Before we truly get started here, think about these unusual facts regarding dressmaking, fashion, and clothing:
In pre-US Hawaii, a feather cloak was a sign of status reserved exclusively for tribal chieftains.
Ancient Roman senators were granted the exclusive right to the color purple – a color with added stature given the great expense of purple dyes at the time.
The manufacture of Arab headscarves is done along very particular procedures, using specific materials. These headscarves are considered holy to them.
The tradition of the white wedding dress comes from the color’s symbolic association with purity and innocence, characteristics all brides wish to project on their special day.
Yellow was the royal color of choice in ancient China, and its use was reserved for the Emperor alone.
In olden days, temple priests had special vestments that they wore in the execution of their sacred works, and death awaited anyone failing to observe this requirement. Even today, the preparation of particular priestly vestments must be performed by specifically authorize people, and under very specific conditions.
Indian Sikhs don special turbans, a strict tenet of their religion.
Fashion, Politics and Spirituality
These are just a few examples of how fashion, politics, and religion have interplayed throughout all of human history.
As a species, we place great emphasis on the adornment of our bodies and the clothing that we wear. To some degree, this is as true today as it was when the above examples came into being.
As human populations grew around the world, societies developed to include various social strata, including sects, castes, and hierarchal roles. Clothing became a key means of identifying ones self as a member of a particular group, and of identifying others and their place within society. Consider familial tartans in England and Ireland.
Many nations have national uniforms for their military and even traditional garb for everyday citizens. Your average Jewish Rabbi and Catholic Priest is easily identified even in today’s society by their clothing. So it has been for years, and remains today.
Status and Economics
As has always been the case, certain echelons of society have access to fashion items not available to others – the very possession of which grants societal status. What may have been gold jewelry or purple fabric in days gone by is a coach handbag or pair of Manolo Blahniks today. Luxury of this level – even knock-offs, really, isn’t attainable by everyone, so those with these items clearly have some level of wealth.
Celebrity clothing – the fit, the cut, the material, and the presentation – have always captivated the “common man,” so it is today that magazines, web sites, cable news shows, and whole industries have sprung up around tracking, predicting, replicating, and selling the clothing worn by the stars. Everybody wants to feel glamorous, special, and sexy – what better way than to be seen in threads reminiscent of the most famous among us?
The speed with which production houses can start turning out the next big thing is staggering. If Taylor Swift walks down the red carpet in a new designer look on Tuesday, you’ll find that look for sale in at least five places online by Wednesday afternoon. This is the tremendous power of the fashion industry today.
Another way that fashion houses turn a profit on their relatively low overhead is through brand names. A pretty normal-looking handbag immediately gets a fiscal makeover if Coach picks it up as part of their line. Similarly, a Fruit of the Loom T-Shirt costs less than half what you’d pay for a Michael Kors Tee, even if they’re identical in every way! This is a strange reality of fashion and economics.
Is all of this status worth the markup on the clothes? In a purely economic evaluation, of course not – there’s nothing functional to be gained by the label or image of a famous line. That said, if there wasn’t value there, people wouldn’t buy these clothes. It’s really a decision you’ll need to make on your own.
Recommended Read; Fashion In Focus: Concepts, Practices and Politics