The Growth of Cultural Influences on Fashion



What is the link between culture & fashion?


Culture has been defined as ‘shared patterns of behaviours and interactions, cognitive constructs, and understanding that are learned by socialisation, or more specifically, the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.'


Designers and editors may deviate from previous fashion trends or adjust based on culture. Both fashion and culture are dynamic, therefore everchanging and influenced by everything from art and modern technology to social interaction and TV.


Oleg Cassini, a reputed French-born, American fashion designer quotes, "Fashion anticipates, and elegance is a state of mind... a mirror of the time in which we live, a translation of the future, and should never be static."


Fashion has been attempted to be defined by many people, but the recurring theme is that it’s about looking and feeling beautiful. In 2014 a journalist, Esther Honig published an experiment where editors in 18 different countries photoshopped the same picture of a woman to make her look ‘beautiful’. The results varied noticeably to conclude, our standards of ‘beauty’ change based on culture (and as a result, our fashion choices).


How can it differ culturally?


Generally speaking, in the West, we see fashion as a reflection of liberalism and in Eastern countries, it is governed by religion, traditions and gender roles. In Korea, you are only considered beautiful if you have very fair skin and there is growing popularity in plastic surgery procedures such as ‘double eyelid surgery’ and skin bleaching. These ideals were picked up from a desire to be more like Westerners. Ideals in the West include tanned skin, high cheekbones, and a thin body.


Climate and religion are also a part of culture and both influencing factors in fashion. In Pakistan, a very warm area, people prefer to wear lightweight clothing like lawn or cotton. Indian women used to be restricted to wearing a sari after marriage and Muslim women had to cover their bodies completely wearing shalwar kameez and burqas.


This is no longer necessary due to the introduction of feminism into these cultures. Women are expected to do as much as men nowadays, and live with fewer restrictions and closer to the Western ideals. This is a concept called ‘cultural hybridity’ where cultures merge.


Beauty salons are inclusive of men for the first time in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Such things were shamed upon for men as it’s seen as too feminine and a threat to gender roles. This is something I have been pressured away from in the past due to my culture, but as I have strayed from my religious restrictions, I see others doing so more frequently.


The norms of the time in which we live are highly influenced by media, celebs, actors and iconic TV shows such as Gossip Girl, Dynasty, and recently Bridgerton. Set in the early 1800s, Bridgerton features a range of elegant gowns and corsets worn by all the main characters. Both the definition of culture and the purpose of a TV show is to form a connection between the viewer and the characters.


Corset sales along with other clothing trends inspired by the show increased in sales. There was a 91% increase in corset sales on Etsy. Another example being Gossip Girl, home of iconic headband looks by Blair, and metallic party dresses by Serena. These influences are apparent to this day despite first being shown in 2007.


Why is fashion so important to us?


Globally we have reached a point where the market is saturated with new trends, ideas, and designers due to more demand than ever. Everyone is more conscious of their fashion choices and how they are presenting themselves. This was once seen as something of insignificance and a waste of time and money, but with the era of social media, this hyper fixation is almost forced upon us.


A 2012 experiment by a North-Western University in America concluded when participants wore what they believed to be a ‘doctors coat’ - a garment associated with carefulness and high intelligence - made half the amount of mistakes on a task compared to those not wearing one at all.


This is the theory of ‘enclothed cognition’. A concept I’d come to terms with through experience and began to use to my advantage to make me feel confident to relieve the pains of re-opening anxiety. Enclothed cognition can also apply culturally. Mariah, a British model (who was the first to wear a hijab) stated: “The hijab is a part of my identity but does not define who I am entirely. It makes me feel more conscious of my speech and behaviour, it’s a decision I’m happy I made.” The values bound to the hijab are identical to those preached by the religion, and not only provide self-affirmation and a confidence boost for the wearer, but provide visual cues to others as to how to approach and identify them.


What are the most recent cultural influences on fashion?


You could argue TikTok, a booming application/social media is a cultural influence. Originally meant for ‘Gen Z’ but now popular amongst all age groups. It allows ‘everyday people’ alongside celebrities to express themselves freely while getting copious amounts of views and influencing a part of their culture.


Popular videos start trends that focus on fashion, makeup, accessories, humour and many other topics. This influences many viewers to these replicate trends. The whole interaction with TikTok is an exact definition of culture. We gravitate towards others who express themselves in ways we identify with and possess characteristics that we like. This is taken a step further when we purchase clothes to consciously or subconsciously feel like our favourite ‘influencers’.


The algorithm displays videos based on your neighbourhood and previous likes/shares/watch times, keeping you within a niche market.


The nature of TikTok’s large audience has led to an inflated demand for fashion on a much larger scale. As of February 2021, there are 1.1 billion users on TikTok and it’s been downloaded over 2.6 billion times.


The latest fashion trends are showcased to the few who can afford them at iconic shows in places like Milan and Paris. Consumers then crave fashion-related content for inspiration and entertainment on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. Instagram has already taken advantage of the association by adding a whole shopping section and a way to sponsor posts to their app, bringing new forms of interaction with users and brands.


And this leads to one thing. Fast fashion continues to rapidly grow due to cheaper materials, faster production and shipping along with a growing consumer desire to stay up to date with the latest trends. It’s simple supply and demand. What used to be a visit to a clothing store or an occasional purchase, can now be an everyday activity with prices as low as £5 for a new outfit.


Of course, this has a knock-on effect with department stores having to close down as they struggle with the competition. Fast fashion is so appealing as it replicates designs of large designers’ garments that can be seen on celebrities, but without the extortionate prices.