top of page
image-4.jpg

Fashion, Wealth, and Body Image

Brian

Fashion to me is defined not by the trends but by how the person who is wearing it interrupts it with their wardrobe. It adds the elements of emotion and physical senses to our outer shell letting our personalities be expressive through each article of clothing. Some of us wear fashion as a sense of pride and to escape and embody a character. We use it to celebrate and have memorable moments with clothing. Fashion is storytelling and encapsulates our own personal history.

I also thought in my head I needed to physically look a certain way. I was much thinner and in great physical shape several years ago, but the realization was I wasn’t happy with myself mentally. I have learned to love my body and balance my mental state. Using my voice and ushering the next wave of fashion insiders to keep some of the history and learnings from my past to the new. When I look back at my luxury fashion career path, I realize the very little representation of color and diversity at the corporate level. I try to make it a point in any mentorship I am part of to give those who have the drive and eagerness to learn a chance. A chance to absorb what I have learned and connect them to a path in fashion.

 

What is the appeal of luxury fashion for you?
The story and people behind the scenes. What goes into making a collection from the fabric to the technical work in constructing an article of clothing. When wearing luxury fashion on my body I have noticed I carry myself differently. I have a sense of pride only I know who I’m wearing unless someone recognizes or compliments me. True luxury fashion has a rich history from brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Chanel, Valentino, Givenchy, and Christian Dior… just like history, they too have a story to tell on how they became household names that the majority of us know today. Those stories and their quest to become the brands they are today are what appealed to me in luxury fashion.

portraitsized-4.jpg

Inga


Fashion to me means creativity and expression. Fashion is different than just clothes. It's an idea, a feeling, and a way of telling a story.


I have perhaps become more aware of how people talk about fashion, how people come off wearing certain items, and how it affects their daily lives. A lot of the sample sizes are 00 and sometimes it’s hard to find models small enough for that. Definitely need bigger sizes. We try actively not to comment on models’ sizes etc. or their bodies in a bad way. As a creative director, I work with clothes that will never fit, but I am able to distance myself from taking that personally. It’s important to understand the difference between fashion storytelling and reality.

Liliana


I like to define fashion as a tangible version of myself and my identity. It’s multi-faceted though, and what I wear on a given day reflects more than just “who I am,” but also what I want to do that day and how I want to feel and be perceived. Fashion is my outlet for that.

Do you feel that your involvement in fashion has affected your perception of yourself or others?
Very much so. Clothing and the history of fashion are deeply rooted in fatphobia (and fatphobia is rooted in white supremacy). There is a lot to say about the way the industry contributes to the mental well-being of those working in it as well as those consuming it. Fashion has the power to help you and hurt you in so many ways, particularly in a capitalist society. Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings is a great text that explores the origins of society’s idealization of thinness and how it is ultimately grounded in racism. It really helped me reframe the ways I was viewing my own body, as well as others.

El


Fashion is whatever makes you feel your best and most confident.


Ironically, working in fashion has given me confidence. I think it is because we deal with so many different muses and styles. I think it would be a different case working at a regular brand.

The intersection of fashion, wealth, and body image in the United States

Barely any aspect of life is untouched by fashion. Fashion is in everything, from the way we choose to present ourselves, how we spend our money, and even how companies market themselves to the public. However, the academic community has largely ignored the trends and impact of fashion, deeming it “a capitalist manipulation of the public, associated with women’s pursuits” (Aspers & Godart, 2013, 172). As more studies come out about fashion, it becomes clear that the versatility of fashion creates a unique intersection between fashion, wealth, and body image. Fashion and wealth are related, however, less is known about their relation to body image. This intersection leads people to make stereotyped assumptions- limited representation and affordability, and unrealistic body expectations, all dictated by the fashion industry and designers. Studies have proven time and time that a “disproportionate number of women with [eating] disorders are associated with occupational or professional fields (e.g., modeling, gymnastics, ballet) that place a higher value on slenderness,” (Haworth-Hoeppner, 2000, 212).  However true those are, the issues run a lot deeper than that, starting at the very origin of fashion.

