For a couple of detailed articles about this phenomenon, check out the links below:
Fashion is a Feminist Issue
Reconstructing the Meaning
These do a much better job of explaining my point than any summary I could whip up, so I hope you're feeling scholarly today. :)
But, as I got to thinking about this idea, it occurred to me that this applies very much to those who are part of subcultures often identified by specific styles - namely, Goth, Punk, etc.
With the rise and popularity of fashions like Pastel Goth or Nu-Goth and the ever-present "Boho Hippie Vintage" stuff, it may be very hard to identify if a person is indeed part of a specific subculture or just dabbling in a variety of styles. There is nothing inherently bad about this, but it does pose problems unique to some of us.
At the same time, it presents us with a sort of relief from criticism about our life choices - after all, if little Suzie the Valedictorian wears black lipstick, it can't be all bad, right? Unnatural hair colors are trendy, so no one's going to bat an eye at your head of dark blue locks. Probably.
Our personal style stems from who we want to be or who we feel we are deep inside. Our identities are heavily influenced by culture and environment, and our fashion styles are part of this culture. Hence, a certain fashion can have very specific connotations that we seek to align ourselves with because it best fits who we are. We find common ground with others through our adoption of these connotations, we begin to feel as though we own them.
So when someone outside of the Goth subculture decides to don long black dresses and striped arm-warmers, it can be hard to resist the urge to claim it as belonging to a specific group and deny the outsider fashion rights. And really, it's silly. We know this, but I guess it all comes down to a knee-jerk reaction.
The point I really want to make in this post is that the language of fashion is changing. The rules no longer mean what they used to and thus, certain motifs no long carry the same connotations. Wearing a giant black hat with a veil may have been associated with funeral wear at one point, before it became an identifying marker for a particular Goth. And that same image may no longer be associated with any specific message. A polo shirt no longer means you're a rich preppy snob. Jeans used to be for the working man, now they're worn by everyone. So yes, this has been happening for a long time, but definitely not on such a large scale.
It is my hope that for many of us, this will also work in the opposite direction. We do not need to adhere to a particular look to feel connected to a certain group. Today I'm wearing a vintage pink and white striped dress with minimal makeup and curly hair. Do I feel any less Goth? Do I feel inclined to avoid The Cure on my playlist today? Of course not.
The only difference is that the average Joe isn't going to automatically pin me as a Goth. Fine, because it doesn't really matter. In the end, it's really hard to pin me down as anything, because my look changes so often. Some days I wear all black. Some days I like vintage dresses and pearls. Maybe tomorrow I'll wear a maxi dress with a crochet vest and crimped hair. I prefer to keep people guessing. And that's becoming increasingly common in the fashion world today.
Honestly, I think it's the best thing to happen in the industry. There's nothing wrong with experimenting on our identity and trying on different facets of ourselves. There's also nothing wrong with pretending to be someone we're not once in a while - if living your little fantasy harms no one then who cares?
Goth fashion is moving beyond messages and meanings, much like mainstream style. Rather than a rigid structure of encoded symbols, fashion has become art - appreciated for the image itself rather than what it might represent.
Are you a narrative or an image? Are you a book or an abstract painting?
Let me know in the comments below!