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October 2021

The self as image - A critical appraisal of postmodern theories of fashion

Journal/Book: Theor Cult Soc. 1999; 16: 6 Bonhill Street, London EC2a 4Pu, England. Sage Publications Ltd. 99+.

Abstract: This article involves a critical examination of the recent paradigm shift in the appraisal of women's dress. Whereas in the past, female fashion was criticized primarily in terms of its impractical and restrictive nature and more 'functional' and 'natural' modes of dress were advocated, in recent times the legitimacy of the notion of 'functional' or 'natural' dress has been challenged. As theorists such as Wilson, Sawchuck and Hollander have pointed out, to assume that there is a 'natural' mode of dress which reflects the body 'as it really is' wrongly presupposes that the body pre-exists culture when in fact it is always inescapably encoded by cultural norms. However, as is argued in the article, while recent theorists have revealed the naivete of the functionalist paradigm upon which previous critiques of fashion have been premised, their alternative conception of liberatory dress as that which highlights the constructed nature of the body is equally as problematic insofar as it leaves unchallenged the reduction of self-identity to image which the advertising and fashion industries now endorse and promote. In championing the idea of dress as a parodic play in which the body of the wearer is denaturalized, postmodern theories of fashion display an unwitting complicity with our contemporary culture of the spectacle which privileges the cult of appearance over all other sources of identity formation.

Note: Article Negrin L, Univ Tasmania, Hobart, Tas 7001, AUSTRALIA

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