Crane, D. 2000. Fashion and Its Social Agendas.

Crane, Diana. 2000. Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender and Identity in Clothing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Clothing as a visible form of consumption, noted as critical in the construction of identity. “Clothing choices provide an excellent field for studying how people interpret a specific form of culture for their own purposes, one that includes strong norms about appropriate appearances at a particular point in time (otherwise known as fashion) as well as an extraordinarily rich variety of alternatives” (1).

“Analysis of clothing behavior reveals the importance of conceptualizing the cultures of contemporary societies as complex aggregations of codes, sets of clothing items to which social groups have attributed interrelated meanings” (242).


Marking of social status, gender – how people perceive and respond to boundaries; previously used for identifying self in public space – religious, regional, occupation, and class (held or aspirational) identities. Classed orientations originate in the scarcity of cloth; working and poor classes only having one to a few outfits – a luxury only offered to upper classes. Status competition (particularly amongst class aspirational women) stimulated fashion shifts and industry, particularly noted by Simmel (1957) — however, critiqued for overemphasizing the role of dominants in creating fashion when many fashions (particularly contemporary ones) source from working class (ish) subcultures— as well as relying on the misogynist and essentialist belief that women were “dependent” and more conformist, thus ignoring the importance of fashion to both genders as a manner of self presentation within public spaces. Veblen’s conspicuous consumption (1899) lends itself to noting how class status was related to fashion items. Bourdieu’s theories of class reproduction and cultural tastes (1984) remarks on how people within social classes compete for social distinction on the grounds of being able to judge cultural products (artifacts, practices) on the basis of classed suitability – however, how do people cope with fashion and cultural products in times of rapid cultural change? Field 1970 offers a bottom-up approach – that high-class individuals adopt the fashions of lower-class individuals – yet, fashions emerge from all ranks, interests, and groupings – diffused by media and network access to these fashions (Crane 1992; Peterson 1994) However, in contemporary society, many people view class as a less salient organizer of society, due to (kx^ PERCEIVED) interclass mobility, instead people’s fragmented interests within social classes seem to be better indicators of fashion sensibilities (Vidich 1995), creating “image tribes” that do not overlap in their interests, issues, and ideas — (kx^ in postmodern society, is this actually the case?)— however, this presumes a great deal of agency on the part of the individual to create and find “tribes” — meaningful self identities are created through social agency (Giddens 1991). Instead of fashion used to identify “victims” or cultural dopes, we see that fashion is constructed and often agentic – with reference to networks and cultural groups in which the individual resides or aspires to.

Bricolage of clothing and classed identity – jeans (formerly a symbol of working class membership) are worn by all, and co-opted for high fashion.


“For many adolescents and young adults clothing is a means of expressing identity rather than social class status and, to some extent, an means of locating identity, of making sense of their personal lives” (204)

People often construct their identity within the workplace as different than ones during their leisure time (Bell 1976) – leisure as defined as time for oneself, aside from family and voluntary political work. Roles as consumer (rather than producer) becomes indicative of postmodern society; postmodern consumers are expected “to discriminate between alternatives, while at the same time identifying with chosen commodities, in order to articulate a particular persona” (here 11, Partington 1996 212).

“Clothes as artifacts ‘create’ behavior through their capacity to impose social identities and empower people to assert latent social identities” (2). Imposed status on military and prison uniforms; favorite clothes are attributed with the power to express selves and interact with others (Kaiser, Freeman, and Chandler 1993). Fashion acts to continually redefine social identities as it continuously ascribes new meanings to somewhat static cultural artifacts, using access to “various discourses to interpret the connections between her sense of her personal identity and the social identity that is conferred by membership in various social groups that wear similar clothing” (13)

Thompson and Haytko 1997: consumers use “fashion discourses to fore self-defining social distinctions and boundaries, to construct narratives of personal history, to interpret the interpersonal dynamics of their social spheres, to understand their relationship to consumer culture” (here 13, 16) – and to contest/transform social categories, particularly those of gender, sexuality.

