Words & Pictures Guro Sofie Ulsaker
Identity is the understanding of who we are, what we identify with, and how our frameworks affect us. Fashion has a longstanding relationship with both social and personal identity, and is one of the most visible expressions of it. The way we dress can communicate to others how we portray ourselves in different social situations, underlined by social expectations and norms, to how we express our sense of true self.
Frameworks and the web of interlocution
As individuals, we are subject to a constant identification process, trying to relate to the world around us and the world around us relating to us. This process is crucial in knowing who we are, and equally importantly, who we are not. Framework is a word commonly used to describe the cultural and social backdrop on which we track where we stand, also referred to as the web of interlocution. Religion, culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, and nationality are all part of the inner structure of our framework, followed by our family and the people we grew up with, the society and time we live in, our social heritage and status, and the people that we currently surround ourselves with, forming the outer structure.
Living in a time and place where individuality, personal autonomy, and freedom of choice is valued highly it is easy to think that we can free ourselves from our web of interlocution. That we can make choices, change our path, and transform our lives completely, but the truth is that we will always in some way be tied to the structure of our upbringing, society, and culture. Our understanding of ourselves and who we are, is connected to the way that we have learned to relate to the world around us, to what we believe is expected of us, and to what we identify and don’t identify with. All of this happens on the basis of our web of interlocution, our inescapable frameworks. Our personal identity is also buildt upon this, as it is the visual and aesthetic representation of who we are.
Personal Identity and the development of style
Tracking where we stand in relation to our frameworks is an important part of the expression of our identity. Given labels such as gender, we are experiencing a shift towards a state where there are no right or wrong ways of expressing yourself through what you wear. There are certainly expectations connected to feminine and masculine ways of dressing, but these are expectations that we can choose to ignore, or consciously play with to give off a certain vibe. The bottom line is that it’s up to us. It’s up to each of us to interpret the labels in accordance with our personalities, and the way that we want to be perceived.
Identity and fashion is locked in an intimate relationship given the nature of personal expressiveness and social expectations. Personal expressiveness is given in the shape of freedom to express what we feel is our true identity or who we want to be, and our personal style is a tool to immediately set us apart, or blend in with the crowd.
Different styles come with different expectations, and with the great freedom that the rise of individualism and the decline of elitism has mediated, it is possible for us to express ourselves through what we wear in a way that allows us to consciously play with these expectations. Bourdieu said that «different things differentiate themselves through what they have in common», and that is just what these labels express. The different types of identities in society all have a set of expectations and prejudice connected to them because they are perceived as belonging to a group and not simply as individuals, and this raises the question of how much we can tell about someone’s identity through the simple expression that is their aesthetic choices of dressing. We might not be able to directly pinpoint details about someone’s personality, but we can certainly get an idea about who they are based on the way they choose to present themselves. Because that in itself is a big part of style; presenting yourself in a way that you feel represents who you are or who you want to be.
The fashion industry as we know it today, is not very old, and the availability of different styles, brands and more affordable options mean that everything is aligned for us to be able to express ourselves through what we choose to wear, and even clearer by what we don’t wear. There are certain thing we don’t want to be associated with, and others we might strive to be associated with, and the way we dress becomes a visual representation of this. The approval and negation of certain styles are not necessarily only rooted deeply in personal aesthetic preferences, but also in our framework.
Personal style and conscious consumers
Having a conscious relationship to one’s style, only buying items that compliment the essence of one’s aesthetic convictions, we can over time build a wardrobe that reflects who we are. Being a conscious consumer is a big part of the slow fashion movement, and looking at not only our level of consumption, but also the very nature of it, can shed light on who we are as individuals as well. Having a relationship with the garments that we own is an important part of a healthy consumption pattern according to the slow fashion philisophy, and fosters a view of our wardrobe as an extension of ourselves, not just something we throw on in the morning before heading for work, or something we wear because a fashion magazine told us to do so this season. This understanding of style, and building a wardrobe over time that we absolutely love, is dependent on a true expression of our personal identity. Having a strong sense of style, expressed through what we wear, does not just tell the people we meet something about us directly in terms of what we wear, but also in terms of who we are as individuals.
Our clothes are visual expressions of our personal identity, and represent an aesthetic dialogue to the world around us about who we are, or wish to be. The slow aesthetic is not just represented directly in what we choose to wear, it is also a state of mind that shines through in our choices. It is visible through always referring to the essence of our style when buying something new, mending and taking care of what we have, and loving the pieces that we add to our collection.
But even when we believe that we are acting in accordance with what we see as our true selv, we are still affected by the structure of our different layers of frameworks. But wanting personal expressiveness in terms on individual style doesn’t negate the need to feel accepted by our surroundings, just like we need acceptance and validation for the things that we do, and for being who we are. Dressing in a way that is not widely accepted, or standing for something that has a lot of prejudice connected to it can be demotivating, but no matter how individual we are, there are always likeminded people out there, that think and dress in a similar style to what we do. So even if we don’t find acceptance in our closest circle, there are new frameworks we can fit better into. Our need to be recognized and accepted is universal, and straying too far away from what will get us just that can be difficult.
Our freedom of expression is undeniable, but maybe more constrained than we believe it to be. It takes a strong and dedicated mind to follow through with one’s convictions, both those of style, and personal identity. Throughout our lives we will grow and change, maybe start identifying more with certain things, and derail completely from others. Therefore the relationship between identity and fashion is one in constant motion, a lifelong relationship where aesthetic expression through what we wear will always say something about us, where we are in life, and who we are as individuals.