The ethics behind fashion

“Every new Fashion is a refusal to inherit, a subversion against the oppression of the preceding Fashion; Fashion experiences itself as a right, the natural right of the present over the past.” – Roland Barthes, Systeme de la Mode

Fashion has always been key to how societies have expressed themselves over time: the rich cultural history and creativity fashion conveys every day is almost unrivalled as an accessible art form. Fashion can explore issues of the self and expression in a way that is rarely seen in our day to day lives, yet also passes by the conscious mind if we do not stop to appreciate it. There is nothing as transformative as a fashion show, and the connection it evokes between the audience and the story told by models with the designer as puppeteer. Conversations around the role of fashion in society have only been heightened by the proliferation of the instant consumption models the internet facilitates. It has never been so easy to achieve the latest fashions, yet it is clear the fashion industry is beginning to expose itself in an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ fable as the human cost behind our favourite trends are brought to light, and our generation shifts its gaze towards second hand vintage shops.

Modern movements have heightened the ties between fashion and our identity. The emergence of TikToks showcasing how to style the latest pieces and trend starter packs have solidified the ties between our perception of the self and our aspirational self. This isn’t a new phenomenon and has been a constant throughout history. Yet, with the spread of the internet, trends are in flux in a way they have never been before, and the ease at which we can click a button and have the latest fashion at our doorstep has fuelled an explosion in the fashion world. This isn’t limited to everyday brands – the luxury fashion brands have become quick to capitalise on the world of e-commerce as well. Amidst this rapid flow of fashion, it has become more appealing to carve out a sense of personal style to set ourselves apart, and the shift towards vintage pieces has become popular as a way of attempting to convey more of our personality and perhaps to find a sense of stability in our self.

This has also taken on a more political tone as movements like Remake are encouraging us to #WearYourValues and are reshaping fashion in an ethical paradigm for our generation. The trend towards vintage clothing and garments made in factories that treat their workers humanely has furthered the link between our self-identity and fashion choices – fashion has become equated with a series of moralistic values that reflect our political stance and the impact we make through our purchasing choices. Perhaps fashion has become less about the ‘look’, and more about considering the consequences of our purchases – rightfully or wrongfully, our choice of brands have begun to convey a sense of virtue. Brands like Tala have capitalised on this, whilst others like boohoo have borne the brunt of a turning of public opinion away from overconsumption and fast fashion.

The shift to vintage fashion is not merely political or economic in origin. There is also a certain element of nostalgia in vintage fashion. Particularly in the West End, it is easy to lose yourself in the treasure troves of charity shop bargains and second hand shops. The rituals of vintage shopping have become comforting and codified as an activity to do with friends. Furthermore, there is a certain element of challenge in finding the best vintage finds amongst the piles of clothes. Fundamentally, vintage clothing also allows us to connect with memories and stories from the past. As tempting as it is to follow the latest trends, sometimes fashion is eternal. Certain wardrobe staples never go out of fashion.

Fashion is, and has always been highly subjective. The idea of New Fashion is not emergent for this generation – but it is our generation’s chance to make a statement of our own values and our chance to distinguish ourselves from the fashions of past. Let us not be the generation of the £5 going out dress. Let us be the generation who is proud to wear our values. Let us show our creativity and return to the ethos of fashion. Let us wear the fashion of the past in a way that is cutting-edge and speaks for ourselves. Let us #WearYourValues and be proud of them as a generation.

[Catherine Bouchard – she/her – @remakeourworld]

[Photo credit: cottonbro]

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