What is fashion? Semiotic analysis made by Roland Barthes

In late 60’s, great philosopher Roland Barthes took fashion for his area of research. However, it wasn’t biased on anthropological approach like the texts nowadays. Barthes in his The Fashion System[1] defines two commutative class: one contains features of clothing – form, materials, colors; and the other: traits or circumstances – moods, states, activities, situations.  Sometimes the terms merge and are selected by a language. Barthes says that

leading to a change of clothing, it sought to change the world (and vice versa).[2]

Sense of clothing depends of verbal reception, the language is the boundaries. Fashion is used to express the personality (“a person in fashion”), although paradoxes of individualization of psychological encounters shows a man dreams of totality, thanks to the costumes he (or she) could be all at once and not have to choose. Fashionable person want’s to be himself (or herself) and someone else. This leads to find answer to the most important existential question: Who am I?

Barthes refers to Kroeber, who divides fashion according to the criterion of duration: at the ongoing historically, and more remembered, that is, the one which is remembered as preceding the fashion of the moment He noted that history does not interfere in the processes of fashion, or sometimes, in the case of historical upheavals accelerates some changes, but the rhythm of fashion is regular (slope is roughly half a century, and the full oscillation is a century). With these relationships it shows that in a longer scale fashion is a orderly phenomenon.[3]

Contemporary summaries of 18th century fashion change

Contemporary summaries of 18th century fashion change

Fashion is more than just clothes and accessories. It  is part of cultureand society, therefore we can say that it is a constantly changing process. At its essence it consists countless elements – the relationship between culture and mores, etiquette.

In various stages of human development, mainly due to changes in conditions and the need to adapt to them, there has been introduced further innovations in costumes. In the evolution of dress we can point out three stages: the first covers the period from antiquity to the fourteenth century – the costume changes haven’t changed much, he had no national character, usually a long and extensive, contained the remains of magical function. The second phase covers the period from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, the dress was short and fitted. The development of industry in the nineteenth century contributed to the emergence of a third stage in which the dress took on personal and national character, has been accelerating change, this was the time when fashion was born in the modern sense of the word.[4]

Research on the evolution of the fashion shows five types of clothing designs that appear within ten millennia of human history:collage

  1.  draped, formed during the body wrap leather or fabric, for example. Egyptian szendit;
  2.  founded by his head, made from a single piece of leather or cloth, eg. American poncho;
  3. closed and sewn with a few pieces of lightweight fabrics, having the sleeves, eg. Ionic tunic;
  4. sewn from several longitudinal lobes of material, open, ass
    umed on other clothes and fastened at the front, for example. Asian caftan;
  5. fit and close to the body and limbs, for example. Inuit fur clothing.



[1] Roland Barthes, The Fashion System, p.39
[2] Ibidem, p. 254
[3] Ibidem, p. 293 [in:] A. L. Kroeber i J. Richardson, Three Centuries of Women’s Fashion
[4] Francois Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment,  p. 15

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