Keeping Face

As a population, we care very much about what we look like to other people.  Because of this, we become fans of a particular type of clothing–we choose a style and go with it.  

Erving Goffman, former president of the American Sociological Association, extensively wrote on this subject.  His most famous paper, ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,’ focused on how the majority of people are obsessed with being accepted, and that we would change things about ourselves to be accepted (a counter-example would be hipsters, etc).  He coined the term “expressive idiom,” saying that media tells us how to dress to be normalized, and then we tell the media what we do and do not like.  It’s a never-ending cycle.  He states,

” the social actor has the ability to choose his stage and props, as well as the costume he would put on in front of a specific audience. The actor’s main goal is to keep his coherence, and adjust to the different settings offered him. This is done mainly through interaction with other actors. To a certain extent, this imagery bridges structure and agency, enabling each, while saying that structure and agency can limit each other.”

As actors, we dress in a way that will gain acceptance and approval from the “audience,” which are our peers.  He goes on to explain that because of the different situations we find ourselves in, we dress differently for each situation.  Because of this, we have different sets, props, and most important, costumes.  This is where the different types of fashion sprout–evening wear, day wear, business casual, resort wear, safari–the list goes on and on.  The way we are dressed, in turn, influences how we act.  One of the most famous quotes fashion designer Coco Chanel states, “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.”

Michael Kors


2 responses to “Keeping Face

  1. As someone who knows virtually nothing about fashion, I found this really interesting. It seems the fandom surrounding fashion is more than just following trends, celebrities, or magazines– it’s about a particular way of living.

  2. I agree with Simon. Fashion fandom absolutely appears to be more than just following trends, it is a way of life. I very much enjoy the actor/ stage analogy offered by Goffman. A person’s “costume” has much to do with how they desire to appear on the “stage” and the audience response they attempt to provoke.

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