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The Evolution of Fashion and Its Psychological Impact on Society

Some argue that fashion evolved into a form of self-expression, while others believe it’s a way to conform to societal norms. But what happens when the two clash? Take the trend of ripped jeans, for example. Is it a way to rebel against the norm, or is it just a way to fit in with the cool crowd?

evolution of fashion

It’s amazing how fashion has evolved throughout history, from corsets and crinolines to skinny jeans and crop tops. Fashion has been a significant part of our lives since the beginning of civilization. It started as a means of providing protection from harsh elements, but now it has evolved into something that is more than just mere clothing. It is now a statement, a representation of oneself, and a reflection of the society we live in. Fashion has become a form of communication, a way to express ourselves without saying a word.

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You might think that fashion is a frivolous pursuit. I mean, who cares about the latest trends and designer labels when there are more pressing issues in the world, like climate change and income inequality? As a personal stylist and a keen observer of human behaviour, I believe it’s not just about clothing; fashion is a form of expression, and it has a profound impact on society’s psychological well-being. Fashion is like a language that speaks to our individuality and identity. It’s an ever-changing art form that has the power to inspire, motivate, and transform people. 
It’s a reflection of our personality, values, and beliefs. Fashion has the power to influence our mood, behaviour, and even our self-esteem. Let’s dive deeper into the evolution of fashion and its psychological impact on society.

In this article, I’ll take you on a journey through the evolution of fashion and its psychological impact on society. We’ll explore how fashion affects our emotions, self-esteem, and confidence, and how it has the power to shape our perception of ourselves and the world around us.

From Ancient Egypt to the Runway: The Evolution of Fashion

The Caveman Couture

Picture it: a group of cave-dwellers huddled together around a fire, clad in animal skins and furs. They may not have had much in the way of fashion sense, but they knew one thing for certain: the right outfit could mean the difference between life and death. A sturdy pair of boots could protect against sharp rocks and cold weather, while a well-tailored coat could keep the wearer warm and dry.

Back in the day, cavemen and cavewomen were all about function over fashion. But let’s not forget that the fur coat was also a status symbol. The bigger the coat, the more powerful the caveman.

From Fig Leaves to Fashion Weeks: A Brief History of Fashion 

When we think of fashion, we may picture models strutting down a runway in the latest designer clothes, or maybe even our own wardrobe filled with the latest trends. Fashion, however, has been around since the dawn of human civilization. From the humble fig leaves that Adam and Eve used to cover their nakedness to the elaborate costumes worn by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, fashion has always been a way of expressing oneself and standing out from the crowd. 
In ancient times, clothing was a means of protection. As time passed, fashion evolved into something that was more than just functional. It became a way to differentiate between social classes and to express one’s status. 

In the Middle Ages, for instance, clothing was used as a way to identify one’s profession or trade. During the Middle Ages, fashion was influenced by religion, and clothing was seen as a way of expressing piety and humility. Women covered their hair with veils; knights wore armour, and the clergy wore robes and cloaks.

In ancient Greece, fashion was a means of expressing individuality, with women wearing colourful tunics and men donning draped garments.

In some cultures, clothing was also a form of artistic expression. For example, the ancient Egyptians used clothing to convey their social status, with pharaohs wearing extravagant clothes and accessories made of gold and precious gems to signify their divinity and power, while commoners wore simple cotton robes.

The Renaissance Evolution of Fashion

The Renaissance era marked the beginning of fashion as we know it. Suddenly, fashion is no longer just about practicality; it’s about art and beauty. Fashion began to take on a more creative form; it started to become more extravagant, with luxurious fabrics and intricate details, using clothing as a form of self-expression and status symbol. It became an industry, with tailors, seamstresses, and designers creating bespoke garments for the rich and famous. 
Was a time of great cultural and artistic change in Europe. It was also a time when fashion became more important than ever before. The wealthy began to dress in elaborate and ornate clothing, with men wearing tight-fitting doublets and women wearing corsets and voluminous skirts. The corsets made them appear slimmer and more delicate, which symbolized a higher social class. The corset also restricted their movement and breathing, which represented the constraints that women faced in society. The more elaborate and extravagant the clothing, the more elevated one’s social status. The Renaissance also saw the rise of fashion magazines, which helped spread new trends and styles throughout Europe.

 But as the centuries pass, fashion becomes increasingly complex and, at times, downright ridiculous. Corsets, powdered wigs, codpieces—oh my!

evolution of fashion
Leopard Sequin Dress
White Cotton Shirt Sample, Similar Heels Shoes

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution brought about significant changes in the fashion industry. Clothing could now be mass-produced, making it more affordable and accessible to the masses. This led to the rise of department stores and the emergence of fashion as a form of self-expression. With more people able to afford fashionable clothing, it became a way to demonstrate one’s social status and taste.

Evolution of Fashion in the Roaring Years

As society evolved, so did fashion. The 1920s saw the emergence of the flapper dress, which was a direct rebellion against the restrictive clothing of the past. Women began to wear shorter dresses that allowed them to move more freely, symbolizing their newfound freedom and independence. 

In the 20th century, fashion became more democratic, with ready-to-wear clothing becoming increasingly popular. The increase in mass production and advertising also played a significant role in shaping fashion trends. Women’s clothing became more revealing and form-fitting, while men’s clothing became more casual.  The rise of mass media and celebrity culture meant that fashion trends could spread more rapidly.

