Where Fashion, Style and Language Intersect

Written by Dyami Millarson

Fashion and style may be used to convey a message to other humans. This may, for instance, be a political, diplomatic, emotional or sexual message. Fashion is never exclusively used for one purpose. An example of the complexity of fashion is that one cannot say that fashion only exists for sexual attractiveness, though sexual attractiveness does play a role in fashion as merely one of the many factors that influence the dynamics of fashion. Reducing fashion to one single factor is bound to lead to an erronous understanding of fashion and how it relates to human language.

Style may be defined as a distinctive appearance, and fashion may be defined as a popular style of clothing. Tastes change and so fashion and style change. However, what I am interested in is how fashion and style are being used to communicate. When humans have a certain style or wear a certain fashion, they are consciously or unconsciously sending a certain message. Humans make sense of everything. They are wired to interpret patterns. Interpreting is a human survival instinct.

The human faculty of interpretation is the reason why we look for meaning behind fashion and style. We interpret fashion ans style as having a message. This human tendency is why communication through fashion and style is inevitable. Once we have a formed a certain interpretation of a perception based on someone’s fashion and style, we may verbalise it. Language is thus a tool for us to express the message that we have already perceived on the basis of a person’s fashion and style.

Fashion and style are inevitably forms of human communication. Fashion and style are a primal language. How we interpret fashion and style is culture-specific, so there is not one universal language of fashion and style, but there are many such languages. This is what makes it so intriguing. It explains, moreover, why it is vital just to pay attention to fashion and style within a certain cultural context. The study of cuisine, religion and culture is part of our language project, and so is fashion and style. We consider human fashion and style to be essential to our language research.

17 comments

  1. “Interpreting is a human survival instinct!”
    Very brilliant observation!
    Good write up!
    I will like to add the “facial expression of a person” to the study of fashion and style!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Fashion and style cannot be mentioned in the same equation! A style is borne out of the collective consciousness of a culture, of peoples thrive for better self-understanding, which inevitably find its expression in a contemporised style.
    Whereas fashion is a fleeting moment of attraction, adaptable to whatever draws our fancy, easily commercialised and discarded in the spur of the moment. It has no relevance to any kind of residing cultured roots and can be adopted into whatever situation offers itself, because of its lack of spiritual meaning.

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    • Thank you for your philosophical contribution!

      Semantically, style and fashion are closely related. To be clear, this is not my own invention, but it can be verified by consulting online Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries of English as well as other dictionaries of the English language.

      Definitions of style:

      https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/style

      https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/style_1?q=style

      Definitions of fashion:

      https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fashion

      https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/fashion_1?q=fashion

      More definitions of fashion and style can be analysed here:

      https://www.thefreedictionary.com/style

      https://www.thefreedictionary.com/fashion

      My conclusion based on the definitions: fashion and style are overlapping/related concepts.

      Both fashion and style are subject to change. For instance, the prevailing style of one era or area may not be that of another era or area; the same can be said of fashion.

      Fashion not being rooted in culture is a contentious claim. Cultures are shaped by what is popular at a particular time and place; cultures are subject to change.

      Style being necessarily borne out of the collective consciousness of a culture is challenged by definitions such as definition 2 found in the fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary: “The combination of distinctive features of literary or artistic expression, execution, or performance characterizing a particular person, group, school, or era.”

      According to the above definition, we learn that style can be individual, collective, temporal, local, etc. Interestingly, while the properties of language are usually my reference point, linguistic properties can be characterised in much the same way: some linguistic properties belong to a particular individual, group, school or era.

      Commercialisation and consumerism characterise our heavily industrialised and increasingly automated society, and so it is understandable that this is reflected in fashion, style, culture and language as well. Pre-industrial societies had/have to craft everything by hand, so this situation was/is likewise reflected in their fashion, style, culture and language.

      Handmade things are a luxury in our industrialised society. As a designer, my father used to design handmade wedding clothes. Although the assembled product that my father had designed was handmade, the parts were often industrially produced; for instance, the paints and materials were, of course, to some degree produced industrially, which is the perk of living in an industrialised society; it is hard making 100% handmade clothing, although it is possible technically (if you can afford to invest lots of time and resources). My father opted for a balance between handmade and industrially manufactured in order to get the best of both worlds.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. We visited Amsterdam in the 1970s where the youth were wearing “punk” style clothing and hairdos. 10 years later punk fashion came to America. Slang usually follows the style also. Historically, fashion styles change every decade. When I worked in corporate, high heels and business suits were mandatory. Casual is now mostly universal fashion. I wonder how that has affected our language, with cool being a long-time winner and rad or lit perhaps short-lived? Interesting nevertheless. I started designing t-shirts because it’s another way that words can influence. I must admit I am taking liberties with language reduced to symbols and shortcuts in order to stay relevant. e.e. cummings did it too, maybe with a purer motive. Perhaps texting has ruined us – thank you for saving the languages.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Really interesting topic. We make an opinion of someone in the first few minutes so clothing is a form of language. When I work at conferences, I am expected to wear black, and I think it helps our guests focus on our work. I like wearing bright, colorful clothing that I think reflects my personality.

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  5. It’s odd. I just got an e-mail notification that you had made a post about how what we wear communicates what culture we are striving to belong to. Now, I can’t find that post in my WordPress reader.

    When I lived in Indonesia, I discovered that whereas in America, what you wear makes a statement about what you think of yourself, in Asia, what you wear communicates what you think about the other people at the event. Consequently, Americans tend to dress casually for fear of appearing like snobs. In America, casual dress usually communicates humility. Whereas in Asia, dressing casually for most events is an insult. It says you do not respect the formality of the event and you are not honoring the higher-status people there. An Asian friend once told me that as a dutiful daughter, she would need to get her parents’ approval before changing her hair style (!). To an American, this would be unthinkable. We tend to view dress codes as an infringement upon our self-expression, our “personal style.”

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