What is fashion?
As a verb it means to give shape to something. As a noun it underpins how we perceive things to be, based on certain filters we have created as a collective. And to follow a prevailing custom or style of the day. This episode of The Gentle Rebel Podcast explores our relationship with fashion. How we can bring into alignment the way we reflect authenticity in our fashioning. Both in the way we reflect the outer world, and the things we create that reflect our inner world.
Who Are You?
What drives your relationship with the material world? For many gentle rebels there is a natural inclination to distance ourselves from the overtly popular. We might tend to stay in the margins, away from the mainstream. Our inner rebel seeks to avoid the crowd, both in a physical, and metaphorical sense.
This inner voice might tells us that when something is popular it has lost its value (sold out etc). A message that is not always helpful, healthy, or indeed true. As we will explore.
Fashion is a mindset. It influences our thoughts, opinions, and judgements. It clouds our view of the world, and tells us the value of things based on whether or not they are seen as acceptable at this particular time.
We have seen the destructive force of fast fashion. Tearing through our environment as demand for and supply of cheap clothing, technology, furnishings etc, spirals in a world of endless marketing and extreme consumption.
How can we nurture a slow fashion approach to the material world? So that our lives reflect our deeper values, and leave us with a richer and more meaningful experience.
The ‘Influencer’ label is pretty fashionable right now. We hear about those social media power users who are at the heart of different fashion-driven industries.
Certain people set the standards of what is worthy of attention. And they are rewarded for their role as ‘tastemakers’ in the world. Essentially fashioning the desires of consumers so that they will spend money on things that will ‘make their life better’ in some way.
In the modern digital world, fashion has become much more diffused. There are very few all encompassing movements of fashion. Instead we have many disparate tribes and micro cultures, defining their own look. We have a rich plethora of lifestyles, appearances, and opinions.
‘Influencers’ reside within each area. Some intentionally, while others become figureheads and role models without setting out to do so. But the natural human impulse is the same: to follow, to fit in, to belong. Which happens by looking the part, acting the part, and getting the label.
When I was a kid I remember being obsessed with wanting to get clothes made by particular brands. And to have the label on the outside so that people could see. We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, so this was a rare occurrence.
I remember getting a new coat when I was about 12. It had a big logo on the back. A reputable brand. I didn’t really like the style, but it was the only one from that brand within budget. As long as people could see it was branded, that’s all that mattered.
But I didn’t really want to wear it that much. It felt horrible, and it certainly wasn’t one of my favourite items. But kids value labels, and it was something I thought I should do in order to fit in (or not stand out too much).
Paying to Advertise
A few years later I went in the opposite direction. I became very aware that I was being used to advertise any brand I was wearing. And doing so, not just voluntarily, but I was paying for the privilege. What a ruse. Genius. Pay some ‘influencers’ (eg sports stars), to wear your clothes as a company. People will equate the brand with success and the values of said sports star. And they will literally go out and pay to advertise your stuff. Make the clothes expensive enough and you can create an aspirational price tag. People will pay, not for the quality of the product, but for the opportunity to be associated with the label.
At the age of about 15 I refused to be a walking advert. I even custom printed a t-shirt with the words ‘afix advert here’. Shame I hadn’t learnt how to spell properly. I only wore that once because of the missing f.
But it was a part of a bit of an eye-opening moment, where I became more aware of how we are influenced by labels. My favourite musicians played certain brands of instruments. Creative people used Apple products. And on the flip-side, the people you don’t want to be associated with use certain other brands.
Idols and Icons
These messages travel deep within us, but they remain very much at the surface level of meaning and authenticity. In fact, fashion dilutes authenticity. It enslaves us to itself.
There are big differences between idols and icons. When we become enslaved to fashion, we approach the world through the eyes of idolisation. The label IS the thing we worship. The surface IS the meaning.
Whereas, the iconic approach to things, sees labels as doors to what lays beneath. The meaning resides within. In some religious traditions, iconography (the use of art and objects) might be used as a root into worship and prayer. It points a person to the thing it represents. Idolatry on the other hand, is worship of the art and object itself.
This is a helpful distinction for us to make in our own relationship with the material world.
The Object is Not Sacred
The purpose of a thing is not simply to have it, but to use it for all it’s truly worth. This is often where fashions start. Those who need and utilise a product, service, or cause, do so because it serves something deeper.
At the turn of the century for example, Apple got themselves back on the map, and built THE computers for creative industries. The capabilities of their machines meant that they were powerful for video, music, and illustration. They became common tools for people working in creative fields.
Soon they became tools for anyone who wanted the world to believe something about them too. They were fashionable. They told a story about a person. Even if it wasn’t the best fit for their actual needs, it met the need to fit in and look the part. And that’s what fashion does. The iMac was an idol. It had moved from being iconic (a necessary tool for producing better work), and became an idol (a must have accessory for those who wanted to make a statement about themselves).
It no longer mattered what you did with the product, just as long as you had the product. And this is the essence of toxic fashion.
Un-wedding Ourselves From Fashion
A toxic relationship is underpinned by a belief that the thing outside of us holds the answers to our internal sense of lack. Fashion taps into that longing that people have, to feel whole or complete. To believe that being on trend will give them a feeling of belonging.
If we’re going to gently rebel against this trap, we must become unwedded to fashion. To break free from the tyranny of it.
Fashion destroys us. It sucks our money, energy, creativity, and sense of true belonging. It leaves us even more lonely.
Where do we start?
Embrace the joy of missing out. Step to the outside. And untangle self-worth from your stuff.
Find ways to deliberately subvert the message.
The greatest weapon against fashion is indifference. Take someone who values fashion and judges others against surface level standards. They are rendered impotent if you dismiss their attempts at materialistic impressing, with a shrug of indifference.
We can remove ourselves from the cycles of fashion. To become unwedded to the marriage that the world has with it. Be drawn instead, to things that are useful, valuable, and beautiful to us at a deeply personal level. Never because we want others to see us with it.
And we can encourage others to do the same by disengaging from that part of the conversation. Bring the discussion around, away from the surface of the thing. Inquire about its intrinsic value to the life it makes possible for the other person.
Over to You
What is your relationship like with ‘fashion’? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below.
Watch this episode on YouTube. Subscribe here.
Listen to The Gentle Rebel (Extended Play) Private Podcast:
Fashioning a New Approach to Fashion
If you like this topic and want to hear more of my (more personal) thoughts and reflections, you can subscribe to the bonus podcast right now, through Patreon. And you’ll also get an exclusive first look at why I’m now recording the podcast from behind a piano…