The Groovy 70s

Now let’s jump to the 70s when fashion was all about peace, love, and bell bottoms. The hippie movement brought a new sense of freedom to fashion. Suddenly, it was cool to wear tie-dye and fringe, and everyone was rocking platform shoes. Plus, the afro hairstyle was all the rage. It was a time of self-expression and individuality.

The Glamorous 80s

In the 80s, fashion was all about excess. Big hair, big shoulder pads, big jewellery—the bigger, the better. It was the era of power dressing, and everyone was trying to climb the corporate ladder. Fashion was a way to show off your success and assert your dominance in the workplace. Plus, who can forget the iconic leg warmers and neon colours?

The Minimalist 90s

As we moved into the 90s, fashion took a turn towards minimalism. Suddenly, less was more. People were embracing a more casual and comfortable style, with grunge and hip-hop fashion taking centre stage. The rise of streetwear and athletic wear meant that fashion was becoming more practical and functional rather than just for show. 

The Tech-Savvy 2000s

Nowadays, fashion is all about merging technology with style. From smartwatches to fitness trackers, technology is changing the way we dress. Plus, with social media, fashion has become more accessible than ever. We can see what celebrities and influencers are wearing and get inspiration for our own looks. It’s a time of innovation and experimentation in fashion

Fast forward to today, and fashion has become a way for people to express their individuality and creativity. Fashion is no longer just for the elite; it’s accessible to anyone who has an interest in it. The rise of social media has allowed for even more diversity in fashion, as people can showcase their unique style to a wider audience. It has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry that affects the way we dress, think, and behave.

Image Creator

Same Cut Silver Sequin Dress, the Same Leopard Print Sequin Dress Different Cut.

The Psychological Impact of Fashion

It’s no wonder that the psychology of fashion has always been so intriguing. After all, what we wear says so much about who we are and how we want to be perceived by others. Take, for example, the power suit. The term alone conjures up images of bold, confident professionals striding through the city streets. But why do we associate a certain type of clothing with power and success? Is it just a matter of cultural conditioning, or is there something deeper at play?

Of course, the impact of fashion on our psyche isn’t just about individual identity; it’s also about societal norms and expectations. Think about it: when we see a group of people all wearing similar clothing, we automatically assume that they belong to the same social group or subculture. We make assumptions about their interests, beliefs, and values-based solely on their appearance. And when we step outside of those norms, we’re often met with disapproval or even ridicule.

Fashion trends can have a significant impact on our psychological well-being. Studies have shown that dressing well can enhance our mood and cognitive abilities, making us feel more competent and capable in our daily lives. In fact, fashion can even have a transformative effect on our personalities. As the saying goes, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” By dressing the part, we can change the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us, leading to greater success and fulfilment in our personal and professional lives.

When we dress in a certain way, we can feel more confident, powerful, and attractive. In which way exactly it depends from person to person, is obviously because we don’t all feel the same, think the same, and live the same by all means. Fashion can also influence our social interactions and how others perceive us.

Moreover, fashion has become a powerful tool for social and political activism, with brands using their platforms to raise awareness of important issues and promote positive change. From sustainable and ethical fashion practices to body positivity and inclusivity campaigns, fashion is no longer just about looking good but also about doing good.

The Future Evolution of Fashion

So, what does the future of fashion hold? As our society continues to evolve and become more conscious of the impact of our actions on the environment and on each other, we can expect fashion to follow suit. From innovative and sustainable materials to new and diverse styles, the fashion industry is poised to make a positive impact on our planet and our collective well-being. Technology is already playing a significant role in fashion, with the rise of e-commerce, social media, and virtual try-on tools. Plus, with the rise of augmented reality and virtual reality, fashion might become even more digital and immersive. Sustainability is also becoming increasingly important, with more and more brands adopting eco-friendly practices. And more and more customers embracing the re-wear, secondhand, and vintage norms in a perfect marriage between digitalization and retro. A retro-future personal style that is more of a statement is a form of activism. 

evolution of fashion
Burgundy Flower Brooch

Fashion as a Reflection of Society

In conclusion, fashion is more than just clothing and what we wear; it’s a reflection of society and its values. Also, it is about who we are and who we want to be. By embracing fashion as a tool for self-expression, confidence, and social change, we can all contribute to a more vibrant, diverse, and inclusive society.

The evolution of fashion has been shaped by historical, cultural, and social factors and has had a significant impact on our psychological well-being. As we continue to evolve, it will be interesting to see how fashion trends continue to influence our behaviour and attitudes.

More on its evolution: on TikTok, I do regular 3-minute fashion history videos for each era, with images and facts for a more eloquent understanding. I’m a strong believer in education and even more in self-education, so let’s make fashion great again by going beyond the superficial with layers of knowledge and culture.

evolution of fashion
Cheers to self-expression!
I'm assessing fashion and iconic characters through the lens of cultural theory, with a focus on symbolism, art, and anthropological references. Making connections between diverse things and thinking extensively about a particular topic is what my reflections entail.

A good article to read is: “ZEBRA print | Fashion Cultural Appreciation“.

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Photo source: Personal Archive

MARIA-DROB_Fashion Archivist

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