The Language of Fashion

Language is the basis of human connection. It is believed that our human ancestors began using a language of sorts about two million years ago, and doing so gave them a distinct survival advantage. Now, language is a cornerstone of our society; we would not be able to exist without it.

Since we are no longer a primal species solely concerned with survival, we have new modes of communication, such as art, music, poetry, and even fashion. Clothes speak louder than words. Clothing sometimes indicates religious affiliation—like the dastars that some Sikh people wear. Regional identity can also present itself through clothing, such as how preppy, beachy styles are often seen in coastal regions of the U.S., such as Cape Cod, Mass., and people working in New York’s financial district can be seen in formal work attire.

While the aforementioned examples may not have been applicable to all people, the idea that we express our identity through fashion still holds true. In her book “Dress Code: Understanding the Hidden Meanings of Women’s Clothes,” Toby Fischer-Mirkin states that “whether your selections are made out of impulse or calculation, your choices are always profoundly revealing- whether you know it or not.” When we choose to wear logos, we are consciously or subconsciously adopting the aesthetic that accompanies those logos. When we wear college names on hoodies, sports teams on hats, or designer names on purses, we are again associating ourselves with the group of people and the message behind them.

Some clothing is situational. Job interviews, for example, typically mandate well-tailored suits if one desires to make a good impression. Sweatpants and a stained t-shirt on the other hand will likely form an unfavorable impression. Like language, there are certain registers of formality to fashion that are ingrained into our culture. No matter how much you may dislike them, rebelion is not an option; it’s social suicide.

Fashion, like language, is something we all must partake in. We must dress ourselves and we must speak every day, and our experiences and cultural norms highly inform both. Even if people believe the clothes they wear are chosen at random, there is most likely an unconscious reason behind why they made the choice to wear them, and such choices consistently affect the ways in which others see us.