imagesized-10.jpg

Fashion does not have one definition, but Aspers and Godart define it as an “unplanned process of recurrent change against a backdrop of order in the public realm” (2013, 172). This could be interpreted in various ways, but one of the most important takeaways is that fashion is extremely contextual and would not exist without the ability to make choices and be capable economically of acting on those choices. Historically, fashion has been seen as a sign of status and wealth, with the upper classes maintaining the role of “trendsetters.” Liliana Miller, a copy editor at the luxury fashion consignment store Dora Maar, summarized fashion’s history by saying “clothing and the history of fashion is deeply rooted in fatphobia (and fatphobia is rooted in white supremacy). There is a lot to say about how the industry contributes to the mental well-being of those working in it and those consuming it. Fashion has the power to help you and hurt you in so many ways, particularly in a capitalist society.” Fashion is theorized to have begun “At the dawn of history, fashionable clothes, which were produced locally, could be afforded only by the upper classes.” (Aspers & Godart 2013, 174) This changed over time, as resources and production skills improved. This allowed fashion to be “diffused through war and conquest or traded, thus increasing the classes that had access to fashionable garments. The relevance of fashion increased with the modernization process of the West, i.e., during the nineteenth century.” (Aspers&Godart, 2013, 174). The original hold the upper class had in fashion never fully faded away. Because of this, the upper class and people in power dictated not only fabric fashion, but trends and even the idealized body. An example of this is the popularization of corsets, despite the many physical and mental issues it created. Corsets have been around since the beginning of fashion, coming in and out of popularity. Around the 15th and 16th centuries, wealthy women began desiring thinner waists and tighter “bosoms”. This idealized body image eventually trickled down to all of the classes, partially through conspicuous consumption, and left a lasting impact.

imagesized-15.jpg

As consumer culture and capitalism took a stronger hold in Western society, conspicuous consumption became a more common thing.  Conspicuous consumption is when people buy luxury items in hopes of appearing more prestigious and well-off.  There are two different theories about the origins and practice of conspicuous consumption. One theory is that conspicuous consumption is meant as a reference to high society. This indicates that people spend money on things that they don’t necessarily need because, according to one theory called reverential imitation, they follow the fashion of upper classes because of status, in hopes of being perceived in the same way. On the other hand, another theory called the competitive imitation theory implies that people dress like upper classes to show that there is nothing special about them. (Aspers & Godart, 2013, 178) This relates to both fashion and the idealized body. Dora Maar takes this concept literally, as the clothes being selected are carefully curated by influencers, who are called Muses. These muses “are chosen because they have admirable style and people want to dress like them. Their overall influence and reach are also considered,” according to El McMillan from the Merch team. The more commonly accepted theory is the reverential imitation theory, but it is important to not discredit the other one, as everyone perceives fashion, and their role in it, differently. 

The impact the upper classes have on fashion, and the phenomena of changing how one is perceived through conspicuous consumption create something called “normative discontent” which means the normalization by society of being discontent with oneself, (Haworth-Hoeppner, 2000, 213). So, in this situation, many women acknowledge that they do not have the “ideal” body and are expected to be discontent with that but live with all it entails. “Some women balk at the idea of fashion being able to affect their self-image, seeing it as an insult to their intelligence. Some women experience shame and guilt at not meeting size and beauty standards, then shame and guilt when they try, because they ‘should know better’,” (Hoskins, 2014, 109). This constant back and forth creates a vicious cycle and is believed to be in part related to the high value society puts on being slender, which dates to the origins of fashion. “Cultural standards of beauty emphasize slenderness as a key feature of feminine identity so that even women without eating disorders experience dissatisfaction,” (Haworth-Hoeppner, 2000, 212). Women are expected to fit into the standards dictated by high society, which only further reinforces the power they hold. The upper class continually changes these standards in an attempt to differentiate themselves from everyone else, but the more people follow, the more restricting and exclusive the standards become. It is a vicious, self-fulfilling cycle. 

