This blog has closed. Follow me to 3stylelife. Thanks - Barry

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

General Fashion Philosophy

If I’m going to be writing a fashion blog, I really need to give you an overview of how I look at fashion. Many people view fashion as an art form, which to some extent is a fair statement. Obviously, people often overstate this with unnecessarily grandiose and pretentious statements;

  • “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel
  • Fashion is as profound and critical a part of the social life of man as sex, and is made up of the same ambivalent mixture of irresistible urges and inevitable taboos.” – Rene Konig
  • Fashion is so close in revealing a person’s inner feelings and everybody seems to hate to lay claim to vanity so people tend to push it away. It’s really too close to the quick of the soul.” – Stella Blum

Now, finding these ridiculous gems took about two minutes and a Google search. I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find many, many more. But these statements don’t really get us anywhere. I’m a mathematician, so I am naturally inclined to look at things from a more rigorous perspective. Dictionary definitions won’t do, they’re not constructive enough, rather, we need a working definition. Coming up with a definition for fashion closely parallels definition writing in mathematics. If the definition isn’t precise enough, we risk having to use judgment (highly non-rigorous) to determine if something that fits the definition really should be called fashion. If the definition is too restrictive, we can’t use it do anything interesting. Any information we’d like to derive about fashion would either be tied up in this definition or contradictory to it. Our work is certainly cut out for us.

Let’s begin by looking at what you and I have control over in getting clothes on to our bodies. First, we have control over what individual products we decide to purchase (or construct, though most of us make very few of our own articles of clothing). We do not have any control (unless you’re in the business) over what products are made available or for what price they are made available. Second, once we’ve built a wardrobe of individual items, we have control over which permutations of these items we decide to wear on a given day, and in what configuration. We’ve got an incredible number of choi.ces. If you’re building a wardrobe and decide to purchase 10 shirts, and you go to some stores and see 50 shirt choices, then you can create a staggering 10272278170 [math: combinations], [math: permutations] sets of ten shirts! Then, say you wake up in the morning and look in your closet which contains 10 shirts, 8 pairs of pants, and 4 pairs of shoes. That’s 320 distinct outfits right there.

Now, if all shirts were the same, all pants were the same, and all shoes were the same, this would be an easy decision (and fashion would seemingly become trivial, as we’ll see when we get to our definition). Of course, there are large numbers of distinct clothing items available for purchase. We need to examine what factors allow us to distinguish among different pieces of clothing. I claim that there are five:

  • Color: Fairly self-explanatory, this refers to the color(s) of the garment.
  • Texture: Refers to the physical texture of the fabric the garment is composed of.
  • Pattern: Refers to the arrangement of distinct colors on the garment.
  • Shape: Refers to the shape(s) the garment takes when worn.
  • Fit: Refers to the way in which the garment adheres to the body.

I argue that if two garments have the same color, texture, pattern, shape and fit, then they would look exactly the same on you. Thus, these five things provide the information we need to decide what pieces of clothing to purchase and to wear.

But what’s the point? Why do we invest time and money into making these decisions? What makes us move past the utilitarian need for clothing to protect our bodies from the elements and fuss about whether to wear the black or blue suit today? Well, that fashion. And that’s a really unsatisfying explanation, so allow me to elaborate. For us to spend resources (both mental and physical) on deciding what to wear, there must be some motivation, some goal. Of course, these goals are not the same for each person, or the same for you each day! In the example above, if you wear a suit to work everyday, normally you probably don’t pay much attention to which color you wear each day. But the day you interview for a promotion, you may very well spend thirty minutes trying to figure our which color will give your potential new boss the best first impression. A more basic and universal goal is abiding by social norms. I bet that most of you put on matching socks today, out of a habit grounded in the goal of not being found wearing mismatched socks (and thus avoiding potential embarrassment). However, some goals are more difficult to unravel; such as why people are often told not to wear brown shoes with black pants (to be covered another time). It is often this kind of confusion which causes people to be put off by the idea of fashion. In reality, fashion is nothing more than the following;

Definition: Fashion is the selection and organization of garments to be worn, based on the color, texture, pattern, shape, and fit of each garment and the relations of these qualities among the garments, to achieve some goal(s).

Of course, the hard part is figuring out what combinations of garments achieve a particular set of goals, and why this is so. It is this somewhat scientific approach that underlies my philosophy of fashion. As this blog progresses, I intend to write about the following things;

  • Why I have particular fashion goals.
  • How to achieve these fashion goals.
  • How to understand the governing dynamics of fashion goals.


Yin Mon said...

I found your blog through fabulous festival. I really like your way of describing fashion. It is simplistic yet complete. Keep it up.


fashionablemathematician said...

Thanks for the support, hopefully I'll be contributing to the festival more in the future!

Share/Save/Bookmark Subscribe