Thursday, 29 November 2012

Fashion and Materiality

Last night, we welcomed Prof Tom Fisher from the School of Art and Design who spoke to us on the topic of 'fashion and materiality'. Tom argued that in conceptual terms that fashion is essentially a contradictory phenomenon - being both individualistic yet conformist, democratic yet elitist and highly particular yet completely universal. He went on to examine the philosophical aspects of a number of sociological theories of fashion and explored why fashion seems to be an essential characteristic of modernity through its propagation of the idea of taste-cultures and individual lifestyles. Fashion, he suggested, signifies the radically contingent aspects of the modern, its sense of possibility as a series 'of things that could just as well be otherwise'. Fashion seems to be essential to much of human life today and philosophers have had very little to say about it - the most important thinkers in this regard being social theorists (especially, as Tom reminded us, the 20th century German social theorist Simmel). Plato was famously anti-fashion (more interested, like most Greek philosophers, in the eternal and immutable). Is fashion open to philosophical reflection or must the philosopher be 'anti-fashion'? Neil T


  1. I don't see any sufficient reason why philosophers should exclude fashion from its remit just because it is seen to be 'of the moment' (and therefore, presumably, by its very nature, inferior).

    If we are to assume that fashion is part and parcel of many people's identities and thus everyday life (and those who are 'anti-fashion' are arguably still admitting the significance of fashion by their stance in relation to it,)then it is surely deserving of our attention.

    Perhaps, tentatively, one might suggest a gender bias here insofar as philosophy has largely been written by men, and while some, such as the speaker, are obviously happy to ascribe significance to fashion, for others, the topic simply might not appear on their philosophical radar. It is difficult to imagine fashion as being at the top of Zizek's list of noteworthy topics for philosophical scrutiny, for example (though I would certainly be interested in what he has to say, regardless of his own 'fashion sense'!!_


  2. Tom's talk was interesting in this regard because he pointed out that fashion in the modern sense is more or less contemporaneous with modernity (Beau Brummel, apparently, being the first real modern fashion icon). I am not sure that gender is the issue here though (Brummel was a man after all) but whether there is some kind of truth in the aesthetic or whether it is essentially ideology. I guess that Zizek would claim the latter, and in this sense he is very much Plato's friend.

    One interesting thing pointed out by Tom is the connection between fashion and luxury - now there's a concept in need a philosophical reflection if ever there was one. What is a luxury and are luxuries necessary or, by defintion, the very things that 'we can do without'