When I tell people I’m studying the history and culture of fashion, I get a mixture of responses. Perhaps because I’m female and dress to stand out rather than fit in, people often react as if I couldn’t possibly be studying anything else. Some folk take the opportunity to declare that they, personally, know nothing about fashion. Sometimes it makes them stop to consider what such a course could cover, and then they nod in approval as they latch on to the history aspect. After all, history’s a worthwhile academic subject, isn’t it? It’s only when we start to get deeper into the conversation that people begin to understand just how important fashion really is.
Whether you follow the latest trends and catwalk shows or not, fashion affects us all. Many people only think of fashion as what is promoted by magazines like Vogue but, in actual fact, it has a much broader definition. Fashion, style, clothing and dress are all somewhat interchangeable terms – depending on who you speak to – and cover anything that relates to the ‘dressed body’. That’s anything we choose to adorn ourselves with, including hair styles and dyes, piercings and tattoos.
Of course, garments are still the easiest and most obvious way to dress our bodies and therefore the most striking signifier of ‘fashion’. Our choice of clothing allows us to be comfortable, business-like, rebellious or stylish. We can join a tribe or create an individual identity. Clothes can tell people which football team we follow, what country we’re from… what we take pride in. Clothes can help us blend in and feel safe, help connect us to the past, and help us support a sustainable future.
The fashion industry employs a vast number of people worldwide, with a wide variety of skills and knowledge. Designers, pattern cutters, machinists, textile and cosmetic scientists, leather workers, buyers, merchandisers, models, photographers, retailers, journalists, curators, archivists, and a great many more. Fashion matters to the economy and the environment just as much as it matters to the individual. This is why we shouldn’t disregard it. This is why we shouldn’t ignore it.
The Head of London College of Fashion, Professor Frances Corner, understandably believes in the importance of fashion and has written a book detailing 101 ways Why Fashion Matters. I took part in the first in a series of tweet chats surrounding the book’s launch took place last week and was entitled Why Fashion Matters to the Individual. If you would like to join in the discussion, there are two further chats in the series, before the official book launch event on 7th May. The Why Fashion Matters to Society tweet chat is taking place on Weds 23rd April, 12.30-1.30pm. The Why Fashion Matters to the Economy tweet chat is taking place on Weds 30th April, 12.30-1.30pm. Check the @LCFLondon twitter feed and the hashtag #whyfashionmatters for more information.
UPDATE: Here are my Storify summaries of the tweet chats we’ve had so far – Why Fashion Matters to the Individual and Why Fashion Matters to Society. There were some really interesting points raised in both.