---- by Malcolm Barnard
  Fashion (like advertising (q.v.) to which it is closely related) is a central part of Baudrillard's account of consumption and consumerism: it encompasses and includes the commodities that we consume and our bodies, as well as the things that we wear (SED). Fashion exists only in modernity and it begins with the decline of feudalism and the development of capitalist economy and society (SED, SS). This is because fashion requires arbitrary signs that are not possible in a society in which mobility between classes is impossible or in which members are fixed in a particular caste. In pre-modern, feudal or caste societies, signs are 'obligatory' or symbolic: they refer inevitably to class or caste identities and to the positions of those classes and castes in social structures or hierarchies. Meanings here are fixed. Consequently, the objects individuals buy and wear in a feudal or caste-based society identify those individuals as members of particular classes or castes and locate them at a particular place in a social structure or hierarchy. With capitalism, however, there is the possibility of social mobility, of moving between classes, and signs are no longer tied to such identities and positions. Signs that are not tied to designating genuine identities and prescribed meanings are said to be 'free' or arbitrary and they may signify any identity and mean anything. In a capitalist economy, fashion and counterfeiting, or pretending and signifying an unreal identity, become possible (SED). Consequently, individuals living in a capitalist society can use objects and clothing to make themselves look like members of a higher (or lower) social class and to suggest a status other than they 'really' are.
  Baudrillard (CPS) uses two rings to explain what he means by fashion and to illustrate the various different logics that objects conform to. The first is a wedding ring and the second is an ordinary ring. The wedding ring is not fashion because it obeys the logic of symbolic exchange. This ring is unique and symbolic of a couple's enduring relationship; one would neither change it nor wear more than one. The ordinary ring is fashion and, freed from any symbolism, it follows the logic of sign value. This ring is simply an accessory and part of the 'constellation of fashion'. The logic of fashion is, for Baudrillard, one of differentiation, a logic he explores in order to develop and critique Thorstein Veblen's account of the function of fashion. Veblen argued that fashion was about conspicuous consumption and the way in which fashion was used by individuals in order to signify prestige and success: Baudrillard argues that the conspicuous consumption of fashion is the way in which social classes differentiate themselves from each other.
  Using the example of short and long skirts Baudrillard explains fashion as the endless return of differences where meaning, even beauty, is the product of these differences. Long skirts and short skirts are not meaningful in themselves and they are not symbolic of some other realm, morality or gender politics, for example. The move from wearing long skirts to wearing short skirts will have 'the same distinctive and selective fashion value as the reverse' (CPS, 79): it is only the difference between the skirts that generates any and all meaning the skirts are said to have. Difference here can account for the perception of the new, different, skirt as fashionable, but also for the perception of beauty. Even beauty is a product, or 'effect' of difference.
  Finally, for Baudrillard, there is no simple alternative to fashion, there is no escape from fashion and there is no way to resist or subvert it (SED). It is impossible to step outside fashion because there is no outside or beyond to step into: modernity means that all objects obey the logic of fashion. Even if one tries to refuse fashion by wearing items that are not themselves fashion (Baudrillard proposes blue-jeans as an example (SED)), fashion makes the refusal of fashion into a fashion feature. The logic of difference means that whatever item one wears, being different from other items, is inevitably drawn into fashion. The non-simple alternative to fashion as an endless proliferation of different signs and of signs of difference is the deconstruction of the very form of the sign and of the principle of signification.
   § advertising
   § body
   § code
   § modernity
   § sign

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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