Coping with modern fashion: “the complex range and multitude of simultaneously ‘fashionable’ styles of clothing and personal appearance… the range of choice in the marketplace contributes to a state of confusion bordering on chaos” (here 6, Kaiser, Nagasawa, and Hutton 1991 166) – how people choose clothing offers insight to how they perceive and make meaning out of postmodern societies. Clothing acts as a way to resolve ambivalence in master statuses – communicating class, gender, race through fashion choices (Davis 1992); and using “appearance management” to construct, negotiate sense and representations of self (Kaiser, Nagasawa, and Hutton 1991). Instead of having only high and middle class groups subject to fashion, all are expected to participate within their capacity.

“Motivation for adopting a style is based on identification with social groups through consumer goods rather than on a fear of being penalized for nonconformity” (135). Growth of ready-wear fashion instead of individually-made garments cheapened the cost of clothing, offered expansion of fashion locales and designers, and increased access for laypeople.

Postmodern, fragmented societies still offer salient meanings to categories of class, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity – (kx^ subjective definitions, objective realities?)


Butler 1990 – self as not masculine or feminine, but constructed and communicated through social performances, including the uses of style of dress and accessory

Women’s fashion as diverse a form of “conflicted hegemony” (Kellner 1990b) – where no single elite dominates America, but the media acts as a site for debating interpretations of dominant culture. Fashions range from sexually explicit, to modesty, feminine empowerment and dominance (Rabine 1994).

“If a woman view her personal appearance and her personal identity as an evolving ‘project’ (Giddens 1991), then her choices of consumer goods become a complex form of negotiation between conflicting hegemonic norms, conveyed through images of the media, and her own understandings of gender differences” (18). Diversifying images of femininity, masculinity – questions how people construct own representations and meanings attached to gender.

Historically, more money of familial budgets were spent on women’s and girl’s clothing – demonstrating gendering context – men and boys’ clothing were multipurpose and built upon utility, rather than demonstrating the wealth or social standing of the family (expressivity?)

Industrialization removed many middle and upper middle class women from participating in formal economies (by dressmaking, etc.) – thus, denied political and social power – often relegated to clothing that they wore, even being referred to as “petticoats” (100, see Rolley 1990a 48). Trimming and details on clothing worked to confine movement and varied based on social occasion, symbolized exclusion from economic and social participation, and emphasized dependence. As increased agency in social and economic spheres (from wartime influence, including opening of women’s colleges and athletics programs), clothing shifts to accommodate new activities, often taking clues from masculine dress. Power derived from androgynizing clothing – however, associated with lesbian and “crossdressing” cultures, bohemian subcultures, art and music scenes, women’s activism – earning hostile remarks, harassment, and even violence from men within public spheres – clothing became symbols of emancipation, deviance. Laws governing women’s dress marked to prohibit indecency – however, exposure and activity regulated through this – actual gender policing. Assimilation into professional realms required assimilation of clothing – masculinizing women’s clothing into “unisex” – presumed gender neutrality, which offers preference to men’s clothing designs.

As designers scour countercultures, arts, pornography, history for sources of inspiration, often these come with connotations that revert to using women’s bodies as spectacle, commodifying the female/feminine body. Using clothing/costume to perform gender (empowerment, sexual objectification), “this perspective implies an important role for fashion in providing the wherewithal for commenting upon, parodying, and destabilizing gender identities, without necessarily alleviating the social constraints imposed by gender” (204). Fashion seen as female obligation – a demand to conform to body and beauty ideals (Wolf 1991). Posture, eye contact, positioning within nonverbal communication offer gendering as passivity, something to be protected or obscured. See Thompson and Haytko 1997 for further study on how college-age women use critical narratives to resist and accept fashion discourses.

“Modern beauty is deeply embedded in sexual politics – the woman acting out male fantasies, engaging in purposeful provocation” (Lakhoff and Scherr 1984 106, here 211).

“In general, those who belong to minorities, based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, tend to use style of expressing their identities and their resistance to the dominant culture” (172 see also Janus, Kaiser and Gray 1999). Youth and minority subcultural fashion is often co-opted and assimilated into mainstream fashion – through appealing to fantasy, aesthetic expression, and bricolage – fashion industries as “sophisticated poachers” (173) who expand boundaries of masculine attire. Suits as concealers of identity rather than expressions? (Barringer 1990), suppressing individuality?

