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|Written by Christopher Massardo|
|Monday, 11 May 2009 19:00|
The model gracefully glides down the runway, poised and strong. She stops at the end, points to herself and says, “This cut has great symmetry; the colour means I’m bold, strong, and confident, and it was inspired by the sun.” As convenient as that sounds, it doesn’t happen. Models don’t usually crack a smile, let alone explain their attire. What actually happens is when the model hits the end of that runway and the crowd sees the design, no speech required. The design symbolizes all of those things sewn into a beautiful piece of art.
I love fashion for many reasons, primarily the symbolism and inspirations that are embedded in those designs. It would be hard to say there is nothing symbolic about fashion. Most designers’ outlooks and personalities are so apparent in their work that when you see a dress you can instantly tell who designed it. To me, that is a testament to talented craftsmanship and dedication.
Even in the most practical sense, let’s say you are one of three people working at the same position, on the same shift, and you produce the same type of product. At the end of the line, the boss can determine by the workmanship which product was done by which employee. That says something about you: your work symbolizes and speaks about who you are. So many people want to make an impact on the world -- they want to leave a piece of themselves for others to remember -- and yet, for some reason, very few people seem to notice that everything we do, and everything we put our effort into, makes an impact on others and symbolises our personality traits.
Fashion symbols are around us all the time, usually in ways that most people don’t think about; to many, fashion is just a part of everyday life. For example, in some places in North America, you can be attacked or killed for wearing a certain colour or style of jacket because it is assumed that you have a gang affiliation. I’m sure a lot of you have heard of such a thing happening, but if you haven’t lived in those conditions, could you imagine having to choose your outfit based around that premise? ”Blue goes great with my eyes, but I don’t want to get shot over it.”
An example of this sort of behaviour occurred in my own high school. While I was attending, nobody could wear white or red laces in black shoes or boots due to the assumed connection to racism. Not many people would see laces as a fashion symbol. I, however, do, and I think you should take a minute and look around at what you can already tell about a person by what they’re wearing and how they’re wearing it. People are smart enough to know that if they dress in a certain way, people will generally stay away from them. Or, conversely, when you go for an interview for a job and want to make a good first impression, how you dress and what you wear can strongly affect the outcome.
Symbols aren’t always as obvious as big peace signs on the front of a t-shirt; it can be a simple assumption that an ordinary outfit gives you when you see somebody. When I walk through downtown Ottawa and I see well-groomed man in his late 20s or early 30s, wearing a nice suit, clean shoes, and a well coordinated tie, I think to myself, “Management - government employee - probably has a nice car” - all based on a glance at how his attire presents him. Maybe I’m particularly judgmental, but in fact we all do this sometimes, and at one point it likely ruled our lives. High school teens specifically, while many of them state they would not want a dress code or have to wear uniforms - and they practically yell about how “individual” they are - usually create a non-verbalized dress code for the company they keep. If you’re a jock, it’s jeans, a polo, and a semi-military or suave hair cut; punks, put on your studs, boots and braces; art kids wear flannel shirts, cardigans, torn jeans, and out-of-bed hair.
Regardless of the age group and the era, clothing presents to the everyday public some general traits about our personalities and who we are. I must be on to something, because several self-help books tell you to change your “image” or to “dress differently” based on what your goals in life might be. In several books, one of the first things you’re told to do is to “change your outside.” If your attire reflects a positive image, people will assume you’re happy and successful. We’re told to work on the outside first to make the inside better.
If everything in our world is based so much on face value, why do we still look for deeper meaning? Symbolism and fashion have another great correlation; it’s all a matter of perspective. Interpretation plays a huge role in both. A burning bush to some may seem like a miracle or a great sign, when it is just a burning bush to others. A cross to a Christian could symbolise protection, but something very different to someone of a different religion. Or how about the dark ages? An era that seems dark and violent to some could inspire a designer’s collection to show a beauty in that darkness.
We see what we want to see because in everything we see some part of us to which we otherwise can’t relate. We see the fashion industry as something glamorous, beautiful, and over-the-top, when, half the time, it’s messy, last minute and thrown together, just like us. Everything is a matter of interpretation; we see symbols and miracles when we need them the most - just as we see beauty when we want it the most.
Photography: Denis Murphy
Make-up: Bridget Cameron
Models: Nadine and Svenja @ CoverModels Management (Ottawa)