ways to read fashion.


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