“In the popular mind, masculine identity is often perceived as fixed and innate rather than socially constructed. Therefore, attempts to construct an identity through clothing behavior are regarded as suspect, particularly by older men. Being interested in fashion and clothing behavior tends to be interpreted as effeminate” (179, see also Gladwell 1997b) – masculinity is connoted with shirking of appearances’ importance, but still appearing as normative.

Sexual expressivity within men’s clothing first emerged through colors – moving away from navy, grey, and black – then to the fit and tightness of the clothes, and what areas of the body they bared.

“According to one designer, ‘Whether clothes are for men or women is all in the head,’”   (here 195, see Menkes 1999)


Innovation in ready-to-wear fashion took off in the 1960s, when older designers started to retire or die; ready-made clothing entrepreneurs were hired in to manage couture and luxury firms – opening access to other social classes. Post-modern and avant-garde designers may utilize fashion to present gender-ambiguity and combine elements of taboo and classic high fashion – anti-hegemonic interpretations of fashion, gender – overt emphasis (fetishism) uk+//or denial of sexuality (hyper-modesty?)

T-shirts as printed messages, associating wearer with organization, interest, politics of design – a communicative device – sometimes for corporate benefit (logo).


In WWII ration-era, zoot suit worn by African Americans and Latinos demonstrated “a subversive refusal to be subservient” (Kelley 1992, 160 here 183) – encoding racial, spatial, gender, and generational identity, in resistance to dominant wartime efforts and discrimination.

“Today’s subcultural styles carry much less countercultural weight, being rapidly coopted by media industries and marketed in a highly developed consumer culture” (183)


Development of street style coming from intimate on-ground scenes/networks (Polhemus 1994), carried internationally now through internet technologies and communciations. Popularization of fashion and street styles by encoding it with alliance to musical or subcultural genres – resistance to dominant culture (Hebdige 1979). Rebellion as stylized – style as rebellious, offering symbols of gender ambiguity, class resistance, liminality.

Oppositional clothing acts as nonverbal culture- where meaning can be inferred, multiplex – works to challenge boundaries of gender, class, economics, and sexuality. E4

Co-option of street style by luxury and ready-to-wear clothing impairs subversive individuality and expression; “The social and political connotations of the [kx^ punk] style evaporated; instead, elements of the style continue to be widely used, free-floating code for the expression of rebellion in clothing that is totally dissociated from the activities and beliefs of contemporary countercultures” (here 186, see also Siroto 1993)

Transgressions and evolution of rebellious style incorporates older symbols while offering new meanings and options – there is no cohesive “youth” or “street” style, but a blend and emergence of codes.


Youth cultures and fashion are ways to control aspects of lives, attitudes, and identities, offering opportunities for expression when other terms of agency are limited. Youth cultures offer opportunities to “try on” identities, often with little imagination or effort on part of the wearer – “prefabricated” rebellions or costumes – these identities are often transient (Polhemus 1994). Subcultural groups are often closely interconnected, blending influences in intricate and complex ways (de la Haye and Dingwell 1996).

“In other groups, an anti-establishment outlook is expressed through androgynist subversion of sexual mores (such as ‘overt masculinity with feminine overtones’) or by placing logos of popular consumer items in unfamiliar contexts” (190) – such as appropriation of corporate or product logos for advertising LSD, marijuana, etc.

Youth and minority subcultural fashion is often co-opted and assimilated into mainstream fashion – through appealing to appropriation, fantasy, aesthetic expression, and bricolage – fashion industries as “sophisticated poachers” (173) who expand boundaries of masculine attire. Fantasy – engaging in unrealistic ideals, playing “pretend”/dress up. Aesthetic – customization in accordance to identity. Appropriation – incorporation and customization of influences which are suited to the needs of the appropriator. Bricolage – “putting together different items and images to create an original costume that is meaningful to the individual” (190)

Use of clothing within gay cultures were often co-opted by mainstream culture, losing the specific meanings that the clothing codes and innovations had within the subculture (Freitas, Kaiser, and Hammidi 1996).

Women and minorities have often developed their own clothing systems and respective meanings, but these are predicted to be assimilated into mainstream fashion – even worse, to be used to reify stereotypes or caricature of identity.



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