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The Implications of Fashion on Culture

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The Implications of Fashion on Culture

Every culture has a story and the clothing within a culture begins to articulate that story. The book Contemporary African Fashion provides a platform for disseminated narratives where readers are able to apprehend the meaningful implications that clothing has in the larger context. Contemporary African Fashion is a consolidation of literally works from various authors, anthologist, professors, and ethnographers. The two Editors, Dr. Suzanne Gott and Kristyne Loughran, both have an extensive background in fashion textiles and global arts and it is validated in Contemporary African Fashion. Dr. Gott pulls from her collective knowledge of art history, anthropology, and folklore in evolving and educating various courses on African and global arts. Kristyne Loughran is an independent scholar who concentrates in African jewelry and fashion. These authors, among others who will be introduced later, work to explore the complexity of African fashion and what that means in a global context. The diverse and lively African fashion says a lot about the people of Africa and the culture they live in. Furthermore, these authors are able to obtain a great deal of significance associated with clothing and culture. The assessment of fashion in African continent provides an in depth perspective of how clothing can convey various different meanings and implications.  Along with that, clothing can be utilized as an outlet for expression whether that be expressing one’s own culture or associating with another. The crossover of clothing in different cultures enables an opportunity to transcend culture and individuality from one place to another. This review will communicate this argument through providing thematic evidence that includes clothing and how it pertains to culture, identity, politics, and more. All in all, Contemporary African Fashion corroborates that clothing and fashion is a medium of expression that can demonstrate essential properties about one’s own identity and culture, while simultaneously having the ability to integrate different cultures and identities into their own.

One major theme discussed throughout the Contemporary African Fashion is how fashion pertains to culture. Joanna Grabski, a Director of the School of Art and Professor of Art History at Arizona State University, writes about this in “The Visual City”. She discusses how clothing imitates the environment of the people in Dakar, Senegal while still creating and drawing from their own personal style and self-expression. The act of simply looking is a vital aspect to the creative process for their culture and specifically tailors draw inspiration from what they see around them. The Dakar culture is quite literally being used to design clothing, however it is also uniquely transformed to have fragments of individuality as well. In this way, fashion is a reflection of culture and identity. However, the Contemporary African Fashion also explores how fashion can transcend and integrate cultures too. In “African Fashion” Victoria Rovine, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies focus on African art and dress, discusses this point. In her literally work she determines how African designers assimilate fashion from other cultures while still preserving their cultural identity by blending the two. Many African designers will use Western and European styles while incorporating their own culture and native fabric to create something unique that appeals to both local and global markets. Subsequently this fusion of fashion allows for a transcendence of culture and deeper meaning.

This crossover of fashion does not only say a lot about one’s culture, but their personal identity as well. Heather Akou, Professor at Indiana University whose research centers on Islamic and Somali dress, examines cultural and personal identity in her essay “Dress Somali”.  She writes how in Somalia almost everything worn comes from someone or somewhere else. She goes on to say that “Somalis have become masters at borrowing ideas and objects”, so much so that there is a term for it (Akou, 192). The term bricolage is used to depict how members of subcultures take objects from various times and places and recombines them into new ensembles. When doing this, it is Somalis intent to somehow make it their own by personalizing it to their own identity and culture. Due to this there is a large range when it comes to fashion in their culture. Akou concludes with an example that validates this argument. She recalls a time Minnesota when three different members of the same Somali family all wore very different things – some more traditional and some more contemporary. But what was important to indicate was that each person was living out their own idea for how Somalis should dress and express their culture. Their clothing varied based on history and religious values as well as personal taste and fashion. These are all vital aspects to contemplate when dealing with dress in Somalia. However the Somali culture is not the only culture mentioned in Contemporary African Fashion that incorporates integration as a large part of their fashion trends. In “Secondhand Clothing and Fashion in Africa” author Karen Hansen, a socio-cultural anthropologist and former Professor at Northwestern University, surveys the significance of secondhand clothing for many countries in Africa. The secondhand clothing imported from the West is deemed as a commodity to many. However due to the politics at the time, this trade could be very controversial too. Regardless, this chapter focuses specifically on Zambia and the secondhand fashion market there. In the Zambian culture secondhand shopping is viewed more as a pastime than a need and it is in fact an essential aspect of their culture’s fashion. Furthermore, this specific pastime can act as an extension of culture. Hansen writes how salaula is a term that defines imported secondhand clothing in Zambia. The salaula encompasses influences from South Africa, Europe, and North America and subsequently the salaula fashions bring consumers into a bigger world. Due to this integration of fashion, the Zambian culture can be more aware of the world and fashion outside their culture. However, when consumers draw on these influences they do it in a way that is informed by local norms, which once again is tying in their identity into their fashion – similarly to the Somali dress. What makes this so noteworthy is that this practice is not a passive imitation in which the Zambian culture is merely dressing like the West; instead it is a form of cultural improvisation through taking an influence and recreating it to be their own.



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