What is Fashion?

Terryl Knox Mariano Magbanua

Expression of The Self

It is quite difficult to define fashion when we are so immersed in it. Oftentimes what comes in mind when one thinks of ‘Fashion’ is glamour and style, models and trends. We think of an industry that exploits vanity. But for Mindthis, fashion is more than just the vanity. Fashion is more than just an art form, as well. For Mindthis, fashion is a mode of being, as an expression of the self.

I started to define fashion as a concept by first defining the word itself. The word ‘fashion’ is both a noun and a verb described simply here as a prevailing custom, manner or style of something, or as an activity to make something.

I believe that fashion as a concept is exactly the same: it is a custom and a manner of living, it is a lifestyle; it is also an activity–a creative, functional and emotional activity–of expressing yourself in any given moment in time. We are all shrouded in mystery, and fashion is that enigmatic shroud that keeps us exclusive from and expressive to the world at the same time.Behind that shroud is a person. And if you examine just long enough, you can take a kaleidoscopic glimpse into a person’s life.

Greater than Status 

Fashion is a lifestyle, but it is more than just an expression of a certain standard of living and economic status.  Fashion is an expression of life, of emotions, of moods; it is the silent expression of personal stories. It is indeed true that certain lifestyles demand a higher degree of discipline than others, whilst certain lifestyles permit a higher level of comfort and ease.

However, no life is ever exclusive to one type of lifestyle, to one mode of living. We are not automatons after all. And this, I believe, is one fascinating aspect of fashion: it is that it reveals the multifaceted qualities of our lives through the clothes and articles we own, wear and love.

A myriad of things belongs to fashion as a concept. Indeed, fashion is an industry of materiality. But if you try to understand fashion outside that materiality, and analyse the conglomeration of things in relation to the person as a singularity, you can understand how fashion is a mode of being. And within this modality is a freeing and emotional experience, because within all these shroud of materiality that defines fashion superficially is a person.

It’s a Story Teller

In this micro-personal scale, fashion can convey a great many story. Fashion, as I have described above is both a custom and a manner. It expresses a state of being and doing. To the wandering eyes of the anonymous crowds, the clothes and the articles you wear can convey a personal story. Even if it is just a momentary glimpse.

But let us not disregard the materiality of fashion altogether. Fashion, again expresses a state of being and doing. It has now become a norm to be conscious of where certain things come from or how it is made. Each piece of fashionable article also convey a great many story.

This shirt may be made from China, or that bracelet maybe a handcrafted piece by a local artisan. Each and every person who create this or that product leave an imprint of their lives, lifestyles, creativity and emotion into each piece. We may never always care about who made it or what their circumstances were when they made it, but the globality of fashion is striking. It is yet another impressive characteristic of fashion: in one way or another, it connects people of different walks of life in many different levels. Fashion, is in one sense cosmopolitical.

Moments in Time 

Fashion communicates to everyone just like a picture communicates to everyone albeit differently. And if a picture can say a thousand words about an image, then fashion can say a thousand words about a person. In that particular day, in that particular moment, whatever you have decided to put on and however you decided to wear it, either with confidence or with awkwardness, say a thousand words about you. Granted, it may never be accurate, but this is a photographic moment captured in a swift moment of time.

As social and political beings, we care what people think about us. This is an inescapable reality, and whoever should deny this is in denial. But most importantly, we care about how we perceive ourselves. And fashion has this capacity to conceal and reveal ourselves to and from the world. I believe this is the enigmatic paradox of fashion: fashion allows us to hide from others’ judgments, hide our insecurities, but at the same it time exposes them; or it allows us to express our non-conformity, but at the same time conforms the non-conformists to a certain society.

What I am trying to suggest here is that fashion, despite however much we deny it, will nevertheless expose our social and political being and belonging. Fashion becomes a statement of our cultural existence.

For this reason, I believe it true that fashion is a mode of being. Similar to how a vehicle is a mode of transportation, fashion is a mode of expression; a means of expressing the state of our humanly existence, our state of being and state of acting. Fashion is a medium of expression similar to that of art. Art is quintessential to culture. Similarly, fashion as an art, is quintessential to culture. But what differentiates general arts from fashion is the fact that fashion is a moving art.

It is a functional and personal art. Although, arguably, it may lose its meaning through its mass production; however, the fact remains that these mass produced items evolve into personalised and unique expressions of life. But just like in art, the paint, the brushes, the canvasses, and other materials may also be mass produced; however, the final product is unique and is a masterpiece in their own right.

In Fashion we are our own Masterpieces

Metaphorically, we are the canvass, fashion is the paint, and our moods, emotions and life experiences become the inspiration which manifest itself in that final masterpiece. But what differentiates this final masterpiece of fashion is that it is mobile and in constant evolution.

I deliberately deviate from describing fashion as something that is constantly beautiful in a vain sense, because our moods, emotions, and life experiences is in constant change. It is not always too grand and beautiful; our state of being is never in a constant sublimity. Similarly, fashion is never always sublime. This emanates in our fashion choices. I think this is the beauty of fashion. Forget high end fashion for a moment. Forget the labels on your back and how much this or that cost you. Fashion as a mode of being is the silent expression of our ever changing states of emotions and activities. Just take a moment and inspect your wardrobe. Look at your clothes and take a moment and reminisce.

Remember where you got that shirt, that dress, those pair of shoes, or those bracelets. Remember how you felt in this or that particular moment. Remember who were with you when you got them. Now try to remember the stories behind each piece and article. Where, for what, or for whom did you wear them?

How did you feel in that moment when you wore them? Each of these things in your wardrobe is like a diary, like a personal autobiographer of your psycho-socio-emotional adventures. They have been with you in certain moments of your life, both the good and the bad. These almost invaluable things have become witnesses to your metamorphic life and activities.

In this micro-personal scale, fashion is like a book. A book that can be judged by the covers or be judged by the contents. People are like books, and fashion is the cover. It is very easy to judge a person by the clothes they wear and how they look. But there is no greater pleasure than getting to know a person for who they are. Fashion is that intimate boundary between people.

And in a macro-socio-economic-cultural scale, fashion has managed to define a generation, and vice versa. From the Great Depression to the sixties, seventies, and onwards, fashion has captured and defined the socio-economic-cultural evolution of a great many societies.

These decades of socio-economic-cultural evolution has been a testament to the modality of fashion as an expression of an entire generation’s state of being and activity. Fashion is multifaceted in this sense: it is functional, practical, expressive, creative, and emotional. Ergo, fashion is a testament to the constant evolution of the human condition. It is a reflection of the personal and societal modes of being. And this is how I believe fashion should be conceived.