1st Global Conference
Friday 25th September – Sunday 27th September 2009
Mansfield College, Oxford
in association with Models 1: Europe’s Leading Model Agency
Fashion as Confession: Revelation and Concealment in Personal Identity
Temple University, USA
Fashion is often thought of as an important mode of self-expression. But while it may be a significant proclamation of an individual’s uniqueness, I’d like to discuss how fashion may provide a moment of self-concealment, even while the self is revealed. My paper will deal with the following questions: How is fashion both a veil and a performance? What are we performing in our fashionable costumes and what are we concealing? To what degree are we actually concealing aspects of ourselves in the public performance of dressing? I argue that fashion is intimately connected to both the notions of secrecy and concealment as much as it may be to self-expression. In this sense, the act of dressing may be similar to confession – as it becomes a public act of revealing what was once concealed.
So what then is the confession of fashion? One possible conclusion may be that fashion is both an admission and a concealment of consumerism/materialism. While we proclaim our individual “conspicuous consumption” in the articles of clothing that we wear, we are also displaying our desire to form relationships. Fashion is fundamentally about a deep desire to become a member a group and build relationships. In the same way that narcissism is a focus and love of the self, born from insecurity, fashion is an overt drawing of attention to the self, but in an effort to form relationships. And, like narcissism, fashion cannot be avoided. One cannot merely opt out, for to be “dressed” is a necessary condition for anyone living in contemporary society. Therefore, the way we choose to dress ourselves has everything to do with the ways an individual seeks to be known and understood against the background of social life.
The Performance of Authenticity
Radboud University of Nijmegen, Netherlands
Authenticity is fashionable. In the West it is important to present oneself as a sole individual. The way we dress should express our unique individuality. However, the internationally renowned artwork Exactitudes® by Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek shows dozens of photo series of persons picked up from the street looking identical. This artwork of ‘typage’ makes us realize that unique fashion is in fact just more of the same: we are part of a group or fashion tribe rather than a distinctive individual. From these art photos we can glimpse the peculiar paradox of the contemporary need for authenticity and originality.
Postmodernist thinkers have claimed that media endorse a culture of copy and simulation – which Castells has termed ‘real virtuality’. This generates a nostalgic desire for the authentic. More often than not, fashion looks to a national past to create an aura of authenticity (Lipovetsky). The Dutch fashion exhibition ‘Gone with the wind’ (2009) mediates elements of tradition and folklore as an attractive spectacle. Fashion, then, points to the performance of the past. It also allows people to perform their ‘liquid’ identity (Bauman). Our identity, clothed in fashionable dress, is like karaoke; borrowed and copied. Once everything has become performance, even our own sense of self, people long for the real, true and genuine. Gilmore and Pine, however, sketch the contradictions of the experience economy: the more unreal and unoriginal the simulated culture of the copy becomes, the more we demand realness and originality. Everything has to be ‘really real’ – including the way we perform our identities by dressing up. This paper will argue that authenticity will always be revoked by the real virtuality of media culture. Authenticity is therefore, paradoxically, a mere performance. As such, authenticity has become the holy grail of today’s fashion.
The Fashion of Virtual Space & Place
Chana (Connie) Etengoff
Department of Psychology, City University of New York Graduate Center , USA
The value of physical place has become easily transmittable via digital means, creating virtual space and place. A primary example of this phenomenon is the popularization of massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as Second Life – a parallel universe comprised of real time interactions occurring within a “3D online persistent space totally created and evolved by its users.” The collective global construction of Second Life is navigated by seven million avatars, the virtual alter ego personalized and created by MMORPG users. The real world anonymity of the virtual representation of the self, combined with the virtual dimensions of fantasy, position the avatar as an obvious medium of identity exploration via fashion choices and personas. The avatar’s capability to engage in an extreme exploration of identity at a cost below real world prices has provided important market research data to physical world fashion designers as they attempt to answer the emerging needs of the “techno-sexual” masses within the physical world. This relationship between physical and virtual space and fashion has been blatantly apparent in the synchronization of first and Second Life fashion shows as displayed by the coordination of parallel locations, schedules, and fashion trends. To date, Second Life users have spent millions of first life dollars on digital makeovers and clothing for their avatars. This perhaps hints of a parallel positioning of Second Life to the film industry during the Great Depression, as Second Life has become the 21st century’s affordable avenue of glamour, fantasy, and escapism. This paper will analyze the relation and interaction between Second Life’s virtual space and the power of virtual world fashion construction based on the discourses of geography, psychology, economics, history, and philosophy.