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Shaping Our Identity Through Fashion Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3944 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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We all derive identity from the world around us. We are born as a collection of biological processes over which we have no authority or power. Our first mission in life is to build a personality which conjures up this fragmented mystification. We create images of how we want to see ourselves through inspirational messages, assets and knowledge that we gain in the world. ‘We then want our images and to be reflected back to us through the desire of others’. http://www.guidetopsychology.com/identity.htm

In this essay I aim to discover what crafts you as an individual, and how identity is created through Clothing influences; whether it be through fashion-media, celebrities and ‘body issues and concerns’. I endeavour to understand the depths and extents people go to shape their identities, and discover the limitations and restrictions that can occur.

Image is paramount. What creates your image could be a false or true interpretation of ‘self’. This is where individuality and personality amounts. Identity however, is more than just shaping our personalities. Personalities are created from qualities that we hold, whereas identity requires the strength of personal choice. Everything we do in life requires decisions and choices that only we can make. Choices and decisions are made in what we wear, our appearance and our careers and interests.

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Realising and visualising your personal identity is the key in succeeding who and how you want to appear. A well-defined vision helps you to devote your energy and enthusiasm into creating your identity. You always have an idea or a description of the identity you want to hold. Realising that vision and making decisions and choices in order to become closer to your vision makes it more realistic and reachable. You are only the individual that you want to be and only you can achieve the individuality that you desire.

‘Dress in everyday life is always more than a shell. It is an intimate aspect of the experience and presentation of the self and is so closely linked to the identity that these three – dress, the body and self – are not perceived separately but simultaneously, as a totality.’

Often, fashion is referred to a customary mode of expression. It is a display of individuality; a person’s fashion gives the world around them an idea of who they are, or who they are trying to become. Adapting different styles and creating them into something personal are fundamental in creating your own identity. This is an exterior change to somebody’s appearance. How they are apparent from the outside could be very different to their internal identity, being their emotional and psychological identity.

Some strategies that media and advertising companies use to sell the products create a lot of pressure and impact on peoples’ lives. These pressures consist of: how the body should reflect that of a ‘temple’, whether plastic surgery is the way to achieve this in order to create individualism, and the ongoing concerns of being size zero. Unconsciously, we adopt and borrow identities from the media, which help fabricate our own. This is an unconscious decision as we take on these identities with an ironic state of mind. Subconsciously the messages we are fed sink in somewhere, leading us to want to become something or somebody else.

Often, the importance of physique, image and sexuality are the main emphasis of the advert. This is a huge concern, as this creates undue pressure on men and women when it comes to body image, as the ‘perfect body’ is constantly idealised by the media. The female body is reflected and portrayed in the media as an ‘object of desire’. Some studies have discovered that the Medias idea of the ‘perfect body’ has had an increasing impact on women’s dissatisfaction with their own bodies, and has later lead an increasing commonness of eating disorders. The effect that this has on discontented women has endorsed them to overestimate their own body size after viewing female models.

This quote recognizes the distinct difference between the body that we have and should appreciate, and the body that we are imagining and longing for. ‘They are bodies’ is enhancing the idea that we can only do so much and go so far into manipulating what we are already given. ‘..the body constitutes the environment of the self, to be inseparable from the self’, describes that you cannot escape the ‘shell’ that you are in. Even though the world around us is constantly changing, you can only adapt your body to produce an identity, which fits in to what is ‘now’.

CHAPTER THREE – OPPORTUNITIES; There are no limitations to be the individual you want to be.

The person you are on the inside should be portrayed on the outside too. The way in which you dress depicts the character that you are. Your clothing is an expression of your personality and agenda. What you wear however, does not define you, it is only a minimal reflection of who you are. It is important to be who you are, and show it through what you wear.

‘Every man wants to wear a dress once in a while, it’s liberating. I’m not restricted by gender barriers.

This quote exemplifies that opportunities and freedom allows us to become whoever we want to be without limitations. Who you are in the inside indeed should be expressed on the outside. We shouldn’t be restricted by gender. We are named as male and female, but does this really mean anything?

This image in I.D Magazine, issue 310, Winter 2010, illustrates Andrej Pejic adopting an androgynous style of dress. This initially creates speculation about sexuality and personality as to a majority, it isn’t quite the norm.

