Fashion has long been a means of self-expression, allowing individuals to showcase their personalities, beliefs, and unique sense of style. From the clothes we wear to the accessories we choose, fashion has the power to communicate who we are and what we stand for.
For centuries, fashion has been used as a form of rebellion and self-expression. In the 1960s, the counterculture movement saw young people rejecting the conservative styles of their parents and embracing bold new fashion statements. From the elaborate dresses of the Renaissance period to the ripped jeans of the 90s grunge era, fashion has been a way to characterize each decade and their place in the world.
It can be used to express political beliefs, and cultural heritage. As a previously Pentecostal child who only wore non-revealing dresses and skirts, I experienced this all my life. I could spot a fellow Pentecostal from a mile away.
Similarly, the brightly colored, embroidered garments worn by women in Mexico, or the flowing garments and hijabs worn by Muslim women in the Middle East are both examples of traditional clothing that reflects cultural identity and beliefs.
The rise of punk fashion in the 1970s showcases a sense of outsider syndrome; it was closely tied to a sense of disillusionment with mainstream society and a desire to challenge the status quo. Likewise, the popularity of slogan t-shirts and political fashion in recent years reflects a growing desire to use fashion as a means of political and social expression.
Fashion is also a powerful form of affirmation for many queer people. Something as simple as a piece of clothing can help reduce the feelings of gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is defined as “a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. This sense of unease or dissatisfaction may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life.”
It can also be particularly important for transgender individuals, who may use clothing to affirm their gender identity and feel more comfortable in their own skin.
For many LGBTQ+ individuals, it can serve as a way to challenge traditional gender norms and express their gender identity. This can include wearing clothing that is traditionally associated with the opposite gender, as well as incorporating elements of both masculine and feminine styles into their outfits.
Jordi, a non-binary 27-year-old model, designer, and consultant, agrees: “It was that freedom of my fashion expression that allowed the vocabulary around my own identity to catch up. But if it wasn’t for my fashion, I wouldn’t have been seen in a way that affirmed my identity.”
Fashion can also be a way for LGBTQ+ individuals to assert their sexuality and sexual orientation. For example, wearing clothing with rainbow colors or other LGBTQ+ symbols can signal membership in the community and serve as a way to connect with other LGBTQ+ individuals.
Today, fashion continues to serve as a powerful tool for self-expression. In an increasingly diverse and globalized world, fashion allows individuals to express their identity. For example, the rise of streetwear in recent years showcases a change in the previous formality that society used to adopt. We have gone from wearing sweatpants outside to wearing them outside, and this represents a more vulnerable society that holds individuals using fashion to connect with their communities.
But fashion is not just about making a statement and portraying the current state of mind. It can also serve as a means of empowerment and self-confidence. The clothes we wear can affect how we feel about ourselves and how others perceive us. Dressing well and expressing our personal style can help us feel more confident and comfortable in our own skin. Which is why it can also be destructive.
It’s important to acknowledge that fashion can also be a source of pressure and conformity. It can become a source of anxiety for many people. In a world where social media platforms showcase idealized images of beauty and style, individuals can feel the need to conform to certain standards of fashion and beauty. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, and can ultimately be detrimental to our mental health and well-being.
There is a downside to constricting fashion trends, because while it acts as a modern history lesson and a psychological evaluation of the current mentality, it also fools people into thinking that it must fit everyone. But let’s remember that we choose how to let fashion influence us, whether as a mere suggestion and inspiration for creativity, or a how-to guide that suppresses originality.