Fashion: A Philosophy
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Fashion is at once a familiar yet mysteriously elite world that we all experience, whether we’re buying a new pair of jeans, reading Vogue, or watching the latest episode of Project Runway. Lars Svendsen dives into that world in Fashion, exploring the myths, ideas, and history that make up haute couture, the must-have trends over the centuries, and the very concept of fashion itself.
Fashion opens with an exploration of all the possible meanings encompassed by the word “fashion,” as Svendsen probes its elusive place in art, politics, and history. Ultimately, however, he focuses on the most common use of the term: clothing. With his trademark dry wit, he deftly dismantles many of the axioms of the industry and its supporters. For example, he points out that some of the latest fashions shown on runways aren’t actually “fashionable” in any sense of the word, arguing that they’re more akin to modern art works, and he argues against the increasingly prevalent idea that plastic surgery and body modification are part of a new wave of consumerism. Svendsen draws upon the writings of thinkers from Adam Smith to Roland Barthes to analyze fashion as both a historical phenomenon and a philosophy of aesthetics. He also traces the connections between the concepts of fashion and modernity and ultimately considers the importance of evolving fashions to such fields as art, politics, and philosophy.
Whether critiquing a relentless media culture that promotes perfect bodies or parsing the never-ending debate over the merits of conformity versus individual style, Lars Svendsen offers an engaging and intriguing analysis of fashion and the motivations behind its constant pursuit of the new.
fashion explicitly in the twentieth century.27 It could perhaps be said that the objective was reached with Yves Saint-Laurent’s woman’s dinner jacket of 1965. Since then the distinction between male and female fashion has become less clear, in the sense that there has been a more fluid interaction between them. Even so, there are still certain items of clothing that are basically reserved for one gender. Despite repeated attempts, not least by Jean Paul Gaultier, to introduce the man’s skirt,
onwards there were, to a certain extent, less visible differences between clothing worn by the various social classes than there had been before. Another important reason is that, as the century progressed, it became increasingly usual for uniforms and clothes linked to specific occupations to replace normal clothing, so that one’s social status was clearly marked by the clothes one wore. This, without a doubt, can be seen as a strategy on the part of the upper class to make visible what
things, applies to the area of clothing. Adam Smith, who was among the first philosophers to give fashion a central role in his anthropology, claims that fashion applies first and foremost to areas in which taste is a central concept. This applies in particular to clothes and furniture, but also to music, poetry and architecture.7 In his opinion, fashion also has an influence on morals, although the influence here is considerably less.8 Immanuel Kant provides us with a description of fashion
described in fashion magazines, because only the ‘meaning’ is left when the function is removed.10 Furthermore, Barthes claims, the ‘written garment’ does not contain any ‘vague temporality’. This is important because he wishes to carry out a synchronic study of fashion rather than a diachronic one. In other words, he wants to study a static fashion system. This is an original move, since most studies of fashion are diachronic and deal with the historical transformation of clothing, but it can be
post-traditional.8 In his opinion, however, modern societies are characterized by a special type of self-reflexivity, where it becomes radicalized precisely because individuals have virtually been liberated from the shackles of tradition: ‘In the post-traditional order of modernity, and against the backdrop of new forms of mediated experience, self-identity becomes a reflexively organised endeavour.’9 He also formulates it as follows: ‘Fundamental features of a society of high reflexivity are the