He has created a desire to be different by highlighting the feminine clothing he wears and the feminine routine he carries out to be exposed the way he is. This act of going against the trends of society sparks curiosity to many. His elaborate views on fashion and image allow different identities to be created and behaviours to exist, in order to become individual and unique.

This trend is imitated by others, as aspects of femininity are exaggerated and expressed through the male body, allowing others to feel comfortable and reassured when they push and overstate the boundaries, as they are not the only ones to become overtly different.

Andrej Pejic conveys the extremity of the presentation of femininity within the male.


‘In this symbolic realm of dress and appearance, however, ‘meanings’ in a certain sense seem to be simultaneously both more ambiguous and more differentiated than in other expressive realms.’

Davis, F. 1992. Fashion, culture and identity. Chicago: University of Chicago press

This quote denotes the many different styles, expressions and understandings within fashion. The ‘symbolic realm of dress and appearance’ is far more distinct than other ‘expressive realms’. It annotates that what you wear is a true interpretation of self; it creates a lot of questions and expressions of who you are appearing to be. There are many factors that reflect your personality and identity when it comes to what you wear. Colour, shape and pattern say a lot about who you are. Colour is a way of denoting power and confidence. Bold, bright colours execute self-assurance and a positive attitude, whereas dark, morbid colours depict negativity, anxiety and insecurity. If the garments you wear incorporate a busy print, you are reflected as somebody who is confident enough to wear such item and somebody who doesn’t care what other people think about your portrayal. Studies show that people who lack in confidence and self-assurance avoid wearing the colour yellow. It is thought that yellow contradicts a person’s personality. http://hubpages.com/hub/Importance-of-Colors-in-our-Lives

Researching in to a colour consultancy, i have discovered that people’s personalities are easily recognised and remembered by the use of colour that they execute themselves in. According to Jules Standish, Celebrity Colour Stylist, you should wear whatever compliments you whether you are fond of the colour or not. Wearing something that is best suited automatically brings out confidence and traits of your individuality that you want to deliver. For example, the colour turquoise is held special in many cultures. It denotes a sense of self protected power. As well as it being a versatile colour to wear, it also stimulates and encourages good communication and expression of feelings. http://www.colourconsultancy.co.uk/blog/

By executing a bold stamp like this, you are generating a message that allows other people to be drawn to you and your ‘clothed’ identity.

‘You need not be self-conscious, but an enthusiastic leader and take charge. Standing out from the crowd in order to become your own person is vital and there are many ways to do this.’


This quote illustrates that the bolder statement you create, the more enthusiastic you become. You become a ‘leader’ as people denote you as a confident character, and are persuaded to experiment with ‘brave’ outfit styles. Sometimes people need to see what others are wearing so they gain encouragement and reassurance in order for them to experiment themselves. This could be the confidence boost that is needed for an individual to illustrate their internal identity on the outside.

‘The ubiquitous nature of dress would seem to point to the fact that dress or adornment is one of the means which bodies are made social and are given meaning and identity.’

Entwistle, J. 2000. The fashioned body. USA: Blackwell publishers Ltd

Be cautioned that Fashion isn’t necessarily what you wear, but it’s the image and identity that you deliver to others. ‘Dressing the body’ is about ‘preparing the body’ for the social world. What you put on the body, being clothes or adornments is a personal experience, as well as it being a public presentation. Dress is a visual and psychological activity. It is psychological in the sense that you think about how you are dressing your body with great in-depth. Unconsciously, we understand ‘dress’ as being semiotic. Other individuals constantly question and probe the messages that we convey in our dress. Veiled messages that are executed in your ‘dress’ drive others into examining your identity. There is always a meaning why you put on what you put on be it clothes or adornments. What others see visually is sometimes an easier way of expressing your personality and identity in comparison to a verbal description of yourself.

Why follow mass-market trends when you can define and create your own unique and personal style?

Following mass-market trends taints you as ‘a person without a self-defined sense of style’ and advertises your lack of originality and personality. RED ARTICLE

The law of ‘Supply and Demand’ make it very difficult to ‘remove’ yourself from following trends. Collections, particularly in high-street stores, are somewhat influenced by the same trend, which makes individuality and personal identity become a challenge. If you follow a particular trend and wear it how it stands, then you are likely to be stamped as a non-individual. This is a form of ‘conforming fashion’ as you are following a particular fashion style. Personal identity only becomes a challenge if everybody follows the same trend and wears that trend how it is advertised. Imagination and personality doesn’t shine and you tend to blend in to the crowd rather than stand out and make a statement.

