Let’s take a closer look. Fashion is a whirlwind of trends that can make any object indispensable and then obsolete. It is a recent phenomenon, whose rituals and institutions only really imposed themselves in the nineteenth century.
Fashion is the product of social needs: it is clear that it does not respond to any consideration of comfort or aesthetics (the corset was not comfortable, any more than the ultra-crushed jeans of the 1970s; the projecting shoulder pads of the 1980s were of questionable aesthetics).
Fashion, what is it?
Fashion, everyone knows what it is. When you look it up in the dictionary, you realize that it is both an “individual way of living, acting and thinking” and “tastes, ways of living and feeling in a given society”. Social life, for the thinker, is the arena where the two principles confront each other; to quote him, “fashion is never but one form of life among others, which allows the tendency towards social equalization and the tendency towards individual distinction to be combined in a single unitary action”.
Thus, fashion is at the same time what associates and distinguishes, gathers and separates. Yes, separates, because it means the attachment of an individual to his peers, which results in the closure of this group to others.
From this duality, we see the brand in two fashion professions: the designer, employed by companies that target the mass market whose main concern is to be in osmosis with the concerns of the greatest number; and the grand couturier, who addresses an elite of wealthy people.
In the first companies, we find multinationals such as the Swede H&M, the Spaniard Zara, the Italian Benetton: these companies develop models that they have manufactured at the lowest possible price (therefore often in countries with low labor costs) and whose obsolescence and rapid replacement (every few weeks) they organize.
But fashion is also a high-end creation that only a few (or some) can afford; this elitist fashion is invented by a few. A few, it is these couturiers who are real stars: Coco Chanel in the 1930s, Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld. So many people who seem to succeed in the unprecedented alliance of the artist and the businessman.
Business, we’re getting there. Fashion is inseparable from globalization, so much so that everywhere in the world, people increasingly dress alike. Globalization is driving economies towards production structures of the ephemeral, the volatile (through the massive and widespread reduction in the lifespan of products and services) and the precarious (temporary, flexible and part-time work).
To attract public attention, goods and services must appeal to consumers, but they must also quickly give way to new objects of desire, lest the general hunt for profit comes to a halt. The industry (including the fashion industry) can only seduce by waving from that horizon called the future, and temptation can only survive after submitting the one that had to be tried – just as desire never survives its satisfaction. In short, in our world, the rapid obsolescence of goods – like people – is programmed in advance.
Fashion is dead
Clothing fashion is a stricken economic sector. There are fewer and fewer companies in the (globalized) clothing sector, and they make less and less profit. The faster fashion changes, the more the price of things has to fall, simply to enable as many people as possible to keep up with fashion; clothing fashion is becoming cheaper and cheaper, but that does not mean that today’s consumers are buying more clothes, on the contrary. The share of clothing in the household budget has been falling for several decades.
High fashion houses do not fare better than companies that target the mass market. In order to have the “haute couture” label, you have to meet precise criteria: models made to measure and by hand, a precise number of original models designed each season by a permanent staff. All this is very expensive.
It is interesting to note that one of the sectors of clothing to have been spared by the crisis is lingerie, therefore something that is not visible – but which, more and more, is worn in a visible way (thong protruding from the pants, bra strap visible under the sweater, etc.).
… Long live the fashions!
Mode is going bad. But the modes are going well. My hypothesis is this: through fashions, society is segmented and diffracted into small groups, coteries, cliques, sects, which seek to differentiate themselves from each other (bikers, ecologists, hunters…).
Modes are in fact means of creating sub-groups in society, each seeking to distinguish itself from the others. Fashions do not relate to a style, a look, an overall silhouette, but to elements bearing recognition (and identification): a Vuitton or Prada bag, a tattoo, a bare navel, a Lacoste crocodile… The imaginary adhesion of a category of people to an age group, to a way of life, is prompted by marks of identity that are only valid in the eyes of the fellow man.
Bref, if the fashions promoted and carried by minorities are pleasing, it is because difference has become an ideal of self-realization for everyone: everyone aspires to become other. It is no longer fashionable to do as everyone else does, but it is fashionable to be other, to imitate the customs of a few, of a group.
Fashion is dead, live the fashions that would allow us to experience diverse pleasures, to explore all situations, to have several lives. In a way, it is a form of extension of the domain of liberalism to the psyche; for what the “liberal man” fears is confinement, the absence of change, the exclusion of places that others would pass through with agility.