Response to the origin of fashion

Contemporarily most people associate fashion with clothing or a custom of dress. According to Merriam Webster dictionary fashion is defined as “a popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration, or behavior, or the manner of doing something.”  The first definition relates to the topic at hand, yet fashion would mean different things to different people. Personally, fashion to me is more than dressing, it’s a form of art that is ever evolving. In essence it is difficult to confine fashion to a strict definition because fashion means different things to different people. In this light, it’s almost impossible to point out to when fashion originated. For centuries individuals have used body ornaments or clothes for a variety of reasons. At the same time, symbol and iconography including tattoos were used to express individual identity. These were not necessarily costumes but the typical way in which people dressed.

If we do not articulate fashion to dressing then I concur with Welters and Lillethun (2017) in arguing that fashion began long before the 13th century. In actual sense, human began accessorizing years before in animal skins and bones to establish individuality and social status. People later wore fur as the earth grew colder and fashion evolved and differed from one culture to the next. As such, fashion is as old as humanity. Consider the Head of Vibia Matidia (Welters and Lillethun, 213) that dates back to the 85–165 CE. The head suggests a number of interpretations on what’s on her hair. There are also couple of other figurine during this period time that seem to suggests that women went to a great extend to have fashionable hair styles. It is not clear what the style present but it’s undeniable that this is a deliberate modification of ones looks. Welters and Lillethun (213) highlights that a woman’s hair style displayed her status and wealth in conservative Roman Empire.

Apart from the empire we find people all over the world participated in fashion irrespective of their social status. Welters and Lillethun (218) notes of peasants and the middle class styling their hair in different ways wearing colorful ornaments, pattered scars or tattoos and so on. It looks like fashion, in fact this is fashion since one attempts to compose their appearance to the best effect in line with cultural norms at that specific time. Fashion therefore began way earlier than literature suggests. Moreover, earlier literature suggest that all non-Western people and the European lower classes before the twentieth century wore costumes that did not in effect mean fashion. However, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines fashion as the “prevailing fashion in coiffure, jewelry, and apparel of a period, country, or class”, which more than suggest that costumes were indeed “fashion” at that period of time.

The misconception in literature is that fashion somehow began when the elite in the society began to establish fashionable trends within their kingdoms. This is however a fallacy because archaeologist have been able to find a variety of clothing’s, ornaments and accessories that humans embedded  in long before the 13th century(220). Women and men from India, England, and China to France across different social milieus were engaged differently in creative fashion. In tracing the history of Indian cotton, Welters and Lillethun (218) highlight that acceptability of cotton occurred across the stratum with those both in low end and upper end of the society accepting fashion. In fact the two argue that maids and mistresses wore gowns of similar fabrics the latter were distinguished by accessories and niceties. Folk dresses that peasants wore were also described as fashionable since they evolved with time. Explorations and trade during these periods in time enable proliferation of fashion to even the lowest in social stratum across Europe. Even the slaves were not left out. In one interview the authors quote that “the clothing worn during the period of slavery was not stylistically static; it changed as fashions always do” (Foster 1997: 12 cited in Welters and Lillethun, 226).

In conclusion, clearly fashion is not defined within social class, fashion is as old as humanity meaning that overtime almost everyone has participated in fashion in one way or another. In essence, fashion has always been about our identity and how we present our self. What’s interesting is that the mainstream definition of fashion is articulated in terms of clothing.

Reference Welters, L., & Lillethun, A. (2017).Fashion History: A Global View. Dress, Body, culture. Bloomsbury Academic Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

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