Are you a trend-setter, or do you follow the trend-setter?

‘In reality, individuals who really do love themselves aren’t so influenced by material things. For example, they’re not spending much energy on trying to live up to others fashion rules – they’re often the trend-setters themselves’.

Stedman, G. 2005 Who are you? A success process in yours life’s foundation. United States: Hay House Inc

In order to become somebody that ‘sets’ the trends as opposed to follow them, isn’t entirely interested in ‘what’s now’, they think and see differently to others, and they don’t hold materialistic qualities. They have a vision that they long for. Having a vision in whom or what you want to become creates confidence as well as success, as every time you are closer to completely your ‘identity mission’, you’re self-believe and self-assurance grows.

‘Realizing what you can realistically do well, will benefit you and everyone who depends on you’.

Stedman, G. 2005 Who are you? A success process in yours life’s foundation. United States: Hay House Inc

This is a crucial statement for ‘trendsetters’, as you become an aspiration, an icon, and possibly a ‘muse’. If you are able to realise something that you are good at, you then subconsciously play on your strengths to create success. If you display something that is a success, others are likely to follow in your footsteps.

Following articles about Alice Dellal, Model and style icon, trend-setting and following a trend is a key topic on which she is often questioned about. ‘Her Striking appearance’ is often fuelled by her social connections. ‘She doesn’t bow or change, she’s completely honest with who she is’. This exemplifies the thought that she is the one to set a trend, she doesn’t feel it necessary to follow one as she is ‘her own creature’. Dellal makes it apparent that she thinks it is wrong to admire somebody and then copy them that instant, as it’s good to do your own thing and be different and not look like everybody else.

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‘Some people presume her to be contrived, but she’s not; she couldn’t fake it. I mean she knows how to dress well for an occasion, but she’s completely true to herself’. Dellal is obviously confident enough to present herself however she desires. It is communicated that she doesn’t ‘care’ about what she wears unless she is attending a special occasion, but surely there is some thought and precision about what you put on regardless the occasion?

‘I’m all about uniform, i wear the same shit every day. I go through phases of things until they die’. If you wear things until they fade, surely you’re following a trend as you subconsciously make the decision to change the style or genre of outfit you wear?

Alice Dellal may or may not follow a trend, however it is evident that she had created and adopted a trend; Shaving her head. Dellal states that she does understand why people want to adopt a statement from the past and renewing it, but she doesn’t understand why people implement styles that are now, so everybody becomes cloned and the same.

How does the way we dress communicate messages about our personality and identity?

Stereotyping is a popular action when it comes to describing somebody’s identity. There are many labels that conjure up different fashion movements and styles. Music genres, hobbies and interests can be obviously identified within each fashion culture due to stereotyping. For example, in an ‘Emo subculture’, ’emo’s’ are stereotyped as somebody that wears dark clothing, accessorized with studs and chains, and wears heavy, chunky boots. Emotions that ’emo’s’ are ‘supposed’ to reveal are that of depression, sensitivity, and are often angst-ridden and introverted. This is an identity that a percentage of people follow. People are categorized without consent or intention. This example proves that the way you dress sends out messages about personality and identity. These stereotypical messages however may not be true to all individuals. Even though dress, appearance and personality are connected, in this stereotypical world, people in a ‘subculture, are still individuals, and can still boast a unique personality. Just because you dress the same way, doesn’t mean you aren’t a unique character.

‘Clothing styles can elicit such different responses from different social groups. That is except for uniforms, which as a rule clearly establishes the occupational identity of the wearers’.

Davis, F. 1992. Fashion, culture and identity. Chicago: University of Chicago press

This quote is very true to that of the stereotypical world. Different social groups and subcultures elicit different responses from clothing styles. Wearing uniforms however is a trademark dress that allows different groups to recognise and respond accordingly.

‘Uniforms shape who we are and how we perform our identities’.

