The Contours of Contemporary Fashion
By Anisha Jhaveri
Practically speaking, fashion is an artful commerce. It is an industry founded upon a simple purpose: to clothe and dress ourselves. However, as simple as the basic purpose driving fashion may be, its conception in our modern world is far more complex. In a nutshell, we need clothing to not just cover our bodies but to manoeuvre ourselves through this life. We need a pair of pants , a shirt and shoes to go for that interview, to the grocery store, or to a cousin’s wedding. It is in how we present ourselves to live life on a daily to ourselves and to the world. Thus, fashion is an abstract phenomena that permeates all of our lives, and influences our culture, traditions, relationships, social dynamics, self-identity and so much more than what meets the eye.
If we go back just 20 years to the start of the millennia, fashion in the early 2000’s was dominated by luxury brands and fashion houses giving rise to the belief that, expensive was equivalent to fashionable. However in the last decade, this has changed with the introduction of ‘fast fashion’. Fast fashion specifically refers to fashion houses or brands, that don’t release collections by season, but rather by trend and relevancy. Brands like Zara, H&M, Topshop, Fashion Nova and others primarily focus on mass production, accessibility and competitive pricing, thus compromising to a degree on quality and trend replication. This is antithetical to luxury fashion houses, who essentially thrive on setting, creating and curating trends.
Thus, an increased and more affordable access offered by fast fashion brought with it a noticeably decreasing sense of individuality as the same styles are replicated and resold across several brands. Thus, in our current fashion period, we see an increasingly conscious consumer base focusing not just on styles and accessibility but also on quality, originality and sustainability, hence moving towards ‘slow fashion’ brands.
Therefore, the shift in consumer behaviour is representative of larger concepts underlying our contemporary understanding of fashion: “En”vironment and “In”vironment.
“In-vironment” refers to our inner self, our sense of self identity and deals with knowing who we are within. Hence fashion is in part a product of our In-vironment and is to a certain degree reflective of our idea of ourselves. The more comfortable we are with ourselves and the more we love ourselves reflects in how we present ourselves to the outside world. For me personally that means dressing in a variety of styles, as I am quite experimental, and also like to think of myself as a person with various characters, loving each one in their own way. Therefore, my In-vironment is in alignment with slow fashion to a large degree. as it allows me to break out of what is acceptable and trending in society, and instead allows me to express without using words. It’s a way to sync the internal with the external and sometimes it’s also to secure a feeling that you want to nurture. “En-vironment” on the contrary, refers to our surroundings, which include people, ideas, judgments, societal norms etc. The influence of our ‘environment’ on us along with how it affects others' perception of us is aligned with fast fashion.
Growing up, I have certainly given into society's pressure to conform to certain trending styles, been influenced by others' opinions, allowing it to subconsciously affect my true self identity. I remember buying and wearing fast fashion brands like Abercrombie & Fitch through middle school just because it was the popular brand of choice within my environment. But as I grew older each year, I asked myself “does this plain white top with an A&F logo really represent your idea of self?” and the answer was no. I realised with time that I was a whole lot more creative, fun and experimental as a person. Shouldn’t I try to showcase the same in how I dress? I do believe that the way you choose to dress directly reflects your personality in some sense. It affects your mood, your emotions and your own sense of self. For example, a well-tailored and fitted suit can give that little push someone might need to go give a TED talk on stage.
As I became more aware of my self identity and conscious of the clothes I consume, there were no two ways about why we all must understand and encourage slow fashion. To intentionally consider the holistic lifecycle of a product from its ideation, to raw materials, to manufacturing/production, to its supply chain/shipping, and ultimately with consumer use and end-of-life disposal all seemed downplayed. These factors are all integral parts of the fashion industry and the impact it has on our environment. Opting for fibres and materials that are organic, recycled or repurposed and limit water usage and waste are all solutions to moving one step closer to caring for our environment yet remaining fashionable but sustainable this time.