There are two things taken for granted when conservatively discussing fashion, 1. Fashions traditional correlation with the portrayal of femininity and, 2. The primacy of the body within any clothing system. Theorists attempt to utilise both feminist theory and psychoanalysis, to discuss and challenge such problems, this is because both fields allows us to elaborate rather effective strategies for discussing female representation and the body. However when addressing the body, the body manages to sound amorphous and disembodied from the idea that we are talking about people, and lacks sensitivity and empathy towards the subject. It has been argued that this is due the problems of language, specifically the disparity of fashions seductive patter and the severities of contemporary analytical rhetoric (i). This is, perhaps, predominant when attempting to ascribe meaning to fashion.
Feminism (as a boarder discussion), is probably the most relevant and utilised theory/ies, producing important vocabulary for discussing how the representation of the female body construct the ideals of femininity *. These discussions of women’s fashion have resulted with unthinkingly preconceived notions about femininity. However it should be noted the cultural conception of the feminine is capable of “being reproduced and changed through dress”. (i). Evans’ and Thornton argue that because female representation is presented multifariously and at times contradictory, then ‘femininity’ is either tangible or unable to be truly manifested without associated dogma.
However, if women’s fashion is seen as a field of representations of the female body, then it becomes significant as to how cultures articulate what it is to be feminine, and how it addresses the representation of women. By appropriating the perspectives of psychoanalysis, feminist theorists are able to increase the reach of their analysis of representation. Evans and Thornton state; “Psychoanalysis suggests that picturing the body is fundamental to the construction of a gendered identity, and explores the psychological and social implications of sexual difference”.
This idea that gender and sexuality are constantly in flux is a common discussion within fashion critique. When discussing it within a psychoanalytic perspective, such notions can be re addressed as the idea that gender and sexuality are both structured and are a structuring discourse (i). What is derived from this the idea that the body is something that is culturally contrived, furthermore that this idea is complementary when defining it through either field.
* When discussing the female form and embodiment I am not limiting this to notion of a cis-gendered woman (born as female and associates with), but this discussion should also take into account of trans-woman (born male and associates with female) as well.
Evans, C. & Thornton, M. 1991, “Fashion, representation, femininity”, Feminist review, vol. 38, pp. 48-66.