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Lerato Scribess Sibanda - Power.Passion. Purpose - I am a writer, academic and spoken word artist -- http://beautybeginswithbe.blogspot.com/

Does fashion speak?

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“…Material culture achieves the outward expression of inward ideas…”
(Taken from “Culture and Consumption” by Grant McCracken)

I open with a quote not to claim mine own intelligence or to posit myself an academic; nor is it to intimidate the reader especially you who has been following this blog for a little while for the simple reason of attaining generic fashion advice. This quote in point is thrown into the mix first to add some hue of knowledge to this otherwise chilledout blog solely designed for beauty, fashion and style topics which are, arguably, vain-less themes…I encountered this quote (by Grant McCracken) in a book titled, “Dress and Popular Culture”which called for my attention by its unambiguous yet absorbing article, and secondly through skimming the contents page with my probing eye to find that there are so many sub-topics that fall under the umbrella term to which I’ll refer to as material “cultural” studies. This is the story of our times, fashion (in relation to culture) can be – and has been- theorised to an extent of having an entire anthology dedicated to it. Here are some of the titles of the essays compiled in this notional read which had me enthralled:

“American Denim: Blue Jeans and Their Multiple Layers of Meaning”

“A survey of Barbie Doll Fashions”

“Black Sororities and Fraternities: A Case Study in Clothing Symbolism.”

“A Hundred Years of Costume in Anglo – American Popular Music.”

Fashion can be viewed as a culture that implicates an individual’s style, preference, taste, or personality. Clothing indexes (or profiles) individuals and cultural groups or movements. People with similar tastes, customs, and mindsets often “uniform” themselves– this can be a conscious or subconscious effort- by wearing a similar style of clothing or complementary labels. A cousin of mine who professes himself  to be a die-hard mkakati (Pretoria slang for lePantsula or leBanzi) and underground motswako mc pledges himself very, very seriously to wearing ‘diChuck Taylor’while performing because this means that he is true to himself as a mkakati and to ‘keepin it real’. As far as I’m concerned cuzzie will never wear a Nike sneaker – not openly anyway- because this would mean that he is selling out from his self-imposed identity, even if this sneaker is dopest. I truly have NEVER seen my cousin without his signature All Stars which he wears so faithfully to the extent that they’ve become part and parcel of him and of his brand. At times when I’m missing him I draw a picture of him in the figment of my imagination and I always see him with his All Stars. Word! I could swear that even if he were to feature in my dreams he’d appear like an apparition in his dusty faded black All Stars. Before I started writing for this blog I never regarded my cousin’s commitment to the 1917 American sneaker as anything other than vanity or a classic case of narcissm but after picking up this book I’m standing on alternative planes of thinking in my perceptions: can we (and should we) view clothes as an extension of ourselves?  Does Grant McCracken’s motivation hold any weight in saying that “material culture achieves the outward expression of inward ideas?”

I am reminded of a girl from my previous church called Rebekah or fondly Bekah. One Sunday I got to church early for singing rehearsal so did Bekah so while we waited for the rest to arrive she and I got to hang a bit. I remember her admiring my outfit which she described as eclectic and funky. I was flattered but surprised to discover that  Bekah, a daughter to missionary parents who typically dresses quite sweetly yet conservatively say that she likes my outfit, more so when she said (can’t quite remember the exact words) that “inside I also dress like that.” Freaky statement!  But it cannot be denied that Rebekah’sconfession is a magnifier to some element of truth. What Bekah could have been saying is that her external impressions are not a legitimate expression of her inward ideas. So why not stay true to herself right? Easier said…Clothes come with associations. As mentioned earlier our taste and style naturally index a specific cultural group or mindset that we may not want to associate ourselves to or have others associate us with, hence sometimes it’s easy to fall prey to fashion-isms and be rendered ‘fashion’ addicts…

The clothes that we adorn ourselves with are subjugated with multiple layers of meaning, which are not necessarily (not always anyway) an extension of ourselves. Two Sundays ago while hanging out with my boo and his boys I listened half-soddenly to one of his friends declare in a loud verbose voice that his outfit costs more than a flat’s monthly rent (I am guessing his entire outfit amounted to R3000 or more).Great for him, I thought. I guessed that the labels he had put on were not making enough of a statement so he just had to state what he did to gain some sort of validation, and reveal his utter foolishness. Case in point? Yes fashion does have a voice, but how about we get our own..? Word!

Chuck Taylor All-Stars, or Converse All-Stars, also referred to as “Chucks” or “Cons” are canvas and rubber shoes produced by Converse. They were first produced in 1917 as the “All-Star,” Converse’s attempt to capture the basketball shoe market. After Nike, a known violator of human rights, purchased Converse in 2003, controversy arose due to the inherent irony of wearing a fashionably “subversive” shoe. Activists have been transitioning to similar styles by Simple Shoes, Adbusters, or Tom’s, in an effort to support their business principles. Click on link to read more:


Lerato “The Scribe” Sibanda

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