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by Archaeology Newsroom

Fashion and Anxiety

The relationship of individuals to fashion is socially mediated. Individuals are frequently too anxious about the choices to be made to proceed without various forms of support and reassurance. Where possible, support involves close friends and family who are trusted to give advice reflecting care and concern. Where these forms of support are themselves too fraught or are unavailable, there may be recourse to catalogues and commercial advice or finally to fully structured regimes of clothing advice such as provided by CMB. In practice, individuals may use a combination of such supports. Certainly, we do not wish to deny the existence of women who do not resort to any of these devices and who are, indeed, relatively unanxious about their clothing choices. Nevertheless, generalisations appear to be warranted about a pervasive and, we suspect, increasing anxiety around the evaluation of any particular choice of clothing, alongside an intensive concern to know what the normative fashion choice should be. The term normative appears appropriate in that it is used to infer both a tendency to return to an imagined homogenising norm (e.g. the little black dress), but also a vague, but present, sense of morality associated with this. Indeed, even where individuals make an effort to be distinct, they seem just as concerned to properly establish what it is they are being distinct from.

It is important to recognise that what we see around us cannot be reduced to any simple moral agenda, since what has been presented here is inherently contradictory. You cannot have democratic liberty and equality without a concomitant sense of anxiety that is the precise result of that experience of freedom. It is above all the emancipation that was achieved through feminism that has left women with this huge burden of freedom and this further accentuation of much older fears and concerns over social embarrassment. But if the alternative is a return to those older forms of authority, of the constraints of officially sanctioned sartorial codes, and an unwarranted respect for the voice of industry elites about what fashion “is”, then it may well seem that an anxiety that requires still more shops to be visited before making a choice, or that makes a full wardrobe appear to have “nothing in it”, may, on reflection, be a price worth paying.