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Fashion - Conformity, Individuality or Both?

In April 2018, I was tired and annoyed. For the past two years I had been a youth politician rapidly going through the ranks and bringing my new-found more formal style into my everyday life. Suddenly though, I felt like everyone else I knew was wearing the same style, and for me that meant that I was done with it. So, I sat down, opened my laptop and bought a bunch of clothing from Adidas.

Truth be told, I have not really worn them that much. It took a few months but eventually I reversed towards my old style patterns. A style inspired by the only three "idols" I really have: Danish journalist and podcaster Esben Bjerre, footballer and fashionista Erik Sviatchenko, and the fictional character Neal Caffrey from the White Collar tv-series. However, I still try to innovate and be creative, so I do not end up as just another guy in a striped shirt.

For me, fashion is a way of expressing my individuality though it is within the cultural norms of the reference groups I conform to.

Fashion Conformity is difficult to escape

"Conformity is the real fashion crime. To not dress like yourself and to sublimate your spirit to some kind of group identity is succumbing to Fashion Fascism." -Simon Doonan.

But is it really possible to not conform in some degree to a group identity? A 2019 study showed that even hipsters and other non-conformist groups eventually conform with a group due to the rapidly changing trends. It is only the changing trends that increase fashion conformity.

"You can throw on a combination of clothes you love and feel express who you are. You’ll be filled with all the confidence in the world. But the second you step outside your door you immediately start to fill up with regret. You can see people looking. They’re judging you, they think you’re a weirdo. Why on earth did you think that wearing a baseball cap with a maxi dress, trench coat, and New Rock boots was ever a good idea?!?!!" -Anna Fox: Giving Fashion The Finger

Some argue that the conformity of school uniforms helps relieve some of the social pressure by having everyone conform clothing wise and allow other aspects of their personality to come through.

Can fashion (r)evolutionise culture?

Conformity in clothing and fashion is hard to escape, whether it is explicitly mandatory as uniforms or implicit through social and cultural pressure. However, sometimes fashion can also help culture develop and be more inclusive.

Some of the cultural figures who have helped push society in a more inclusive direction over the last two years are Harry Styles and the 2021 Eurovision winner Måneskin. Harry Styles and his stylist Harry Lambert have long been using fashion looks to push the culture both within the fashion business and create a dialogue outside the fashion industry about gender norms and expectations.

Inspired by Harry Styles, Måneskin has continued to push that dialogue. They themselves had to evolve into a setting where they were comfortable being themselves. They started wearing make-up and nail polish while lead singer Damiano David wears gender neutral clothing.

These cultural icons have helped push the boundaries of social conformity. And while conformity may be difficult to escape, pushing the boundaries will allow more people to express their personalities.

The pressure to conform can also be relieved, if we stop judging and putting social pressure on each other. The "Worst Dressed" lists are retiring for a reason and that is a trend I would like to conform to.


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