While fashion is inherently functional -- clothing must first and foremost be worn -- there are many reasons beyond clothing's utility that make people interested in following fashion. Fashion changes from season to season, so following its trends can be similar to the appeal of following sports, celebrity news or other areas of interest subject to change with a group following, notes "The Guardian." Furthermore, because of clothing's ability to express attitudes and values, fashion provides forms of artful and personal expression for individuals interested in partaking in the fashion game.
Expression of Personality
Many pieces of clothing are invented for a functional purpose before they ever become fashionable, but as they become symbolic of a certain kind of lifestyle or aesthetic, certain items become expressive of meaning. For example, cowboy boots originated as functional footwear for men working in the American West. Cowboys were seen as rugged and individualistic because of the demands of their occupation, and cowboy boots have persisted as a choice fashion item for people wishing to express these values. Even when worn far from ranches or cows, cowboy boots continue to signify values that appeal to people everywhere. Fashion allows individuals to create and craft images of themselves, expressing their identity to other people and potentially arousing feelings of curiosity or commonality. Fashion is often fueled by the desire to be different enough to stand out but similar enough to belong to the group that your clothing helps identify.
While the trends in fashion sometimes seem random or unpredictable, clothing styles often evolve according to larger cultural movements. As Coco Chanel famously said, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” Fashion can tell you about what people wore during a certain period of time, which can be indicative of their lifestyles at large. Consider the hippie culture of the 1970s. Flowers, bell-bottoms, flowing dresses and peace signs had no strictly functional purpose. These clothing items were instead functional in their ability to express the rebellion of an entire generation's values. The clothing items of the hippie generation were used to symbolize love, peace, cooperation, and alternative or new mindsets. Bell-bottoms and flowing dresses represented a break from the old society of strict dress codes and requirements for behavior. They helped people visually break from the older aesthetic with free-flowing and unrestrained construction, and by connecting the wearer with the lifestyle values of the hippie movement.
Artistic and Creative Energy
Just as painting, writing and photography can be used as forms of artistic expression, the creation and wearing of fashion can similarly express creative energy. Art and design were closely tied at the beginning of the 20th century, when many couturiers were also collectors or friends of artists. During that time, artists saw little difference between creating a work of art and a textile pattern. Today, the industries have diverged somewhat, but fashion nonetheless remains a viable part of artistic expression. For people interested in fashion, especially those interested in making their own clothes by hand, sometimes the process of creating the item or the pure beauty of the item itself can hold more importance than any personal or generational statement of dress or meaning.
Thrill of Change
For many people, the constant change in fashion world is part of what makes it an enjoyable pastime. Fashion designers put a tremendous amount of thought and creativity into designing their clothes, and many elements have to come together when photographers, models and stylists create magazine editorials to showcase those clothes. The rush of creation and documentation happens season after season, as part of a unpredictable and exciting change. Similarly, fashion demonstrates our ability, as humans, to change. Mankind is always pushing further, seeking to know more and improve. As the French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky said, “Fashion is one of the faces of modern artifice, of the effort of human beings to make themselves masters of the conditions of their own existence.”
Stacey Howell has a bachelor's degree in English and media studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She currently works as a writer in New York City, and has covered fashion for various blogs and publications, including "BARE" and "Twenty6 Magazine."