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What If Self-Expression In Style Exposed Your Vulnerability?

Updated: Jun 27


Wired To Wear Exhibit, Museum of Science and Industry

Fashion is a means of communication—in such a way that our clothes, and our use of technology and our relationship to them has become a powerful nonverbal expression of the self. Can we assume this relationship would be very emotional and a response to how we are feeling? When we dress we make a statement, and unlike regular forms of communication, such as language and the act of conversation is that we can easily clarify our points or engage and elaborate our views. In fashion and appearance, we make that statement, yet we may need to explain who we are because of how particular elements of our body and dress appear in context. What happens when you communicate through fashion in digital platforms? How will you use language and conversation to address your meaning and identity then?


There are many ways to look at this, and I found it interesting to view this form of communication in the book, The Social Psychology of Clothing: symbolic appearances in context by Susan B. Kaiser. Her intellectual context of this area of study examines basic topics and ideas that contribute to an understanding of clothing and human behavior. The studies are long and complex, but I can provide one portion of her research on appearance as a way to understand how this non-verbal expression in which we choose to dress and act, in her chapter on appearance management and self-presentation. We as a society are caught up in the day to day act of appearing before others, which then presents an idealized image of the self. We choose an identity of some kind, and try to shape other's understandings of this identity and our use of dress. I love this portion of the book because it makes me think about how we might be hiding our vulnerability if we continue to let ourselves worry about how others are perceiving us, when it really is varied by individual and situational differences.


"Culture provides objects and artifacts that are imbued with meaning in the domain of consumer behavior. Products that consumers select and use are associate, in a cultural sense, with qualities or attributes they would like others to assign to them. Clothes are consumer products, and therefore cultural artifacts, as a re shoes, jewelry, or any other commodities that serve to express identity or intent. Artifacts that carry meaning are both things and signs. Variables such as color, texture, pattern, form and design influence how garments, parts of garments, or combinations of garments are perceived. Blending social and cultural rules influence perceptions of clothing. Although clothing is clearly classified as an artifactual code in communication, it interacts with the other three codes in the sphere of nonverbal communication. Personal appearance per se is connected with, and made up of, the interplay between artifactual and body codes. Body codes arise from personal appearance and the movement of the boy and face. These codes govern and link variables such as physical attractiveness, size of the body, facial expressions, gestures and bodily postions. Clearly, communication through the body can be more discursive when movement is involved, but even when still its visibility conveys messages."


I have been in the fashion industry for quite some time, most recently teaching at two colleges in different aspects of the business. My courses focus on marketing, branding, trendspotting, merchandising and management. As the industry changes, the topics used to teach students change as well. I have noticed that there seems to be a disconnect in how little regard we give to educating about culture, transparency, and connection to our clothing and how we choose to express it through digital and social platforms. I feel that people forget about these important aspects of the industry and worry more about how they are perceived in style through this new type of communication. Now that we are in a time where digital platforms are going to play an even bigger role in our lives, could we think about these important tools to educate the fashion community more specifically using style as a way of our self-expression on technology platforms?


If the future is technology driven, we must not forget that humans will need to still express their true identity, and students will be using various platforms to do just that. The type of clothing worn tends to express moods, aspirations, style and individualism, so much so that the feeling of a particular piece of clothing on the body is very intimate, and can influence an individuals’ perception of self, as well as how these processes of self-expression are exposing vulnerability. Studies have been done on fashion and identity such as in Lucia Ruggerone’s The Feeling of Being Dressed: Affect Studies and the Clothed Body who focused her research on the experience of everyday moments when we must choose what to wear or deciding on what item of clothing to buy. She discussed philosophers such as Georg Simmel who explored the relationship between people and clothing and noted, “the disquiet of modern personality derives from an urge to connect with an original and authentic unity.” Her work only provides insight into the role of clothes and fashion as “a way of enhancing our social persona, by attracting the attention and the admiration of others; in the analysis of clothes are ways of self-promoting, aimed at representing to the world, a more complex ego.” I wonder about ego a lot, the place we go to that is not authentic in which I battle with each day to try and forget. We are using technology to redeem the admiration of others, yet we don't see how much further we can go with technology and fashion for our well-being.


Is there a way to help address problems in the emotional state of a human being that have been kept secret because of status and appearance? In doing so, we can begin to understand how the use of everyday fashion and digital media as a form of identity expression can expose a call for help? When an individual is held back from expressing any emotion, we might uncover signs of distress in everyday life in their verbal or nonverbal expression, in this case, fashion. A simple thing as dress can help to uncover an emotional state of well-being—just the way you would identify with your mood as in something in an everyday context like the music you listen to or food you might choose to eat. It might help to study personality traits, or see the linkage between how they feel about their own self, and can yield results to help young adults learn to address their wellness before it is too late. The messaging they receive as well as portray about their fashion style could be creative, but at the same time more thoughtful and mindful to those young adults who are exposed and susceptible to influential views.

I challenge students to express their most intimate feelings in their school work and fight for the causes most important to them, because if they don't then who will? This might open up a conversation for them and make them feel more comfortable about the type of messages they are exposing through their social platforms. Messages of hope for the youth have already begun to hit the music and fashion industry to help bring about a statement of self-reflection, confidence, and inspiration, so why not bring forth messages that are creative and thoughtful to create a two-way conversation and setting the standard? There is also the human side to clothing and fashion that promotes self-confidence as it brings about self awareness and empathy. We make a personal choice when we buy or wear fashion or clothing, and reflect our personalities to convey stories and help to shape our lives because of our personal connection to it.


We don't often talk about how that clothing is made, and do we educate where things come from down to the most intricate detail? So if you don't care about who makes your clothes, the process involved or what happens to it later, what is that saying about how you feel about yourself and your well-being? We need a successful economy and society that promotes transparency, aspiration, positive impact, tolerance and empowerment. The advent of smart clothing has also become something I have found much interest in, as this could be a starting point to something we follow more closely in identity expression. Clothing is now being designed to boost well-being by using technology as a way to help people mitigate risk, and be more involved in their health. The exhibit I recently visited, Wired To Wear had me thinking about the economic and social-cultural contexts in the form of smart clothing and how our value and relationship with our clothing and self-expression has changed to one that allows us to follow our health much more intimately.

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