Craik, J. 2005 Uniforms exposed. From conformity to trangession. New York: Berg

Uniforms create ‘group’ identities; ‘Uni’ meaning ‘one’, and ‘form, representing the outward appearance that a group of people wear. Therefore, uniforms aren’t ‘individual’; more than one person wears the same attire. Identity can be marked by similarity as it becomes a shared identity.

‘If distinction is about setting oneself apart, it is also always about signalling to others that one is similar to them.’

Entwistle, J. 2000. The fashioned body. USA: Blackwell publishers Ltd

For instance subcultures carry an identity but include individuals. Their identities are separate from other subcultures.

Taking this idea further, i have researched into a project called Exactitudes.

Exactitudes is a collaboration between photographer, Ari Versluis and profiler, Ellie Uyttenbroek. Travelling around the world and photographing stereotypes is what derives Exactitudes. Versluis and Uyttenbroek have systematically documented and titled many individuals whom they discover in many cities around the world according to particular characteristics of their appearance and attitude. These documents provide an in-depth record of people’s effort s to distinguish themselves from others by assuming a group identity. Both Versluis and Uyttenbroek share an interest, in what to them, is striking dress codes of various social categories.

Uniforms help mould a group of people together in many different associations. They allow people to stand out, people to connect and people to gain an identity to show that they belong to an organization. It is a method of categorizing people together in order to generate an identity. Uniforms create unity, distinction and presence. The use of uniforms in many different organisations is to create a ‘brand’ and develop a corporate image. Uniforms create unity, regulation and sometimes hierarchy. The reflection of hierarchy on you as in individual is very important in revealing your identity.

Uniforms can be formal and informal; Public services for example like paramedics and police officers have a complete formal uniform that must be worn. It is a crucial element of their profession and identity. These uniforms signify command, conformity and discipline. Formal uniforms like these help other people to distinguish and recognize the service that they belong to, so they know who to go to for emergencies and help.

Some uniforms however, consist of a certain colour theme that must be adhered to, as opposed to a configured uniform.

School uniforms help differentiate students from different schools. If every school had the same uniform, identity would be non-existent. Often, school uniforms bear the same components, but perhaps in a different colour, style and incorporate a unique logo. These uniforms are then consistent for every student throughout the school, creating an identity for that particular institute. However, there are often debates on whether or not school uniform takes away a student’s choice of identity as they are forced to wear a specific colour and style.

Turning the garments into communicative statements, and behaving how you should in that particular role, is more important than the actual items of clothing and decoration on them.

Some people, who wear these uniforms, undertake a different personality when wearing them. This could be their change of identity. People may take on a different persona, for example, public services and teachers etc. become more authoritative and competent. Some may feel as though they are a different person, and act in another way then they usually would. This example proves that clothes ‘do speak’, as uniform can cast and control an identity. This is an example of getting to know what role your clothes play for you. Should they enhance the character of your profession? Should they play or impact at all?

‘Uniforms also are a fetishized cultural artefact embodying ambiguous erotic impulses and moral rectitude’.

Craik, J. 2005 Uniforms exposed. From conformity to trangession. New York: Berg

Why do uniforms hold such a fascination? Is the fascination to do with what they say or don’t say?

Uniforms are all about control not only of the social self but also the inner self and its formation. Uniforms can send out mixed messages. Some are more obvious than others, and create more intrigue and appeal.

Some people can hide behind clothes as a way of expressing themselves. Some are attention seeking thus they want to draw people’s eyes towards themselves, whereas others may dress down, but could create a difference in the jobs that they do; burlesque dancers, ‘drag acts’ and strippers for example. This is an example of ‘statement’ dressing as they want to communicate a message to their audiences that they normally can’t express when they are dressed and act as themselves. Wearing this type of costume allows an identity to appear that exposes self-belief, confidence and most of all reassurance. Activities such as these allow the wearer to encompass two identities; one, which is the real them, and the other being the person who they want to become. This example depicts the idea of becoming somebody else, the idea that by changing a uniform and appearance creates a completely different character. If you are not accepted by the way in which you want to be seen, taking on a profession which allows you to become a different person, allows you to project your identity in the way you want it to be displayed, without disturbing anybody else’s judgment. There isn’t a rule that you can only hold one identity. You will always have a prominent identity which is the one that you want to portray freely. However, restrictions and tensions make it difficult for a person to become true to themselves.


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