When you don’t dress like everyone else you don’t need to think like everyone else. Iris Apfel.

‘Fashion is a language. What one wears is the first, nonverbal way of communicating to others, sending connotative messages to those around. Because of its unique ability not only to convey aesthetic beauty but also the values and personal brand of its wearer,  fashion can also be considered a facet of the Communication field.

Whatever you choose you choose it because it carries connotations with it that appeal to the message you want to send. Those messages  are how we find our tribes. All humans want to belong somewhere, and clothing and the norms surrounding dress are an essential part of the formation and maintenance of both culture and sub-cultures.

Strategic communication is a field that seeks to convey information in a way that moves the audience to act or think in a way congruent with the speaker’s intent. Clothing does the same.

One can use fashion strategically to influence an audience, fashion, then, can be analysed as a facet of the field of strategic communication just as advertising and mass media.  The way we choose to interact with the world and each other is incredibly influential, and it is part of what shapes culture.’ – Fennec Fawn.

‘Fashion as Communication by Malcom Barnard investigates the connections between the concept of fashion, communication and culture. Clothing and fashion, as communication, are cultural phenomena where culture may itself be understood as a signifying system, as the ways in which a society experiences, values and beliefs are communicated through practices, artefacts and institutions.

Fashion, Clothing and Communication

Fashion and clothing are forms of nonverbal communication where no spoken or written words are used, but they send silent messages. There are two main schools in the study of communication, both subscribe to a general definition of communication as ‘social interaction through messages’ but they each understand that definition slightly differently. The first school is called the ‘process’ school, where they believe that “communication is conceived of as a process in which someone says something to someone else in one or other medium or channel with some or other effect.” Where in this case, the garment would be the medium used by one person to send a message to another person, consequently it is the garment who carries the message the wearer wants to communicate. Although he argues that this school rises a problem as to who sends the message, if it is the wearer or if it is originally the designer. The second school, called the semiotic’ or ‘structuralist’ school, says that communication as ‘social interactions through messages’ constitutes an individual as a member of a group. Rather that a member of a group communicating with other members of the group, as the first group applies. On the process model, the meaning pre-exists the process of communicating them. On the semiotic model, it is the process of communication that produces or generates messages.

He argues that the semiotic model is more plausible since it avoids the problem who creates the message since the message is created by the group as a whole. It is the social interacting, by means of the clothing, that produces the individual as a member of the group rather than vice-versa, that one is a member of the group and then interacts socially.

Fashion, Clothing and Culture

He argues that fashion, clothing and dress are signifying practices, they are ways of generating meanings, which produce and reproduce those cultural groups along with their positions of relative power. That means that clothes are used to separate groups in our society, which turns culture into a general signifying system. We communicate a society’s beliefs, values and experiences through practises, artefacts and institutions. Where, in this case, the practises, artefacts and institutions are fashion and clothing.

Fashion, Clothing and Ideology

Fashion and clothing are used to separate and distinguish different cultural groups in society. According to Douglas and Isherwood (1979) fashion and clothing can be used as fences or bridges. This argues that individual garments may be innocent , but how they are used and the functions they fulfil are not. The uses and functions of garments are social and cultural therefore not innocent. To clarify fences and bridges; fences separates groups and keep people apart while bridges are there to join groups. Fences and Bridges also separate groups at the same time as they identify common values within a group.

Another way to see Douglas and Isherwood’s theory is to see it as weapons and defences. Where you either challenge or try to sustain positions of dominance and supremacy. It is fashion and clothing, used as weapons or fences by different groups, that creates the social order. When fashion and clothes are used as weapons in a group, they express their ideologies against the ideologies of other groups in the social order. He says that fashion and clothing, as cultural phenomena, may now be understood as practises and institutions in which class relations and class differences are made meaningful.

Designers are working with the system of capitalism, advancing consumption and mediating the boundaries and values of clothing communication.

Fashion and clothing, in addition to being forms of cultural production and communication, are ideological phenomena used to maintain, establish and reproduce positions of power.

In his conclusion he says that Fashion and clothing are cultural in the sense that they are some of the ways in which a group constructs and communicates its identity and also that they are communicative in that they are non-verbal ways I which meaning and values are produced and exchanged. Finally, he says that fashion and clothing, as cultural and communicative phenomena, are closely related to status and power.’ – Mathilde Jansson.

Further links:

Clothing as Medium of Comunication

A sociological construction of the object of clothing. Contrary to
usual analyses, clothing is not understood in terms of material culture or ostentatious
consumption, but rather as communication, i.e. as vestimentary operation. Its symbolical
autonomy creates a zone of indifference towards the body and, in particular cases, towards the
person. This approach is able to show that vestimentary practices vary with the form of
societal differentiation. While dress codes are redundant and functional in respect to the social
structure in stratified societies, an autonomous universe of clothing as medium of
communication forms itself in the fully developed culture of exterior appearance. It contains a
special code, programs, symbiotic mechanisms and a memory of its own. Triggers for such
tendencies towards autonomy are a public sphere, forming itself as a correlate of urbanization,
a money economy under market conditions and fashion as a theme of reflection for societal

Dressed to express: Fashion’s Role as a Political Medium

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election and subsequent inauguration as president, unprecedented numbers of his opponents took to the streets of major cities throughout the country in bold displays of resistance. While the actual protests like the Women’s March lasted for only a few hours, their spirits are memorialised, both literally and figuratively, in the clothing, signs, hats, and buttons that were featured in some of the march’s most iconic images.

Fashion as medium of communication

Since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, the function of fashion as a medium of communication is becoming of a new significance for modern society.

by Cristina Morales