Simmel, G. 1957. “Fashion.”

Simmel, Georg. 1957. “Fashion.” The American Journal of Sociology 62 (6): 541-558.

Fashion as form of imitation therefore means of social equalization; but, through its dynamicism, it can differentiate between eras and classes. Acts as a means of unity and boundary maintenance. Elites initiate fashion, mass imitates it to remove class distinctions, and thus elites create a new mode – a pattern maintained by wealth. “Fashion does not exist in tribal and classless societies. It concerns externals and superficialities where irrationality does no harm. It signalizes the lack of personal freedom; hence it characterizes the female and the middle class, whose increased social freedom is matched by intense individual subjugation” (541). “Classic” looks create a mode of internalized unity, thus make them immune to modification. Focus on dualism, (sometimes integrating I/E themes) regarding the nature of humanity – generalization and uniformity versus motion and differentiation. Imitation as a means of social solidarity, distributing creative work and responsibility through individuals, instead of bearing it alone – “a vessel of the social contents” (543). Imitation as a means of socialization, a means of historicizing. Teleological individual acts as experimental, anti-imitator.

“Fashion is the imitation of a given example and satisfies the demand for social adaptation; it leads the individual upon the road which all travel, it furnishes a general condition, which resolves the conduct of every individual into a mere example. At the same time it satisfies in no less degree the need of differentiation, the tendency toward dissimilarity, the desire for change and contrast, on the one hand by a constant change of contents, which gives to the fashion of today an individual stamp as opposed to that of yesterday and of to-morrow, on the other hand because fashions differ for different classes – the fashions of the upper stratum of society are never identical with those of the lower; in fact, they are abandoned by the former as soon as the latter prepares to appropriate them. Thus fashion represents nothing more than one of the many forms of life by the aid of which we seek the tendency towards social equalization with the desire for individual differentiation and change” (543).

Historical fashions reflect this equalizing tendency. Fashion acts as a means of class distinction, membership within a particular class, exclusion from/to all other groups. “Fashion is merely a product of social demands, even though the individual object which it creates or recreates may represent a more or less individual need.” Fashions are often arbitrary, “very frequently not the slightest reason can be found for the creations of fashion from the standpoint of an objective, aesthetic, or other expediency” (544). Fashion has a power element, by making those who imitate adopt the ugly just to demonstrate its power. Tendency toward imitation as a point of personality. “…The exotic origin of fashions seems strongly to favor the exclusiveness of the groups which adopt them. Because of their external origin, these imported fashions create a special and significant form of socialization, which arises through mutual relation to a point without the circle” (545). Simmel takes a re-damn-diculous approach saying that, in “primitive societies” any wear that is out of the norm or “evolving” is considered insecure or dangerous, primitive societies are more “stable” in their wear. “Movement, time, rhythm of the gestures, are all undoubtedly influenced by what is worn: similarly dressed persons exhibit relative similarity in their actions” (546). Fashion has a life cycle – what is popular will soon pass, become delimited. “As soon as the social consciousness attains to the highest point designated by fashion, it marks the beginning of the end for the latter” (547)
Pg 559 – “The Dude” as an exemplar of “leading fashion” while simultaneously being led. Fashion as emerging from that which is previously destructed – (kx – simultaneous fashion, adaptations of fashion?)

AAAAAND, Simmel pretty much said that because women (psychologically) seek a lack of differentiation, seek social averages due to weaknesses in social position – you know, because weak people steer away from individualization, because women, historically, were denied opportunities for personal agency. Assumes fidelity for women, infidelity for men. Fashion compensates women for lack of position in a class, due to having no profession. Fashion works to create the commonplace, to create security, simultaneously draw attention away and to the individual. It becomes dangerous to express individuality, as violence is offered to manifestations of the unique; ego (here, self-restraint) is strongly emphasized. Fashion as indicative of social change, class system, market system. Fashion has capacity to retain novelty through the defense of art over functionality.


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