Clothing is apparently the most symbolic cultural product of civilization. It speaks a silent biography of an age and makes explicit the ethos of an individual and his milieu the way few other products can attempt.
With the emergence of the knowledge economies, the new millennium has also witnessed the ushering in of the 'Experience Economies' wherein the modern day consumer lays strong emphasis on the experiential value accorded by a product or service. He has more discerning and selective, giving significance to a multitude of parameters in a product such as aesthetics, comfort, performance and value.
Global culture and the new age as it emerges are making new demands on Apparels and their design. From the embellished romantic historic to the "Organic" to the "New Age" and finally solemn, minimal and yet high-tech, the travelogue of design has taken crucial turns to reach the contemporary. With emergence of a global culture and a global consumer, Fashion and design today has new paradigms to explore and new societies to cater to. How deep it can go and how widely it can assimilate concerns of tomorrow, shall be determined by how well we design and merchandise.
Fashion is popularly known, as a particular idea or concept accepted by majority of people, may it clothing or lifestyle, ideas, thoughts or opinions (often used phrase "In a particular fashion" which also means mannerism to a certain extent). Almost in every part of life word "fashion" has a prime role to play.
But fashion is mostly presumed as clothing and personal adornment, or components of lifestyle. Though it has a larger definition than its popularly accepted meaning (mostly an adjective).
Desire and fantasies doesn't only govern fashion (way of adoption) and personal adornment, but function and habits (settled tendency or practice) infuses substantiality and perceived value to such cultural product.
Habits - from clothing to culture
Keeping a lot of papers in the shirt pockets, slanted pen fastened in shirt placket, pouch hung across the chest, trouser bottom folded, sleeves rolled up showing biceps, shirts half inserted in trouser waist, trousers clinging down the waist, t-shirts worn inside shirts (no matter whatever the season is), top two-three buttons opened in shirt/ kurtas, handkerchiefs folded diagonally becoming hair bands etc. and many more (psychologically each of them may have some or the other connotation or relevance).... many may wonder, from where these habits have originated?
Interestingly, these customization have evolved out of human needs and zest to personify their belongings, their interaction and understanding in terms of utility and relevance (Various manuals do talk about the utility of various functions imbibed within the gadget, and also precaution note etc. but does any manual talk about where to keep, at what angle shall it be kept during usage, and how much pleasure would it hold and so on). Interface between the user, object and environment generates set of rituals, which we perceive as habits (During 17th and 18th century a lot of mannerism use to deal with issues of good or bad habits, primarily originated of cultural and religious milieu, a differentiating factor amongst the cultured and non-cultured).
These customs and rituals (neo-habits) have originated with the changing sense of belongings, lifestyle pattern, means and modes of communication, interactivity to the real and virtual world and many such issues. Do our clothes really serve what are required in new-age lifestyle, and the "intermediate"***** patterns of living?
*****Somesh Singh, and Himanshu Vaidya had mentioned elaborate lifestyle pattern in "Intermediates future of fashion", a research project in Indian menswear.
Self Image- in search of Individualism
One may wonder why "habit factor" is emphasized, though other attributes are equally important which constitute fashion and trend. Habits are predominant cause, that effect' utility and usability pattern, be it physical, behavioral or perceptual. For example:
Plastic Money, I-pods, Hand held devices (PDAs), Cell phones and many such new nuances have become the integral part of daily life, which requires extensive care and protection. Their regular use has created newer Patterns of habit and interactivity towards clothing. Do we remember any single garment that accommodates these gadgets comfortably? Many may agree or disagree to this fact, and many Brands and Companies may claim that they have already provided POCKETS or AREAS, which takes care of such issues (Scientifically incorrect).
One of the recent surveys (personal contact method used amongst more than 100 students and faculty at NID and local people at Ahmedabad) revealed that 90% of people have quoted "difficult" to accommodate these gadgets in the existing garments and it may be due to the lack of ergonomically correct details.
Ergonomics: A department of Science that deals with Physical Behavior (Body dimension, age, weight etc.), Physiological behavior (How body works in different conditions, work postures etc.), and Psychological Behavior (Interaction with space, colors, textures etc). In short, the relation between user, product and environment. Input from Dr. Subir Das, Ergonomist, National Institute of Design.
Few suggestions are given to keep cell phone in trouser:
Habits here have larger connotation than what is accepted as a common practice. And these habits evolve particular behavior pattern, which identifies a "Cult" and creates a sense of "Individualism" amongst most of us. These may be borrowed from the surroundings, experience or extracted from elder ones or has inherited through generation. (The debate here is not over good or bad habits, but understanding its importance in order to bring necessary change in fashion and design).
In this context, we would differ from traditional concept of market segmentation that perhaps include variable/s like group of people belonging to similar geographical regions, behaves in similar manner, follows similar rituals, accustom similar social and cultural formats, opinions and set of beliefs and vice a versa. An often habit assimilates these features. (Physical, Behavioral and Perceptual). This new theory of market segmentation is based on habits rather than any other factual evidence.
However this segmentation needs contemporary design solutions to address problems rather than following traditions. Centuries are evident of change with the evolving context; even fashion today needs to be reinvented through new forms and meanings with modern value system, new beliefs and opinions and most importantly the new avatar of "Modernism" (Contra sexual, metro sexual and new emerging gizmos of fashion).
