January 8, 2012

Fashion & Necessity

Mr. S and I were having a discussion on the fur topic again. This after I had posted about my vintage fur collar. He brought up a question that I found rather intriguing. "Is fashion a necessity?" He promptly said no and I stood there thinking for a moment. The next day I thought about it some more.

At first I thought, "No. Fashion is not a necessity." But as I've thought about it more and more, I'm not so sure that saying "No" is quite right. My first thought about saying "yes" dealt with matters of attraction. What I mean is, the way in which you attract a mate/companion. Initially, you have to admit, it is based on appearance. Whether someone is attractive to you and not to someone else, is, of course, personal taste, and that's what makes it so exciting. Right? Now, you might be thinking, "This is rather silly. Who cares about attraction?" Well if you are attracting a mate, who is of the opposite sex, and then you get married, based off of that initial attraction plus getting to know each other and falling in love, then its possible that you'll have children. Having children is a big deal, at least in my book. If nothing else, it means the survival of our species - and I do realize that many have varying views on the survival of our species (even the overpopulation of our species), which is a discussion for another time. Still, the point being that fashion and attraction levels of who we are and how we wear things links into our chemistry in such a way that it can hardly be ignored and is perhaps a platform for saying that there might be a little more to fashion and necessity than what immediately meets the eye. What do you think?

A favorite blogger of mine - Kristin - has this posted in her profile:
"Form/Function. Line/Curve. Safe/Risk. Art/Craft. Body/Mind. Fashion intersects these. It's how we express what is popular in what is personal. It's where intellect debates sex; where soft and hard duke it out. So much mystery underpins beautiful things. So much confidence rests upon them. Discuss."

I don't know what its like where you live, but where I live and have grown up fashion and style are considered to be much less worthy pursuits than what is more widely recognized as intellectual arts. I believe, there is so much more to fashion than just saying its for those who take an interest in beautiful things and its definitely not for the silly, superficial or dumb. As Kristin states, so much confidence rests upon them. Truer words could not be spoken. It's not easy being green  - possibly meaning its not as easy as you might think to stand out in a crowd, to wear bright colors, to always be the "well-dressed" one. Crazy enough, I feel that these thoughts give fashion a necessity, at least in my life. It's necessary for me to be creative and at this moment in life, fashion presents itself in a most appealing way to me, intertwining with my passion for sewing in such a way I cannot ignore it. Rather, I feed on it.

I ask you, "Is fashion a necessity?" Discuss.



  1. I think you might find this interesting, but I've been reading "At Home" by Bryson and in the introduction he points out that in one of the earliest 'cities' (more like a village) ever found people of the stone age learned to weave stripes and make jewelry before they ever figured out how to put a door in a building. Just food for thought.

  2. No, I don't think fashion is a necessity. To me, necessities are: food, water, shelter. In a broader sense, I would include things like utilities (heat in winter), clothing, etc. But fashion? No. So I guess it depends on how we define necessity.

    I'm not saying that I think it's frivolous, at all. But I just don't feel comfortable using the word necessity to describe something we could absolutely live without when there are so many people out there lacking basics like shelter, food, clean drinking water, and medical care. I also think its worth noting that the inability to separate the difference between needs and wants is the primary reason behind our (troubling) record-high consumer debt levels in North America. But perhaps that's another can of worms!

    I respect that fashion is very important to some; that it plays a big role in how they define themselves and gives them great joy. For me, I just need there to be another word for that.

  3. Hmm. Good question. I feel that if you say no, it's heading down a slippery slope - is music technically necessary? Art? Literature? To me, all of these things are not a luxury, but required. I think sometimes the concept of "fashion" is confused with "consumption" and that is when it appears to be unnecessary.

  4. Is fashion a biological necessity? I'd say no. Sure, it's nice to look nice to get a mate but gobs of poorly dressed people get married and/or procreate every year. I know that I was way less fashionable when I met my husband then what I am now.

    Now, I think if you take a more psychological approach, you can see where fashion really fits in. I think as human beings, we have a desire for beautiful things. Art is not something that most people think of when they think of necessities, but imagine a life without art where every thing was functional and ugly. I'd say fashion is definitely a type of art as a form of self expression and beauty. So, maybe fashion is not a necessity for everyone's mental health, but for society as a whole it plays an important part.

