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Beyond Fashion: The Power of Style to Create Conscious Consumption and a More Inclusive Culture

The Distinction between Style vs. Fashion


be fearless be you

Style, quite simply, is a manner of doing something.

As a society we use descriptors of style to explain a type of execution or expression. We commonly use words like modern, contemporary, classic, and vintage among many others to do this. If we are artists or designers, we may dive yet deeper into the minutia to describe the specificities of the style of something. All these descriptions of style draw an image to mind, aiding in a visualization or a labeling to clarify our understanding. We use fashion similarly as a descriptor, but it is more limited and at the same time far more ambiguous. For instance, when we use it to express that someone is fashionable.

But what does that mean exactly….?

Some would say that Style is timeless, while fashion is timely.

When we examine Style through the lens of Fashion, the lines get very blurry. Make no mistake, that this is by design; more on that later... For example, one might elate about the great style of an individual’s fashion sense. I beg the question though…. When we say this, are we talking about the way that person’s style is put together in a unique and individual way, or are we talking about the fashion of them being current and on trend? Perhaps it’s something even more arbitrary like a high taste level or even their pension for designer clothing? Perhaps both, or one, or the other.

For the purposes of our conversation, this is a good time to make a distinction;

FASHION, refers to current trends. It is the dominant style within a given culture at a certain time.

STYLE, refers to an expression, a manner of doing something. Individual style is personal, and it is action; it is the way we express ourselves.

When drilled down, we can discern that the major driver of fashion is time. Couple that with the way current trends are disseminated via magazines, advertisements, or social media and popular culture will tell you that if you’re not timely, you’re not fashionable. It’s important here to call to light the fact that we humans crave novelty. While this helped us evolve, this drive is much to our collective detriment in modern times. Early on, subversive marketing linked our desire for novelty with a clock that runs faster than our natural resources, and unsurprisingly, runs congruent with capitalist, consumer, and disposable culture.

While our innate desire for novelty helped us evolve, this drive is much to our collective detriment in modern times.

consumer engineering
Earnest Elmo Calkins

A look back in history tells us that

more Ford’s Model T. cars were sold

once they were offered in multiple

colors. Dive into marketing history,

and you'll find Earnest Elmo Calkins, credited in 1932 with the theory of

“consumer engineering”

stating that effective advertisements

and designs could create an artificial demand for a product. Manufacturers could increase demand even further through planned obsolescence.

The disposable razor is a common

and prime example of this.

In Fashion, planned obsolescence is the constant introduction of new styles and colors; aka, the novelty we inherently crave. Sometimes 6 or more season worth of it a year!

It is astounding the amount of time and money designers and brands spend each season creating collections of items to build cohesive head-to-toe looks to be sure that their customer is always put together and looking fashionable - so long as they have followed the prescribed outfitting dictated by the brand. The cause and effect here is both monetary and emotional. One buys into a brand, receives positive feedback from outside sources, then one feels confident and returns to that brand to again acquire that sense of confidence that was only purchased in the first place. True, we make our own personal selections, and perhaps pair them with items we already own, once we start doing this, we are inferring our own Style onto the fashion we have purchased. Now we see again, how readily this distinction between style and fashion becomes a blurred line.

Let’s step out of the blur now and take this debate between Style and Fashion to another level, in advocacy of Style. Style is not simply just a matter of personal preference, but can also be an expression of personal values.

Our personal style reflects the way we each take action and make choices in our lives. It is observed in the way we express ourselves.

If someone is dressed head-to-toe in fast fashion, though they may be current and fashionable, their expression of style may also reveal a value alignment that is contrary to interdependence and conscious living. One could argue that their budget only allows fast fashion. However, if one embodies personal style, there are many opportunities to amass a very stylish, fashionable, and uniquely personal wardrobe in a more ecologically and budget friendly way. If Style is indeed timeless, and we purchase wisely in reflection of a conscious value system and of our own personal style; our items last longer, better suit our tastes and therefore remain relevant in our closets over time. In turn, we reduce the need for their replacement or have made them easy to pass on for further use by others – in effect, we reduced negative ecological impact overall, with Style.

By expressing our own unique style in a conscious and intentional way which honors a value system that supports interdependence and takes a stand for the radical change that must occur in the fashion industry we can challenge the prevailing norms of the fashion industry and create positive momentum for change. This will contribute to more sustainable and equitable practices across the globe, greater individual expression and creativity, and a more diverse and inclusive culture.

Choose Style over Fashion


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