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Fashion is a sociological phenomenon that tends to classify different people. One may consider the concept as a manifestation of the things that are deemed right. Even though fashion existed before, its popularity became more pronounced with the rise of the culture of consumerism. As its interest rose, it became a subject of sociology. People valuing fashion always want to be the first ones to own a certain product in order to appear vogue or trendy. Fashion tends to go against what is considered normal, especially in the field of dressing. In addition, it needs to fit a certain period. However, one has to question the premises of determining what qualifies as right. For fashion to be deemed right, there must be fashion leaders in the world who ensure that a fad is adopted until when they deem it as not being acceptable any more. If fashion ends up being too common and prevalent, there is a risk that it will not be adopted and there will be eventual replacement of the trend in favor of something that gives distinction. Even though both Weber and Simmel draw from the symbolic interactionist theory, Simmel provided a more in-depth analysis of the issues of fashion than Weber.
Social Interactionist Theory
Three principles guide the study of social interactionist theory. The assumptions are interlinked in a triangle with the assumptions being the tips and the interactions between the assumptions making the connecting lines. The first principle of the theory interaction is that there is a tendency among human beings to act towards each other depending on the meaning that they attach to the humans. However, meaning, as the second principle, is derived from interactions. Fashion is assumed to be embodied in an individual as well as the people and the objects (Edwards, 2010). The third principle is interpretation whereby the meaning is arrived at using an interpretive process of an object, which could be a dress.
Social interactionism is only attained if there is meaning in the object or the individual. The meaning of something or a fashion line may only exist when the people interacting have a common interpretation of the symbol. In fashion, the interaction takes place by assigning meaning to clothing, item, and dress. The meaning assigned to clothing exists in the object itself. This will be deemed based on the quality of the material (Edwards, 2010). The materiality of the clothing has a meaning in itself. The third element of interpretation and meaning will be seen in fashion. If an individual supports a given brand, there is an element of meaning in the brand due to the notability of the person. Dress is also a major source of meaning in fashion whereby there is a combination of the person and the clothing leading to double meaning assigned to the product and the brand.
There are four elements of interaction in social interaction theory that may also be used in the fashion world. The first element is the self-concept. This is stable element of views that people have about themselves (Ma, Shi, Chen, & Luo, 2012). The second element of interaction is language, which is the shared system of symbols both verbal and nonverbal. The third element is made of significant symbols, which are all symbols that are agreed upon by the rest of the society. The fourth element is society which entails the social relationships developed by humans and that humans can respond to.
Social interactionism may be used in understanding the fashion trends in the world. The social interactionism helps in explaining the cultural standards of dress and the appearance as used around the world. The theory may be used in how the interaction between the clothing objects used in development of meaning for the people who wear them and those that observe the people wearing the same (Edwards, 2010). It may also be used in explaining how fashion trend emerge and how some of the trends end up being lost as fad. The same concept determines how people will respond differently to the individual fashion. A person wearing a trendy fashion will aim to communicate the point about themselves to the outside society. The society will be involved though the assessment of the accepted social meanings.
Simmel and Weber on Fashion
Simmel did the most extensive work on fashion. He opined that fashion exists under the preconditions of need for distinction and need for union (Wild, 2016). He argued that some societies lacked the preconditions; hence, the lacked of the motivation to be fashionable. For example, he referred to the fourteenth century Florence whereby the male dress was devoid of any statement. There was no need of union, which is the requirement of showing identity for groups. The dress code of the referred period was based on personal preference. There were efforts in Venice to make the upper class less notable too through fashion due to the requirement that they dress in black and mingle with the rest. The desire for distinction was absent in as much as there was union. The black dress code given as an example ensured that there was a salient message of status group similar as defined by Weber.
Fashion was more notable among women as opposed to men. Women were given the opportunity to express themselves through fashion. The limited avenues of expression available to women at the time of the two theorist’s writings left fashion as the only means of interpretation. It would be seen as a status of men in as much as they were not involved in it. Men would use the women as status symbols. What their women wore was a yardstick of their ability to provide. Women took this up and started dressing in new forms of fashion while aiming at being different from one another (Wild, 2016). Therefore, there was an aspect of self-concept even in the earliest forms of fashion.
Simmel examines the issue of fashion as ever changing in order to differentiate the others from the fashionable individuals. The majority of people in any society will have different fashion sense. However, there are members and age groups that would prefer to be trendy (Edwards, 2010). The need to be trendy means that fashion has to be changing at all times. There must be new designs being made in order to increase the ease of differentiating one person from the rest of the members of the society. New content ensures that people are able to show how they are different from the rest of the people in the society. Being fashionable ensures that a person has secured his or her position in the status group as defined by Weber.
Fashion may be seen to have originated from the social classes as advanced by Weber. The origins of classes in the society are found in the production and the resources that the individual would bring with the owners of capital being at the top and the suppliers of labor being at the bottom. However, the expression of class is seen in consumption (Whimster & Lash, 2014). Veblen views on fashion dispersal may assist in exposing the growth of fashion as an industry. People will go for the products that cost more given that the more the cost, the higher the possibility for the individual to differentiate from the masses and show his or her advances. Therefore, the fashion sense of an individual is an attempt to express the self-concept that he or she has developed, including being different.
However, there is also an attempt to differentiate between classes as advanced by Weber. Therefore, a fashion sense for the wealthy and the middle class is a way of expressing their wealth. There is an effort for conspicuous consumption. The trend of conspicuous consumption or waste is not intended to meet functional advantage. On the contrary, it is intended to set one group from the others (Whimster & Lash, 2014). It is a way of showing the status that the individual has attained and it has to be conspicuous that he or she has reached this level. Therefore, there is an element of social differentiation in fashion consumption as well as a sense of social identification.
In conclusion, Simmel and Weber have similar approaches towards fashion. Like Simmel, Weber touched on some aspects that may be seen in popular fashion today. He did not do an overt study on fashion itself unlike Simmel. However, he touches on some aspects about power and social stratification that are present in Simmel’s works on fashion. Weber asserted that power of an individual is derived from the ability of a person to control different social resources. This view may be used in fashion. There are hierarchical systems of domination and subordination in the world of fashion too. The traditional sense of fashion was based on the class with the mimicry of upper classes being witnessed in the lower classes. Therefore, fashion is an expression of the social strata in the society. His most apt status group description is seen in Simmel works too on fashion. The status groups are seen where they show conventions and traditions. The traditions and conventions are seen in their actions and the most notable way of expressing status group is through fashion.