Moe fenomen. The Phenomenon of Fashion

Ines Piibeleht


Since the last quarter of the 20th century, particularly after the “cultural turn”, the interest in fashion has been increasing in a variety of different disciplines. Fashion has begun to be investigated in many different contexts, using new theoretical approaches. Fashion can be regarded as a social phenomenon, a sign system, as art, myth, or the product of the fashion industry. The purpose of this article is not to provide a definition of fashion, but rather to raise the question of how to approach the experience of fashion analytically. The methodological issues discussed here emerged in the course of preparing for empirical research on fashion. The observations and comparisons that constitute the core of this article are the result of efforts to juxtapose different methods. The traditional history of fashion used a historical-epistemological strategy but, depending on how one defines culture, the meaning of fashion can also be analysed using methods based on different epistemological strategies. The phenomenological method elaborated by Edmund Husserl, which I have chosen for my analysis of the experience of fashion, defines culture through the experiential acts of individuals. Simply stated, phenomenology considers the world as it is given to us in our consciousness. What is most important for empirical research is that the phenomenological method makes it possible to study the structure of a concrete experience and to focus on the mechanisms of the subjective creation of meaning. Thus this article has two main foci: a theoretical analysis of how the experience of fashion can be analytically revealed using the phenomenological method, and a comparison of the phenomenological approach with methods based on other strategies. The analysis of descriptions in the first person makes it possible to highlight how experience has been constructed. People “see” fashion based on structures of meaning; when they describe their own experience, they describe the object as it appears to them. The experiential act acquires content as mediated through meaning, even though the structures of consciousness that lead to the experience are not expressed explicitly through specific experiential content. Referring to Husserl and distinguishing between the mode of appearance of an object and the apparent object, it is possible to draw attention to the way a fashion image appears to an individual, and to describe how changes take place in the content of the experiential act. No other epistemology allows for the analysis of a change in perception in relation to the same object. As the content of experience changes, so does the look, which in turn alters and influences the next experience. All intentional objects toward which our consciousness is directed are shaped throughout the process of experiencing them. We experience objects , see the form of these objects and their connections to design, their use of language, and a variety of other contexts characteristic of the era. Awareness of fashion develops in the course of experience, which in turn influences the content of subsequent experience. The experience of fashion is not something static, but a continuous process. Phenomenology does not purport to explain and analyse the reasons behind subjective and intersubjective meanings, but is rather oriented toward calling attention to the transcendental level of experience. With the help of narratives generated in the course of cultural coding, the objects we see on the (fashion) field have formed their specific horizons of meaning creation. As a code in cultural and social space which opens the meanings of cultural phenomena, fashion influences the perception of the “self“ and the object of concrete experience, as well as exerting a broader influence on the content of experience by means of a horizon of meaning. It is possible to develop Husserl's idea of the mode of the act and the content of experience in order to explain the creation of fashionability as a horizon for the subject’s look, and how, as a horizon of meaning, fashion influences the subject’s perspective on objects of all kinds. This, in turn, allows for the explanation of how the meaning of the content of the fashion experience influences the perception of a particular era.

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