I'm an aging wild child.
I want to fade into the background.
I have better things to think about than fashion.
Do you know what your clothes are saying about you?
Throughout history, we have used fashion to differentiate ourselves: stating our uniqueness, social class, gender, even our age group.
At any given time, we may be sending aspirational non-verbal cues -- from President George W. Bush's frequent use of manly cowboy wear to an intern's employment of serious suits -- to express upward mobility.
Or we may consciously manipulate fashion to send clear and conscious messages, such as a stern pinstriped pantsuit paired with a lacy shell underneath that unequivocally states the wearer is "all-business on the outside; all woman on the inside."
Our true selves
"Whatever the illusions it may create, the ultimate raison d'etre of fashion is the passion for self-individualization," said Edward A. Ross in Social Psychology.
Everything about our personal style is subject to be processed and interpreted by society, including the cut, fabric and colors of our clothes, makeup, accessories and hairstyle.
"To choose clothes, either in a store or at home, is to define and describe ourselves," said Alison Lurie in The Language of Clothes.
But not all theorists agree.
Smoke and mirrors?
Joanne Finklestein, in "Chic Theory" said simplified theories of interpreting what we wear "are popular and amusing, but they also function to conceal the more critically interesting complexities of the phenomenon: how, for instance, fashion draws us into the cultural practice of reading the surface yet does not resolve the constant ambiguity of whether a look is affirmational or confrontational; how the fashion industries are the tip of an economic colossus that has global implications; and how the physiognomic assumptions embedded in the fashionable look conceal a quaint history of how appearances and identity have been mapped onto one another as if they were accurate mirror reflections."
Like it or not, your look is open to interpretation. And the meaning can change rapidly.
According to Diana Crane in "Fashion and its social agendas," some garments continually acquire new meanings because different social groups try to say different things by wearing the same type of garment: "Jeans have continually acquired new meanings during the twentieth century as they have been appropriated by different social groups and worn in different social contexts."
Much of what is considered 'hip' and 'fresh' in fashion are items that have been transferred from other contexts: the fishnets that were once the accouterment of prostitution, but now are considered both chic and appropriate for daytime wear; bondage type leather belts, shoes and accessories, all borrowed from S&M, constantly pop up on the fashion radar.
Items may change contexts, but they still retain the flavor of their previous incarnation, whether it's the hint of sexuality or in the case of jeans, the sturdiness of a worker.