Adaptation and fashion
Looking into the theories of fashion, trickle-down theory, trickle-up theory, and trickle-across theory 5th edition, from concept to consumer, Gini Stephen Frings, what creates fashion, as FADS or CLASSICS are the endurance period? The time, change and acceptance are the three characteristics for its popularity and acknowledgement.
It means change is fundamental for survival and existence, quoting Charles Darwin's theory of Adaptation, "Survival for the fittest". Which meant refinement in mammals/Animal, nature, and plants with the changing context. Utility than just beauty. (Every form in nature supports utility).
If you look at the present form and detailing of garments, many such arguments may arise as 90% of people don't know why they are wearing collars, 85 % don't know why the buttons are round, and 95 % wearers don't know why there is right over left opening in case of women and left over right in men. (The genre is addressed as "fashion victims") These are few to quote; there may be more examples like this, which needs immediate attentions by thought leaders, industry and individuals. Most garments today exhibit aesthetics (style and popularly known fashion), and widely accepted for its "feel good" factor, bringing life cycle of products to a stand still. And the cause is its alienated presence for both user and context. A hypothesis of Global garment that fits all, fails in this particular case. (Assuming a size that fits all, impossible as a practice but probable as a concept).
Let us look at a very basic evolution pattern, in fashion that could very well support the above reasoning:
15th to 18th century fashion; the concept of beauty and adornment from the look, silhouettes, fabrics and detailing and overall body accessory was elaborate, voluminous, intricate and a well devised mannerism to carry. The luxury of time before industrial revolution allowed such detailed, elaborate and ornamental look. (The definition of "luxury" has many meanings, but the quoted one is to do with ample amount of time for recreation) The social and cultural value system had its' own impact and influence.
Most significant characteristics for a costume like appearance were the concept of "Waist". Popularly known as empire line (or closer to it) during the period. With the industrial revolution and emergence of "Middle Class" the concept of city demanded more functional look that could well accommodate working habit and culture. Waist came down from the traditional "empire line" to more anatomically correct waist. But the detailing remained same. Further with the world war-I and emergence of "Ready to Wear" Industry, the new look dropped "Waist Story" further. Interventions of scientific methods and processes redefined sense of belongings based on contemporary needs. Still what remained same is the detailing of garments. Post world war with the evolution of "New LOOK" proposed by ace designer Christian Dior, the concept of modern waist came in place. This was somewhere closer to navel.
"Hippy Look" in 1960's further added the spice to the "waist story" and what we see today in most of trousers and bottoms are the version of "Hipsters".
Such sea changes didn't enable garment details to modify i.e. as pockets, hem, belt etc. The drop of waist over past centuries has affected tremendously the use of pockets, especially the back pockets. In present context even, how many people still put their wallet and belonging into the back pocket? It has remained a style feature but no more a functional unit.
Details as mentioned are many if one analyzes, that essentially needed modification with the ergonomic comfort based on changing HABITS. A new design breed should emerge that caters to the need specific fashion and brings comfort to today's wearer.
Style: custom to customization
Habits are custom and style becomes customization, styles are the feature that distinguishes a product from universal to personal form. With today's lifestyle pattern most of our habits has become a custom, whether it's a morning bed tea, daily activities, a journey within the city, professional works, meetings and discussion, recreation and entertainment, family activities and so on, never ending.
Most of these customs are borrowed ones, (since the concept of story telling that use to be the medium in past to cultivate such tendencies habits with appropriate justifications, are now diminished, most things today has self discovered meanings) and then customized as per our emotional and physical needs.
In fashion, the sense of personifications has even evolved different mannerism for the wearer to wear these ensemble based on acts and activities. Saree, one of the most popular Indian attire, customizes itself in various drape forms that suits personal needs and regional values. The customization in most products has been added in terms of symbols or signs or functional add on. Later these ideas become source/s of inspiration for majority of designers and fashion leaders.
Contemporary clothing as well adds personal touch through, shirts shaped at side seams to be more fitted, cluster of top pockets to accommodates stationary and papers of designers, zipped up side pockets for bike or two wheeler riders, stole turned in face masks for women in Ahmedabad, captioned printed t-shirts describing one's ideology etc.
4. b: shirt worn over the vest helps in appropriate fit for slim body.
4.a the nano finish treated quilted vest that allows perfect air-permeability and gives slim wearer a sense of volume/built in psyche.
Custom due to habits varies categorical in case of men and women, college goers or a professional, housewives or an entrepreneur, and in almost all professions.
Style may have its own virtue, though needs to sustain value and relevance. Habits may treated subdue, yet creates panorama of cultures and cult. Does the value system prevail the way it was? How can a fashion remain universal when the niche and heterogeneity rules the segmentation? There are many more unanswered questions like this, which needs answer not immediate but in time to come.
"Fashion need not be fickle".
Author: Somesh Singh, Head of Dept., Apparel Design, National Institute of Design, India, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
"History of Ideas" reveal, every men had imaginations that he wanted to translate, some translations that could see light of world became truth and others in darkness remained unidentified and treated as a myth. Every reality originated from some myths, and acceptance and eagerness made it so. Any imagination, which indulges creative pursuits, cannot be justified until it becomes realistic with its first contact in real world; with trial and test only it emerges as an establish phenomenon. Most discoveries in the world are result of "serendipity".