Leaving people with this normative discontent might not be as much of an issue if people had equal access to clothing that is seen as desirable. These desirable clothes are often restricted to people in the middle and lower classes due to affordability and the clothing items being produced with a restricted size range. Acknowledging this, many companies jump on the marketing opportunity of limited options by exemplifying the limitations- by either only using models with a certain body type, or digitally enhancing the models post-shoot to meet the “standards” of the company. In recent years, many companies have been called out for doing this, including H&M and Boohoo. Although many more regulations have been put in place to help minimize this, it is unknown how many companies still subtly do this. Dora Maar actively tries to combat this, however, they acknowledge how hard that can be while working with luxury and designer clothing. The clothes they receive are from relatively well-off people, and as per historical trends, they tend to come in smaller sizes. Inga Rod, the Creative Director, acknowledges that while saying “A lot of the sample sizes are 00 and sometimes it’s hard to find models small enough for that… As a creative director, I work with clothes that will never fit…” This prompts the question, who were the clothes made for?

Clothes are often made with the ‘ideal’ body in mind and are intended to be flattering to that figure. This ‘ideal’ body is represented through models employed by the fashion industry. This creates even more dissatisfaction within the consumer since the clothes are marketed with these images of perfectly retouched models. However, upon purchasing the items, chances are that they won’t look like they did on the glorified model, which creates even deeper feelings of dissatisfaction and guilt. These models often “have a body type shared by just 5 percent of women in the United States… many women exist without the time or resources to attain a healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet, let alone attain a top model lifestyle,” (Hoskins, 2014,111).  Studies have found that people and especially impressionable children in low-income households “are at much greater risk of being overweight or obese,” (Boen, 2021, 80). This is largely due to the many food deserts that exist in America, especially in lower-income areas. Food deserts exist when there is no grocery store or supermarket within a 1-mile radius in urban areas or 10 miles in rural areas, of any one location. The lack of such stores is supplemented with small marts, which have a limited selection of fresh, healthy foods, but have a wide variety of processed foods. Typically, there are also significantly more fast-food stores in lower-income neighborhoods, which does not help with the lack of availability of fresh foods. The limited selection of nutritious foods caused by food deserts, in turn, leads to increased malnutrition and obesity rates among lower-income families. Without representation in the media of their body types, people tend to develop body image issues, and too frequently, eating disorders.

imagesized-6.jpg

Fashion, wealth, and body image are all closely tied together. Historically, fashion has been dictated by the upper classes and those in power. In recent years, there has been a shift in the dynamic as younger generations are starting to expect more from the companies that they buy from, and to survive long-term, companies need to learn and adjust. However, this does not fix the years and years of damage that the fashion industry and companies have caused people. It is important to acknowledge the intersection of these concepts because it is a good step towards making the fashion industry and ideas of wealth a lot less toxic regarding body image issues that people struggle with, either directly or indirectly caused by that toxicity. 

Works Cited

Aspers, P., & Godart, F. (2013). Sociology of Fashion: Order and Change. Annual Review of Sociology, 39, 171–192. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43049631

Boen, C., Keister, L. A., & Graetz, N. (2021). Household Wealth and Child Body Mass Index: Patterns and Mechanisms. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 7(3), 80–100. https://doi.org/10.7758/rsf.2021.7.3.04

Chitrakorn, K., & Biondi, A. (2021, August 2). Perfection is passé: Brands redefine beauty marketing. Vogue Business. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://www.voguebusiness.com/beauty/perfection-is-passe-brands-redefine-beauty-marketing 

Corset timeline. History of Corsetry. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2021, from http://tahliamckellartextiles.weebly.com/corset-timeline.html 

Haworth-Hoeppner, S. (2000). The Critical Shapes of Body Image: The Role of Culture and Family in the Production of Eating Disorders. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(1), 212–227. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1566699 

Hoskins, T. E. (2014). Fashion and Size. In Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion (pp. 108–127). Pluto Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt183p0z0.9

Interviews from my Co-Workers at Dora Maar https://dora-maar.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA5OuNBhCRARIsACgaiqW5B641klLxhO1QIV5MD0uUHRQ3J2tumiYamRGy1BbTRH6XBUIBlaQaAkMAEALw_wcB 

bottom of page