The Social Voice of Fashion

On April 17, 2012 by Francesca



What is the social voice of clothing?

Everything we do interacts with someone else; so what we wear interacts with another being. Clothing, even though it has no audible voice, conveys thought. By what we wear we convey messages such as I am sexy, I am in a hurry, I am working, etc.  This thought is the representation of self.  This message is what I call the “social voice of clothing.”  The “social voice of clothing” can be heard at many different levels, such as the individual level and the group level. For example, at a group level, when women first wore pants, this act was seen as actions related to women’s rights. It spoke of liberty, equality, power, rebellion, a basic desire to break out of the traditional roll of femininity, etc.

How does clothing say this?      Pictures speak louder than words.

The Corset Cage

The Corset Cage

There is the obvious thought, that during this time, men, who basically ran business and politics, wore “the pants.”  By women wearing pants, women now imitated men and thus reflected the power that men possessed. That is the visible voice of clothing. There is also the vision through the body. So how did the body speak of liberty? The opposite of liberty is restriction, to be “caged in.”  This was the state of women’s upper body prior to the onset of pants. There were corsets, girdles and a number of different restrictive under garments women wore. Perfect Health CorsetWearing pants suddenly gave them a wider range of movement, the result is their body felt free, it became healthier by the mere fact that the lungs could now feed the body with more oxygen, and consequently the body became more powerful.

Funny how the very beautiful corseted

female figure reflected restrictions of that time and pants reflected freedom and female equality to the world.  Through the Looking Glass, the traditional female reflection had changed.

The Freedom of Pants

The Freedom of Pants

Why do clothes have a social voice?

When we dress, we form a picture.  Pictures speak, pictures can tell us what is happening at any given moment.  The clothing we wear is part of that social picture.  Since our clothes are constantly changing, the clothes will reflect the social changes in society.  These show up as trends, fads and distinctive generational looks.  People will start reflecting the thoughts of social changes through what they wear.

For instance, with the “Hippie” generation, its predominant thoughts included “Freedom, Love and Peace.”

"Freedom Love and Peace Wear"

“Freedom Love and Peace Wear”

“Freedom” expressed itself in the unisex look of jeans and long flowing hair.  “Love” took on the look of the romantic Juliette style dresses. “Peace” showed up in the multi colored “Love Beads.”

A somewhat similar generational look but with a different thought, was the hard and fearful lines of the “Punk,” era.

Wearing Your Pain

Wearing Your Pain

Safety pins, torn clothes, chains, razors, body piercing, brightly colored hair and many more “in your face” forms of body wear spoke loudly of pain and anger.

Punk Peacock Pain

Punk Peacock Pain

The look was one of a desperate need to be seen and therefore heard, showing us an ugly picture and then questioning its ugliness, giving a scary face to the have-nots.    People wanted to wear their pain, their hurt, their tattoos of life, openly for all to observe.

Wearing Your Pain

Wearing Your Pain

Giving a voice to look at the ugly part of humanity and our human fears.  This was a tumultuous time of coming out, telling secrets, uncovering secrets.  Watergate preceded the first “Punk” arrival by 2 years.

Why should we want to know about the social voice of clothing?

Gypsy ShirtSkirt Twirl - Copy (3) web size

Francesca oh! Gypsy ShirtSkirt

The simple answer is for self.  To enjoy the personal dialogue you are having with yourself and the world around you.  Everyday all of us make our choices on how we are presenting ourselves to the world.   Whether we are in a hurry and just throw on what is convenient or spend the time to put ourself together, it all expresses self. For me, that dialogue is a lot of fun.  I love to figure out who I’m going to be at any given day or moment.

What is the social voice of clothing telling us now?

From my perspective, many people seem to be asking themselves “Who are you?”  Now, I don’t have the answer to that question, but I can translate how this is being voiced in clothing.

Okay I’m going to be a little one sided here, partly because I can, but also because it will be the easiest way for me to answer the above question. So here it goes.

Francesca oh!Euro Country Shirtskirt

Francesca oh!Euro Country Shirtskirt

As I mentioned in my last blog, there is the “Social Voice” of “Repurposed Clothing. The action of repurposing reflects the consciousness of waste.  It expresses an effort to recycle, to think out of the box for solutions.  It speaks about sustainability, ecology, and a respect for Mother Earth. That is the overt voice. But there is a more subtle voice.

Francesca oh! Classic Shirtskirt

Francesca oh! Classic Shirtskirt

It questions “Who are you?”  Ironically, the Shirtskirt pokes fun at our perception.  If you were to ask my “Shirtskirt” “Who are you?” The answer would be “I don’t know, am I a shirt or am I a skirt?  What is what and does it work?  You tell me.”  It is the dilemma of who defines whom.  If I say I’m a skirt and I look like a skirt, am I really a shirt?  This is a kind of consistent theme in politics these days.  I thought of putting in a quote but I decided you could fill the dots.  (Too much mudslinging for me.) I see this quandary reflected everywhere.  I hear it in Fox News or is it in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or CNN or Colbert Report? I see it in what we are trying to define as marriage, is it a personal decision, is it a social decision, who is deciding it and why are we/they deciding it? I feel it in the atmosphere and weather.  Honestly, I can’t tell if it is supposed to be spring or winter these days. So who would have thought a “Shirtskirt” could have such a conundrum?  I would, Francesca oh!  Until my next blog “OMG 🙁 Fashion!”

Photographer: Ehrland Hollingsworth
Model: Kerah Cottrell
Historical Photos: Wikipedia

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2 Responses to “The Social Voice of Fashion”

  • Excellent piece Francesca. Love this. Really made me think about myself in reflection of today’s looking glass. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m seeing either. Your insightful Shirtskirt conundrum is such an astute metaphor for the current confusing times we live in. I think it expresses where the world is today, in the transition of adolescence into adulthood, the tumultuous teenage years, the rebelliousness, the angst, the immaturity. But after that there is adulthood, after winter there is spring. The Hippies had hope that we will have justice, peace & love, one day the Age of Aquarius. It’s good for the soul to keep our eyes on that prize. Thanks for your thought provoking essay.

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