Dress To Impress

Dress To Impress

[Written By: Amelia Oakley]

[Photographer: Elena Roselli]

In Early Modern England the colour, fabric and material of clothes denoted the wearer’s rank, status, and position, and was enforced by English law. While this is not a legal obligation in Britain, many countries and religions still enforce clothing by law. In France, fierce debate surrounded the banning of niqabs and burqas. Under a decree by the French Prime Minister, François Fillon, women are banned from wearing the niqab in any public place. Veils covering the face are illegal virtually anywhere outside women’s homes, except when worshipping or travelling as a passenger in a car. Likewise, in North Korea, citizens must adhere to strict fashion laws. They must style themselves with officially endorsed haircuts and clothing with zero affiliation with the West – especially when it comes to brands and logos. In the UK, however, we have an extraordinary amount of freedom when it comes to choosing our style and how we wish to present ourselves. In some ways, it is a privilege to have a personal style, and it reveals a lot about our identity.

On particular milestones in our lives, we can change our style to reflect a big, personal change. We all know the cliché of cutting our hair short or changing its colour after a breakup to symbolise a personal change. Or else, when a teenager enters their angsty phase and wants to show the world they are grown up and make their own rules, and adopts the ripped, studded and fringed style that rejects childhood fashion. When Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries realized she was royalty, her frizzy mane was tamed into shorter, straight tresses. There are countless movies with big makeover montages that often serve as transition sequences.

We all have our own unique relationship with fashion – some of us are dedicated to the latest trends and celebrity styles, while others prefer to scope out more alternative looks and seek inspiration from less mainstream sources. As we grow and our identity changes and evolves, and so does the way we dress. I am thankful that I am more confident to have my own sense of style and not follow the teenage dream of Uggs, flared jeans, and concealer lips – but I am also grateful that as a young child I was allowed to dress up as my favourite Disney princess. As an adult, I am less aware of ‘trends’ and more aware of knowing what I feel comfortable in. Now, what I wear is either how I wanted to present myself to the world that day, (or, more likely, I’m wearing whatever was clean and comfy that morning).

Clothing and style aren’t just about wanting to ‘dress to your body type’ or following the latest crop top trend (please can this die out soon); it can associate you with certain subcultures and movements, and this in turn can help enforce a sense of belonging and community. For example, Punks, Mods, Goths can all be argued to be  ‘anti-fashion’ and to follow guidelines that are directly associated with their community’s ideology. Or, if your religion outlines how you should dress , then following those guidelines can be a powerful expression of your identity and innermost beliefs that ordinary clothes might otherwise mask. On the flip side of this, such statements of ideology can be prone to ostracisation or even attack, as we have seen with the rise of Islamophobia.

Interestingly, in jobs that require a uniform, such as fire fighters and nurses, people are often fetishized through their clothing – you don’t need to look much further than the vast array of ‘sexy’ Halloween costumes. This is not because of their actual uniform, which, in reality, is unsexy and essential to saving lives, but because the uniform is associated with qualities of the profession – e.g. strength and bravery or care and intimate contact. The individuals may not have these qualities but it’s a good example of basic assumptions based on style can affect how identity is perceived.

Ultimately, style is not just about the type of clothes we wear, but also about the way we show our individuality by taking high street items and turning them into a range of wardrobe combinations. It is also about the outfits we know suit us and make us look good, which in turn gives us the confidence we need to present ourselves to others. This confidence, as well as the trends we follow and the looks we love, combine to define who we are – both to ourselves and to those around us.

In Early Modern England the colour, fabric and material of clothes denoted the wearer’s rank, status, and position, and was enforced by English law. While this is not a legal obligation in Britain, many countries and religions still enforce clothing by law. In France, fierce debate surrounded the banning of niqabs and burqas. Under a decree by the French Prime Minister, François Fillon, women are banned from wearing the niqab in any public place. Veils covering the face are illegal virtually anywhere outside women’s homes, except when worshipping or travelling as a passenger in a car. Likewise, in North Korea, citizens must adhere to strict fashion laws. They must style themselves with officially endorsed haircuts and clothing with zero affiliation with the West – especially when it comes to brands and logos. In the UK, however, we have an extraordinary amount of freedom when it comes to choosing our style and how we wish to present ourselves. In some ways, it is a privilege to have a personal style, and it reveals a lot about our identity.

On particular milestones in our lives, we can change our style to reflect a big, personal change. We all know the cliché of cutting our hair short or changing its colour after a breakup to symbolise a personal change. Or else, when a teenager enters their angsty phase and wants to show the world they are grown up and make their own rules, and adopts the ripped, studded and fringed style that rejects childhood fashion. When Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries realized she was royalty, her frizzy mane was tamed into shorter, straight tresses. There are countless movies with big makeover montages that often serve as transition sequences.

We all have our own unique relationship with fashion – some of us are dedicated to the latest trends and celebrity styles, while others prefer to scope out more alternative looks and seek inspiration from less mainstream sources. As we grow and our identity changes and evolves, and so does the way we dress. I am thankful that I am more confident to have my own sense of style and not follow the teenage dream of Uggs, flared jeans, and concealer lips – but I am also grateful that as a young child I was allowed to dress up as my favourite Disney princess. As an adult, I am less aware of ‘trends’ and more aware of knowing what I feel comfortable in. Now, what I wear is either how I wanted to present myself to the world that day, (or, more likely, I’m wearing whatever was clean and comfy that morning).

Clothing and style aren’t just about wanting to ‘dress to your body type’ or following the latest crop top trend (please can this die out soon); it can associate you with certain subcultures and movements, and this in turn can help enforce a sense of belonging and community. For example, Punks, Mods, Goths can all be argued to be  ‘anti-fashion’ and to follow guidelines that are directly associated with their community’s ideology. Or, if your religion outlines how you should dress , then following those guidelines can be a powerful expression of your identity and innermost beliefs that ordinary clothes might otherwise mask. On the flip side of this, such statements of ideology can be prone to ostracisation or even attack, as we have seen with the rise of Islamophobia.

Interestingly, in jobs that require a uniform, such as fire fighters and nurses, people are often fetishized through their clothing – you don’t need to look much further than the vast array of ‘sexy’ Halloween costumes. This is not because of their actual uniform, which, in reality, is unsexy and essential to saving lives, but because the uniform is associated with qualities of the profession – e.g. strength and bravery or care and intimate contact. The individuals may not have these qualities but it’s a good example of basic assumptions based on style can affect how identity is perceived.

Ultimately, style is not just about the type of clothes we wear, but also about the way we show our individuality by taking high street items and turning them into a range of wardrobe combinations. It is also about the outfits we know suit us and make us look good, which in turn gives us the confidence we need to present ourselves to others. This confidence, as well as the trends we follow and the looks we love, combine to define who we are – both to ourselves and to those around us.

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