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Signs and Symbols

February 10th, 2011

After these few weeks of combing through library shelves, exploring different approaches to and topics on fashion and composing blog entries, I’ve decided to narrow my lens a little more precisely on my research.  The what, why and who of fashion are all electric questions, if not endless, daunting and so hypnotic, but browsing through my handful of previous entries and my ever-expanding list of ideas for blog entries to come, I’ve noticed the theme of gender cropping up again and again.  So, I think I’ve stumbled into my focus.

Fashion operates as the visual barometer of class, wealth, religion, nationality, etcetera.  But fashion most obviously and most immediately measures and rehearses gender.  When we see an individual we first notice his or her gender thanks to clear boundaries and the absence of those sartorial signals cut us socially adrift.  Amorphous appearances send out shock waves.  We are unsure how to react in the presence of androgyny and ambiguity.  Essentially, fashion has usurped factual, clinical biology and devised a series of arbitrary signs and symbols through evolving articles of clothing, which assign social, moral, sexual, and thus gendered, meaning upon the wearer (Barnard 119).  Consequently, “fashion is uniquely able to unsettle and unnerve us” (Barnard 117) in the case of subverted gender.

Over the course of the semester I hope to interpret fashion’s signs and symbols via gender.  I want to analyze the relationship between fashion and gender in terms of normative responses and anti-fashion reactions.  Furthermore, I seek to disassemble the masculine/feminine dichotomy and discern any possible overlap between the two and examine the discrepancies between cultural ideals.  For the time being, I intend to leave my perspective open to both the heterosexual and the homosexual.  To Roland Barthes, “to change clothes was to change both one’s being and one’s social class, since they were part and parcel of the same thing” (65), and I wonder if the change of a dress can indeed rewrite one’s gender.

Maybe I should have arrived at these explanations sooner, but I needed to plunge straight into theory and do some investigating first.  If all goes well (and here’s to hoping), I aim to integrate my final paper into my blog, which will allow me to incorporate multimedia examples, thereby imbuing the completed product with a multidimensional application of sources.  Additionally, an online paper will hold me more accountable for the quality and accuracy of my work. But what about all the things I can’t cover?  Although I’ve selected a particular viewpoint, I’m still curious about other aspects of fashion.  Since I tend to post on or before Wednesday, I’ve decided to dedicate Friday, on a more casual basis, to sharing any interesting links concerning subjects on the periphery of my vision.

Works Cited:

Barnard, Malcolm.  Fashion as Communication.  2nd Ed. London: Routledge, 2002.

Barthes, Roland.  “Dandyism and Fashion.” The Language of Fashion. Trans. Andy Stafford. Eds. Andy Stafford and Michael Carter. Oxford: Berg, 2006.

Image Credits:

“This is the woman.” French Connection Ad. Photo. 24 October 2010. 10 February 2011.

Alexander, Omar. “Tush: Love Me Gender.” Photo. 10 May 2009. 10 February 2011.

Beauty Confessional. “Eat Meat. Dress Well.” French Connection Ad. Photo. 5 February 2010. 10 February 2011.

Contagious Magazine. “She is knowing we are looking.” French Connection Ad. Photo.  2 March 2010. 10 February 2011.

“The Man.” Photo. February 2010. 14 May 2012.

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