Fashion AND clothes

There are many different types of clothes, bought for a variety of reasons and purposes. Some are 'basics' and are worn time and again. Others are 'classics' and are bought for the long haul. Others still are 'fashion items' and are bought in a fashion moment, they are rich in the signs and symbols of 'now' and are quickly relegated to the back of the wardrobe. The differences between these garment types highlight the relationship between two frequently confused sectors: clothing and fashion. Although their use and looks sometimes coincide, fashion and clothes are not identical. Fashion links us to time and space, it is concerned with fast changing trends and is transitory. It deals with our emotional needs, manifesting us as social beings, as individuals. Clothing in contrast, is concerned chiefly with physical needs, providing a shield or shelter. Not all clothes are fashion clothes and not all fashion finds expression in garment form. Fashion plays a major role in contemporary culture and incorporates among other things: media, art, music, language and advertising.

'The relation of two rhythms: the natural replacement time of a garment or wardrobe,
on the exclusive level of material needs; and a rhythm of purchase, constituted by the
time which separates two purchases of the same garment or wardrobe. If a person
buys more than he wears, there is Fashion.' (Barthes, 1983).

Roland Barthes' way of categorising fashion and clothes into rhythms is interesting, if perhaps simplistic. It is important to note that fashion appears in a variety of shapes and sizes. A large proportion of fashion consumption is purely of inspirational and immaterial nature - through fashion imagery. Fashion can be what is set in motion when a designer presents the new collection on a catwalk in Milan. But equally, fashion can be the moment when a teenager crops a pair of jeans, adds a badge to an old sweatshirt and paints her Converse sneakers. Fashion is a celebration of a moment where an individual - through her clothes - is in perfect sync with time and place.

Studies investigating clothing production, use and maintenance (such as SusHouse, 2000) tend to treat all the clothes in our wardrobes as one, painting an average picture of use. Similarly environmental schemes at brands such as H&M (normally executed through a Code of Conduct) work to a 'standard' garment and fail to differentiate between various garment types. In contrast, this project acknowledges that an individual's wardrobe contains clothes of very different profiles, some washed frequently and worn 'forever', others only worn once and then buried at the back of a drawer. By being sensitive to an individual's actual interaction with their garments, we can start the process of re-conceiving of the way in which the clothing industry and the fashion sector clothe us.


Barthes, B. (1983), The Fashion System, Berkeley: University of California Press.
SusHouse (2000), Strategies towards a sustainable household: final report, CD-Rom.