Just a Fad: The Fading Correlation Between Fashion and Social Class Change is inevitable, as Charles Darwin has proven through his theory of evolution. Starting from as early as the 13th century to the present day, fashion and its role in society has significantly evolved. The evidence of this evolution shows exactly how the connection between fashion and social status within different societies has changed over time. Fashion is a very popular part of any culture, with a variety of different colors, fabrics, designs and brands. Of course the sole purpose of clothes comes naturally to us as we do not ask ourselves "Should I get dressed today?", but instead we ask "What should I wear?" This question has subsequently lead to the stereotyping of one's appearance to their social status. Fern 2
Fashion has long since been an important part of cultures in playing roles as a determining factor of where a person socially stands in that society. However in order to understand how class is influential to one’s appearance we must first recognize the origins of the separation of classes. One’s social status or class, hierarchy, or rank is essentially the deciding factor in where they lie according to society. The segregation of classes started due to an excess in the production of goods. The overproduction of these goods went on to establish a foundation for inequality in the economy. This consequently provoked an incessant struggle from those of an inferior class. The more rarely produced goods that were obtained, resulted in the more elite classes. This in turn signified that they had that kind of money to spend. This then lead to the creation of more authority and power for the superior classes over the inferior ones. Consequently, this is how leadership of a society is governed by the more prestigious and powerful social classes. As the different classes started to rise and stabilize, Europe took advantage of this.” In the ancient world, wealth, status, religion, culture and Fern 3
more could be imparted in the type of garments a woman, man or child displayed, or in the manner in which she or he wore them” (Batten 148). Way back in the 16th century certain states in Europe went as far as making laws stating that certain classes had to wear certain clothes and various classes could not wear a specific type of clothing. In doing so this allowed one to be easily noticed as having money or being of a noble background. Certain fabrics and decorative items in production required more labor or just had a higher value. As this became known, it was then used to visibly show off one’s status. The laws involved went as far as, length and width of garments, their color and decorative items on the material, and number of layers a clothing piece had. Materials such as velvet and gold lace were to only be worn by princes and were forbidden to peasants and beggars. This European influence spread into Asia, where in ancient China yellow robes, which represented the center of the earth, could only be worn by emperors. Nobility of the Hausa community in Africa were to wear huge turbans and various layers of expensive, imported gowns, which augmented their body size, setting them apart from the lower classes. Fern 4
Specific colors, the weave, and the sash of a kimono were all indictors of the wearer's place in society in Japan. The establishment of these laws is an indication that in 16th century Europe was standardizing a connection between fashion and social status and considered this an important priority. However by the mid 18th century these laws were revoked, due to lower classes defying these rules. This is where you can start to see how fashion and its correlation to one's social status is changing as those of lower social standings are trying to interfere and are striving to be like their superiors. As Thorstein Veblen stated “the function of dress [is to provide] evidence of ability to pay” (Sandine 35). This is evidence of...
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