    For me personally, fashion is important for my mental health. Last year winter, I got seasonal depression for the first time. For the first time in my life, I was discovering fashion and style and figuring out how to make it work for me. Then came winter and all of those pretty things went away, replaced by frumpy hoodies and jeans in an effort to stay warm. Looking good and feeling good go hand in hand for me.

    Sure, in a survival situation, I wouldn't be worrying if my shoes matched my outfit, but even in struggling societies, the mental is cared for. Girls wear pretty flowers in their hair and people express themselves through art, music and dance. So maybe fashion on it's own isn't a necessity, but I'd say personal expression is. And fashion is one way I express myself.

  5. Fashion may or may not be a necessity. However, the function it performs most definitely is! Fashion is borne from the purpose of clothing: that is to cover and protect us and help us define our identity. (I'm probably leaving a few out here).

    Within the broad topic of "fashion", there lies the practical aspect of protection. For instance, the traditional native Alaskan blouse for women is called a kuspeq. It has long sleeves with bound cuffs and a hood. There may be trousers or jeans worn under it. There may or may not be a large, deep ruffle on the bottom of the blouse. The bound cuffs and hood protect women from mosquitoes as they pick berries on the tundra. It is loose enough for ease of movement while completing "women's work".

    Fashion also defines our identity. Not only does it allow for personal expression, but it also has historically provided ways of instantly determining who we are via what we wear. For example: during the Napoleonic era, the Empire style was popularized by Empress Josephine. The low neck and high waist enhanced the female figure and suggested a state of pregnancy or post partum condition, indicating that fertility was highly valued. It also aided to define women's roles in that culture.

    For me, when I was a little girl, we always wore dresses. Boys wore pants. It instantly identified children (and adults) sexually. My mother was probably 50 years old before she considered wearing pants in public.

    Now, fashion often identifies us by our jobs: fireman or policeman, nurse, doctor, soldier, meter reader or prep school student. Or by our social group: drooping pants, exposed boxers for teen boys. Short skirts and tight tops for girls or women. Mom jeans and sweaters for the soccer mom.

    So, while this is probably too much information, in short, I'm trying to say, yes! Fashion is a necessity!

  6. I suppose as an afterthought I should acknowledge that the definition of necessity in Merriam-Webster does include "an urgent need or desire." So obviously, from my previous post, i don't personally think of an urgent desire as a necessity, but for those who do, the dictionary backs you up! (It also states that to be necessary is to be inevitable or "produced or determined by the previous condition of things" which it seems like fashion could be.)

  7. @Erica - interesting point. But isn't there a middle ground between luxury and necessity? Because I see your point, but it seems to me there should be a distinction between things we actually need to survive vs. things we ideally need to thrive. One word does not seem sufficient to cover both.

  8. I couldn't say it better, Erica. Is it necessary for our survival? No. Is it necessary (like art or music or literature) for our self? Yes.

  9. Oh this is a good discussion! Love the quote from Kristin. In pondering all the responses, and necessity vs luxury... perhaps the answer lies somewhere else, somewhere more lofty? I can't help but wonder if this notion of "fashion" is actually instinctive. If it shows up before doorways and permeates stubbornly during war and rationing and make-do-and-mend, then it is actually an incredible symbol of hope in a weird way... that it exists no matter how lush or barren the surrounds. It's incredibly stubborn, and luxurious, to hope for beauty in the face of survival, and in the overwhelming mediocrity of excess. "Fashion" seems to exist *within* necessity, wanting and luxury.

  10. Fashion is definitely not a necessity. But I think that an expression of personal style is something that is completely natural. People like my husband don't care for fashion and his personal style can be described as pedestrian and that's him. I LURVE fashion and I have a quirky style and that's me. I think fashion comes when one indulges in style; personal or otherwise. And it's an indulgence I definitely relish.

  11. Oh, fascinating question (and thank you for the shout out!): I think that life without fashion would be inexpressibly pallid. Of course, one could live - with food and drink and shelter and the like - but without art (and beautiful fashion is wearable art, IMO) things would be so lackluster. Thing is, we came up with fashion (humans, I mean) because it's compelling. It makes you look beautiful, feel beautiful. It gives you an opportunity to observe beauty in and on others. Regardless of materials available, I believe that people are ingrained with the urge to adorn the human form. I have to give this some more thought...

