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Looking sharp: fashion studies

posted on 03.07.2014, 10:42 by Malcolm BarnardMalcolm Barnard
Fashion and clothing construct, reproduce and challenge all kinds of identity and they do so visually and immediately. The meanings of the visual here, the meanings of what people are wearing, are quickly learned and readily understood by all members of all cultures: learning and understanding those meanings may even be said to be the conditions for membership of those cultures. So, for example within seconds of seeing or meeting someone we make a series of judgements concerning identity and culture, about who they are and whether we will have anything in common with them, on the basis of what they are wearing. Rarely, if ever, do we wonder what people mean by the things they wear or dismiss garments as meaningless: meaning and identity are constructed, negotiated and understood constantly in visual fashion. The centrality of fashion and clothing to the concerns of this collection (the concern with visuality, meaning, identity, society and culture), should nor need emphasizing. Social and cultural identity and social and cultural status, including those identities and statuses that are to do with gender, class, sexuality and ethnicity, are constructed, negotiated and challenged visually, in and through what we wear. Similarly, our sense of self, and our understandings of our own bodies, are also produced and tested visually by the things with which we adorn, decorate, display, hide and protect our bodies-fashion and clothing. In raising concerns such as these, fashion is at once an extremely ancient, a completely modern and a thoroughly postmodern phenomenon. What people wear has always constructed and indicated social and cultural status and what people wear is now part of a postmodern and globalizing economy in which the relation of identity to consumption is readily or functionally understood by almost everyone, even if nor everyone is ready to critically analyse and explain that relation. This chapter will include everyday clothing, or dress, as well as fashion in its account of fashion studies.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • Arts

Published in

The Handbook of Visual Culture The Handbook of Visual Culture


405 - 425 (608)


BARNARD, M., 2012. Looking sharp: fashion studies. In: Heywood, I. and Sandywell, B. (eds.) The Handbook of Visual Culture. London: Berg, pp. 405 - 425.


© Berg


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Closed access. This is a chapter from the book, The Handbook of Visual Culture.





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