what I learned when I asked a few questions

By Yuki Sung

Does this say anything about you?

What does fashion mean to people? Well, clearly lots of different things, depending on who they are, how much money they have, and their relationship with clothes. Yes, I believe everyone has a relationship with clothes. What’s interesting is that fashion not only tells us about a person’s identity, but also can create that identity. No matter where you’re from, what you do, what you wear, how you wear it, and how much it costs, you can’t hide behind your clothes. They say everything about you. So I decided I wanted to know more and asked people to take a survey about their relationship with their clothes. What I found out was weirdly illuminating and caught the strange intersection between what we wear and who we are.

I felt that there was no better way to get to this question than by pushing at the extremes of what fashion is, and because that I wanted to include an element of the most radical designers working today. So I framed my survey around deliberately crazy people and their crazy clothes. I wanted to get an unconscious reaction to fashion as a bold statement rather than an everyday thing. For my women’s survey I included a picture of a Comme des Garçons outfit. I didn’t want some girl in a summer dress or jeans and a t-shirt. I wanted the women taking my survey to think about fashion at its wildest. For men, I chose Thom Brown, because he looks like he’s making regular clothes that have been bent out of shape.

Thom Brown is Style
The first question I asked is, “What is fashion?” And I knew the pictures were going to cause some discomfort, because they were so much about dressing up. I was surprised by how personal the answers were. Some of the most interesting were: “fashion is an obsession,” “it is a daily accessible art form,” “fashion is a way of life” In my mind, they’re saying that everyone understands that their clothes are saying something basic about them. No matter where you come from, who you are, what do you do, what you wear and how much it costs, fashion represents a kind of personal statement that expresses your unique identity. It catches emotions and feelings that you have about the world. It’s not as simple as saying; “I’m going to wear a purple velvet dress today.” Fashion is about taking stock of your environment and reacting to it with not clothes, but outfits. What the survey shows is fashion is both social and deeply personal.

My next question was, “Is fashion a kind of art? And what type of art is fashion?” Here are some of the answers: “Art is fashion as fashion is art,” “Fashion is all art including fine art, architecture, textiles, sculpture,” “Fashion is something that everyone can be close to,” and “Fashion is part of the economy, not separate from us.” The answers are interesting in how closely they link fashion and life. For instance, the person who wrote that “fashion is something that everyone can be close to” gets at the way fashion infiltrates every aspect of our lives. It is literally the decision that we make before we live the house and maybe even before that. And so the person who links fashion and the economy is right: we can’t escape money and we can’t escape the ways in which we dress up.

Why would you want to escape this?
There is an important relationship between designer and wearer. 80 percent of the people answered some version to the effect that the “designer is the creator and the wearer is the curator.” It’s true that designers create an identity, life style or emotion through fabrics, but also that the wearer wears their clothes is a demonstration of their own identity or lifestyle. Fashion isn’t just revealing of person’s personality or image, but also an actual object that can be deployed in radically different ways depending on the society, the social group, or person. But no matter how fashion changes, it is one of the deepest reflections of the individual.

Just like the runway photos I placed in my survey, Comme des Garçons and Thom Browne show how outrageous fashion can be and conversely how outrageous a person can be. When people think about wearing these clothes and say something like, “No, it’s nice to look at but not my style," "Absolutely!” “Depends on whether I like it, expensive doesn’t mean anything” “If it’s something that I really want, then I would get it. If there is meaning to it,” these are all expressions of identity.

Wear Fashion!
Fashion is identity and allows you to express yourself through outward appearances. No matter where you from, what you do, who you are, fashion is something you can’t escape. It is on your body, and you wear it every day. Fashion is not about how fancy or expensive the clothing or accessories are, it is about how you annotate it, how you use garments to tell the stories of your personality.

©Yuki Sung and the CCA Arts Review

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