  12. I think fashion is necessary simply because as humans (and as animals) we convey a lot of information to each other through our body coverings and body language. It's a code, that while not completely universal, is none the less incredibly culturally significant across the board. Social status, availability, life stage, economic status, and so on are all important pieces of information that can and are conveyed through fashion (in many different cultures). That is why choosing what you wear everyday (like say to a job interview) is so very important to your non-verbal communication and shouldn't just be shrugged off as irrelevant or frivolous. That's my two cents worth. ;) Great discussion!

  13. I believe I wouldn't drop dead if I was wearing some ugly, shapeless clothes. However, I KNOW I'd feel really depressed and not very self confident in such an outfit. Hence, I think in my case it is a matter of sanity, therefore it is a necessity. But I know some people who couldn't care less about fashion, nor about whether they're being attractive to others - so I think they have some other "fuel" that keeps them going.
    The moral - there's no unique answer, it depends on the point of view and personal interests, but it is a great debate topic, I agree :)

  14. Really interesting post, Sunni! :) I have often pondered fashion for enjoyment versus necessity, and am still figuring things out and where necessity crosses the line into frivolity. Certainly we need clothes for protection from the elements and for modesty's sake. One could argue in order to make clothes "necessities", they need to be stripped bare of any ornament. But as an amateur fashion history geek, even in the earliest of times humans have valued a bit of frivolity and flair with their appearance. Which is where the idea of fashion is born out of. If you think about it: clothes denote just garments, whereas fashion presupposes some level of artistic consciousness about how those garments go together and create a whole "look". I think humans have an innate desire to create beauty around them. In a way it's mimicking the beauty we observe in nature--all the bright colors, patterns and foliage. To stifle that in order to make fashion simply utilitarian and to only meet one's immediate need for coverings is denying a whole aspect of the human urge to beautify.

    One thing that struck me recently about necessity versus frivolity when it comes to art, was how people in dire straights respond to disaster and hard times. I was watching a program recently that visited Haiti, and showed some of the gorgeous artwork people are making--even in ruinous surroundings and terrible living conditions. They still want to make beautiful things! Certainly, one could say: they should just focus on making what they *need*--not "useless" art. But would life have any sort of joy without beauty?

  15. I think yes, because it makes you who you are as a person. Without fashion how would you show your personality and who you are? through your hair style? but in a way that is still fashion---so my answer is yes!

  16. My husband can be like that too. ;) I tell him that if I hit the fashion just right, it totally wows him and I like that! Then he laughs and agrees too!

  17. Style is a necessity, fashion is not.

  18. An interesting question. I think I'm with the "no" group. Fashion isn't necessary. However, I think it may be an intrinsic part of human nature - like arts, like music. I read up on Neanderthals for uni last week, and even though today we're not sure if they were actually able to talk, we know they not only used primitive forms of needles to sew (clothing for warmth), they also painted their bodies - which would be an early version of fashion, I think. I'm pretty sure they also hummed their babies to sleep. :)

  19. For me its a distinction between something which is a "right to have", and a "right to do". Necessities would be the things we all have a "right to have" - so water, food, shelter etc, but also to belong as part of a broader community (which comes with both rights and responsibilities)...However, like Ms Modiste I'm fairly uncomfortable with consumer goods being included as necessities. However, if we class fashion as something that we have the "right to do" (to modify, construct, alter and redefine the appearance of our bodies through adornment), then I think yes, that is an important part of expression and culture, and something which is a right to do.

    However, I also starting thinking about the riots here in the UK, which involved a significant amount of looting. One of the most targeted shops was a sportswear shop (not particularly expensive) but containing "fashionable" sportswear. I don't think there is anyone here in the UK who argued that if someone can't afford fashionable clothes they should simply take it (however, if someone is starving or dying of thirst?). The question was raised though, if in our current society we base our ability to belong, on the ownership of aspirational material items, and systematically prevent a significant proportion of the population from owning those things, then maybe they do become necessities (in a fairly destructive and socially exclusionary way).
    For the kids in China who sold their kidneys for iphones there's definately an element of necessity...can there be anything more desperate for having the latest fashionable & aspirational consumer good?


© A Fashionable Stitch. All rights reserved.