Fashion and connection

by Dominic Blackwell

Fashion is a source of great potential. Of course there are two main senses of the word in English, one involving clothes and the other about the prevailing style or custom. And this duality shows both the negative and positive aspects of fashion in people’s minds.

Fashion as self-expression via appearance is straightforwardly a good thing. It is just a creative medium which people can use to express what they want to about themselves, their relationship to others and their cultural context.

But the bad, second sense of fashion is what causes the problems. On the one hand a shallow, trend-following whereby the behaviour of people in clothes-fashion led to the herd-fashion — a shallow conformity which could go beyond clothes into ideas, art, politics and other areas of human experience. And on the other hand with respect to clothes we got Fashion and the Fashion Industry — the pointless, wasteful consumption, the dictates about body size, the creation of a powerful bullying force to make people fit the mould.

Now recently, I have been reading Seth Godin’s The Icarus Dececption which offers a simple model for understanding this. The key thing with herd-fashion is that there is a fashion industry, and this fits exactly with Godin’s description of the industrial, conformity-seeking old economy. Fashion as self-expression on the other hand, is the domain of the artist, the participant in Godin’s Connection Economy.

And it also ties in with what I have said about groups and individuals. The unit of humanity is the individual person. There is much to fear from groups trying to bully people to be ‘on trend’ and fit in rather than belong. But individual self-expression, through appearance or anything else is an empowering, creative force with infinite potential. Herd-fashion may an expression of the worst in humanity but fashion as individual self-expression is part of what makes the human race most worthwhile.

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