Whether or not we mean to, we are constantly judging, stereotyping and labeling and then making assumptions based on fashion. These standards then play a part in defining who we are as individuals. “Stereotypes exist because there are people that would rather create labels and groups then get to know someone,” said apparel and textiles sophomore, Bennedy Kennedy. Not many of us choose to categorize people like this, and many of us would change it if we could, but it is an ongoing fact of human nature that has little hope of fading. “I don’t think it will ever go away, but it will get better,” said apparel and textile instructor Rebecca Schuiling. One of the many ways this stereotyping and categorization expresses itself today is in the fashion industry.
Certain brands of clothing are often associated with a specific cultural group and there are a number of reasons behind this. “You see repetition in the street and you start to notice certain categories of people wearing certain things over and over again,” said Schuiling. When people see this repetition in dress, it becomes an association. When one thing becomes associated with another, it often sticks and even gains prominence.
At this point, it’s possible for a brand to be strictly associated with a certain type of person, group of people or cultural group. Some groups desire this – they want to be noticed for something specific or have a desire to be viewed a certain way and use appearance as an outlet. They may wear certain brands because they’re high end and are associated with class. “No matter what neighborhood you live in or what race you are, a lot of the time it’s a status thing,” said mixed raced business owner Jeremy Scott. “People wear things to communicate to their peers. No matter what race [you are], people treat you differently for what you’re wearing. Its about respect.” Many feel when you wear something high end, you become high end yourself – you are what you…wear.
On the other hand, some people may not be going for attention at all and are even perhaps going in the complete opposite direction. “It’s painful for them,” said Schuiling. “They want to wear what’s acceptable to wear.” They may not want any association with labels and thus steer clear of them, but then the fashion industry sees this, places a label on this without-a-label way of life and it becomes another style in the world of fashion.
These people may not want to be stamped, but through the process of avoiding this, it’s possible they are actually attracting it. “Reverse adoption is where people are wearing things in the streets and designers take ideas from that,” said Schuiling. Take the grunge look for example – without a desire to belong to anything specific, people created a style of their own (now, the grunge look). This style became a look and the designers took notice of it. Once this happened, designers began to mimic the street style doing precisely what was trying to be avoided in the first place – the creation of a new label.
In all these different labels, groups, classes and categories like to use a term that is widely known and often used – individuality. The scary fact is that, in the fashion world, none of us is completely our own. “It’s almost funny when people think they’re creating their own styles,” said Schuiling. “Everything is done over and over again.” Designs are used and then recycled. Styles go through changes, but that doesn’t mean it’s the new product of sheer imagination – instead, the new and improved product of a past product. One thing comes from another and it continues. “But as long as you feel good in what you wear,” said Kennedy, “that’s what I’m going to see.”
Schuiling said that by nature, people want to have a sense of individualism while simultaneously being accepted by everyone. That’s where people go their separate ways. For some, even just a small sense of belonging will do, so there’s a smaller class of people that turn to sub-cultures. That way, they still maintain this strong feeling of individualism, but at the same time are being accepted by this group of people that they are able to relate to. For others, the feeling of being accepted may be more important and they have no desire to stand out.
It’s weird to try and imagine a world without all this labeling and stereotyping. “Everyone would have to create their own clothes to be entirely original,” said Schuiling. Not to mention the size of the roll the fashion industry plays on our economy. “It’s a fine line,” she said.
A company’s success is greatly affected by its target market. If a brand strictly markets to a specific group of people, they’re going to have a significantly smaller amount of people that will even consider their product. “Every brand markets and designs for certain people,” said Kennedy, “it’s a fact.” However, if a company has no limits, neither do its customers – they have that many more possible sales. “It might shy people away from buying a product if they don’t feel like they can be a part of that tribe,” said Schuiling. People aren’t going to buy a product if they don’t feel comfortable in it.
It’s a whole new ball game for the designers. “Good designers keep in mind all of their clientele,” said Kennedy. “You have to if you want to be successful.”
“If I’m a designer designing high-waisted poofy minis, there’s a target customer that I’m designing for,” said apparel and textiles junior Alissa Seymoure. They might create a line with no intention of a target clientele, but if a group of people adopt this designers look, that look can quickly become associated with that group of people. “Other people might get left out and it could hurt sales,” said Shuiling, “particularly if [the line is] tied to race, it might be uncomfortable or strange for a designer if it’s not what [he/she] intended.”
The upside of this grouping of people based on style and appearance is that most of the time it gives us a good idea of where we fit in. It would be wrong to make assumptions based strictly on appearance, but it sometimes is an aid on say…the first day of school. “You kind of know where you belong,” said Schuiling, “it’s almost a safety thing.” This is not to say (at all) that two people of two entirely different cultures, backgrounds or styles couldn’t become the best of friends. Simply stated, it just gives a little sense of comfort and belonging.
These specific categories of people associated with a certain style might be difficult to take in for someone who is more of an experimental dresser. Not that he or she has the desire to fit into every cultural group, just that he or she doesn’t feel that he or she really has anywhere that he or she belong. “It can be frustrating if you like to explore new styles,” said Shuiling.
It may seem to be dictated by the consumers, but there are a number of designers that create styles specifically for certain cultural groups. “Style should be able to be unique and show your personality,” said Seymoure, “but it shouldn’t affect how people treat you.”
Initially we all may want to believe that fashion is completely separate from who we are as people but the truth is, it is inevitably associated with exactly who we are.