Can Fashion Reflect Social Change?

Posted on June 16, 2020 by Stephanie Triplett

Social change, by definition, is a prominent change in behavior patterns and cultural values. Consumers are now speaking up as activists more than ever before, and with the continued rise of social media outlets, the voice of the people is being heard loud and clear in a different light. One that may not be as commonly thought about is the effect that social change has on fashion. What would you say if I told you that social change has actually been a huge contributor to fashion and its changes for a while, and it’s only growing? 

Good Fashion for the Planet

Fast fashion is a huge giant that creates 15 million tons of textile waste each year. An increasing amount of fashion brands are listening and looking out for the planet and its animals. Such brands are creating change through positive and sustainable practices opting for fabrics that are eco-friendly. Studies show that consumers are becoming more conscious of the products they purchase, including apparel, and are more likely to support brands that follow eco-friendly practices. This is changing the view that fashion is disposable. What’s even better about these eco-friendly brands is that they’re not only looking out for the planet but also for their workers, ensuring that their manufacturing and production is done responsibly, ensuring that their workers and laborers are protected and safe while working overseas. Apparel companies that care for the environment and its workers are direct results of the conservation movement and fair trade.

Feminism & Fashion

For decades women have been conditioned to wear garments that restrict their freedom. Coco Chanel is credited for changing the shape of women's garments, creating a streamlined look and menswear-inspired cut that aligned with the newfound shift at the time of women in the workplace and obtaining their right to vote. This pivotal point was the start of shorter hemlines, less bulky clothing, and self-expression through clothing and fashion. While this change started decades ago, feminism is getting the recognition it deserves. Clothing companies are showing their support, adding slogans to their garments that uplift women and their essential rights for equality. Taking it even further, brands have begun to select people to represent their brand that also supports the movement.

More Pride for All

The LGBTQIA+ community has been considered a minority of society that has been quietened and overlooked for ages. There is still much work to be done, but many clothing companies and people are bringing awareness to this community of people. An astounding number of companies have begun to celebrate pride month in June by releasing exclusive selections of clothing covered in rainbows of color with slogans of acceptance and love for all people. Not only are products being released that support this community, but companies are raising or donating money to organizations that support LGBTGIA+ causes. On a similar note, clothing companies have started dedicating lines to androgynous or gender-neutral clothing to promote dressing in a way that makes every person feel confident. 

Fashion for All Bodies

Clothing sizes have been anything but inclusive for far too long (unless you’ve picked up sewing and have mastered the art of drafting custom patterns that cater to your specific body type), which isn’t the case for a large percentage of the population. There's good news- Brands have started to make a shift towards a more body-positive clothing industry, realizing that plus-size figures want to be stylish, too. It's also becoming more normalized for brands to offer a wider range of sizes for all with lines for tall, curvy, petite, maternity, and plus-sized figures. While clothing is beginning to represent more body types, so are other areas of the industry. Ads and runways now include models that aren't just the one size fits all beauty standards. It’s becoming more normalized to show the stretchmarks and cellulite or extra bits and bobs of skin that have always been just outside of the typical beauty standard. Society is full of beauty that comes in all shapes, sizes, and conditions, and the fashion industry is finally making a place for natural beauty.

Racial Inclusivity

The elephant that’s been in the room for far too long is finally making its presence known. The fashion industry has a lack of racial inclusivity, especially when it comes to the people of the black community. From ads to runways models of color are finally being represented. More than that, we are at a pivotal point where black representation in fashion and life needs to be addressed with clear plans and actions behind them. Brands are pledging to listen to consumers and taking actions to provide more black representation in all aspects of the industry from inclusive  management opportunities to support for black-owned companies. On a similar note to the feminism included above, some apparel companies have started to take a modest approach, including more modest lines. The real change is being made from the ground up to be inclusive from all angles.

Fashion is a reflection and expression of our history. Social changes affect fashion in every way, and while there is still a long hard road ahead, the changes we are seeing are what I like to think of as just the beginning of a better, bigger picture that can continue to be more beautiful from one day to the next. 

What shifts have you noticed in fashion as a result of social changes? 

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