by Emily Coogan

Join us on a trip to existential dread and back, stopping at fashion expression and identity manifestation on the way as we ask ourselves: can there be true individuality in fashion or in the context of the human species at all?
Individuality is the paradox that drives the fashion industry; we are fascinated by the idea of unique self-expression yet simultaneously chase widely adopted trends that guarantee social acceptance. As social beings, we seek approval through conformity, consciously striving for individuality whilst subconsciously being subjected to messages ensuring otherwise, and sociologically subscribing to whatever our herd is doing. The fashion industry hinges on this conformity, as fashion media encourages homogeneity and similarity in clothing choices to market and sell clothing and lifestyles.
Through fashion, we can understand and articulate the deepest levels of self; however, the search for genuine individuality remains at odds with our innate desire to fit in - a desire capitalised on by modern mass-consumer culture. The spoils of the contemporary fashion industry inspire greater potential for individuality than ever before, yet questions of conformity remain. In reality, fashion provides identities for us to negotiate, experiment, try on, wear, and return at our leisure. We are liberated from the historical confines of social dress, but the self is malleable and reactive to external pressures.
Some people are blissfully unaware of the conflict between individuality and conformity, while others are viscerally aware of the forces impinging on their fashion decisions. As removed as we may feel from whatever is in vogue, the contexts, situations, structures, and symbols that rule our lives, sit constantly at the periphery of our decision-making.
Our overruling longing to match our peers is most evident in the observation of fashion trends. Trends are created and perpetuated through repeated imagery, developing ubiquitous ideas of attractive costume. Whether you’re dressing for yourself or dressing for others, we are all susceptible to what is popular. Our individual identity subconsciously dances between trends that tell us what we want to wear and look like, pervading our ideas of personality expression. Biological or evolutionary insights aside, uniformity is a critical element of fashion, driving commercial goals within the industry. We, therefore, see certain brands pander to certain distinctive markets and create sameness for sales, blanketing self-expression with homogeneity.
Individuality is a complex and accumulative notion. We are the sum of our experiences and relationships; the human experience involves other humans, who are also products of their lived experiences. While we can choose to express ourselves through fashion, the visual appearance of that expression is part of something much bigger than any individual. The self is constructed via social relationships and governed by social programming and extrinsic markers that nobody is immune to. The individuality promised by fashion is a kind of relative individuality rather than an absolute one.
Fashion media maintains authority over individual identity, encouraging performance of the self according to the herd. Trends across social media platforms and marketing campaigns seduce us to conform, bringing into question whether personal choice and identity expression via clothing are mere illusions. Questioning whether such concepts correspond with our complex and social reality only sends us into a deeper existential spiral.
We humans are simple creatures, understanding that to socially ascend requires widespread acceptance, especially through mimicry as we find solace and safety in belonging and community. Balancing the capacity to express individuality with the lure of the association is a never-ending conflict - yet, the social self is really no match for the myth of the individual. Which brings us back to our initial question: can humans be uninfluenced in any sense? Can individuality coexist with capitalism? If fashion exists to help us express our individuality, why are we tempted to dress like each other? Are there are parts of me that are exclusively me?
If you enjoyed this piece, make your next read: Maker of the Moment: Iordanes Spyridon Gogos.

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