Is Globalisation affecting our Identity?

Duplicating and Cloning Identities

Two or three years ago I wrote this piece below on how globalisation, society may be affecting us, our identities and our attire. Since then, there has been a political backlash to globalisation, yet technology and the flow of information through the wires have not stopped. Despite, all the news there is about our data, and our protection, the tools of technology and social media are ever present in our lives. We all seem to take it, to have and to hold, for better or for worse....till death do us part. Although, even then our presence on our social media may continue. 
Suffice to say, that there has been a political backlash to globalisation, yet within many societies we yearn and need to stay closer together in a hope for a peaceful world.
In regards to how we each choose to communicate to the world through attire, though individuality in an era of women empowerment is fighting strong, things, aspects, the globalisation/cloning of identity and that push, may still be affecting our identities, our fashion and how we project ourselves. And so, at this time, 
it felt that the below topics needed an online arena to open up the field of discussion with many and see what you all think. 


​Is globalisation affecting our identity? Surely, probably, definitely. Is it affecting the way  we dress, our perceptions of fashion? Surely, probably, definitely. For, as Zygmunt Bauman has stressed, “we are all being ‘globalized’-and being ‘globalized’ means much the same to all who ‘globalized’ are” (1998:p1). (Yes,even back then, in 1998! It has just kept intensifying).

Fashion is an enabler as a means of communication it helps state and express to others not just, who we are, but whom we think we are at a particular moment in time, in our lives. Historical reference and context of clothing helps explain much, and  yet  “the  historical trend has been followed, by in large, by the psychological trend. The term of reference here is no longer the spirit or style of a period, but the psyche of the person wearing the clothing” (Barthes:1993;2004; translated:Stafford:2013:p24). A point to consider towards, our perceptions on fashion and how we react towards it. Furthermore, upon reading Roland Barthes’s study on the language of fashion, we come across, his appraisal of Flügel’s work, who “[...] used the lexicon of Freudian symbols to describe human clothing as the ambiguous expression, both mask and advertisement, ​of  the unconscious self.” (Barthes:1993;2004;translated:Stafford:2013:p31).
 
Personally, I wonder what my unconscious self was saying throughout the years. I recall, the first time I lived in Paris for work experience in the fashion industry, I had included in my suitcase, a couple of raincoats, having had associated the city with it. Why? Not sure (the raincoat is a very British attire too), but it was probably some film I had seen, a cultural power streaming through that had seeped into my head and stuck through my childhood. I was projecting an item of clothing onto an occasion. What did this say about fashion and identity? If “identity can’t be compartmentalised” (Maalouf:1996;translation:Bray:2000:p2), then, could a garment’s connotation vary its meaning through territories, depend on where a person was, with whom a person was with, or with which community it was affiliated with? And yet, fashion though forms (small or large) communities, through its industry or, through those that gravitate towards or around it, is also about individual style. 
 
Technology, which is moving faster than we are finding the tools to deal with and understand, facilitates communication, yet the Internet can distort our relationship with time and space, making the other side of the world feel so close, and rendering human interaction less of a necessity. A tool, pushing the notion that, “individualism is the quintessential product of modernity” (Ham: 2000:p127). Nevertheless, individualism and individuality are two different things. Even if society has become more individualistic, influences whether from other communities, or cultures, occur. Fashion and tastes travel through electronic wires and “[...] what is interesting in clothing is that it seems to participate to the greatest depth in the widest sociality” (Barthes:1993;2004;translated Stafford:2013:p20), thus open to globalisation.

Complying with “Anthony Giddens definition, it means, acting and living (together) over distances, across the apparently separate worlds of national states, religions, regions and continents” (Beck:2000:p20). With technology, globalisation is an instant cross-national phenomenon. Fashion influences once breezed in through films and magazines, today emerge from social media, such as Instagram. Social media is all about sharing, sharing an individual’s identity towards forming or being accepted into a communal identity. Through virtual communities, a person can choose to exclude the images of everyday ‘real’ life, and put forward a fantasy life, filled with just sparkle and smiles creating a ‘better version of ourselves’ identity. A shared sense of fashion online can occur due to similar tastes or experiences and also from the impact of a company’s marketing and branding. But the pursuit of fashion and images intertwined with the net can also bring about social anxiety (if an item or a fashion beauty notion is not within our reach) or FOMO (fear of missing out)(http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/fomo), one of the terms that has help explain the impact social media has had on society. Or for fashion, we could transform it to, FONO (fear of not owning).

If we do refer to historical context, clothing marked a person’s social situation, and “to change clothes was to change both one’s being and one’s social class, since they were part and parcel of the same thing”(Barthes:1994:2004;translated:Stafford:2013:p61). This identification has not changed as much as we may like today. We still associate clothing with social status. A person’s chosen fashion becomes a target for onlookers to decide which socio-economic background a person may belong to. The thirst for designer fashion may on occasion be associated with aspiring towards a higher social status, or to affirm and confirm to others one’s social position. This thirst might have been exasperated by technology. Cloned recognisable symbols of high fashion, through social media, travel faster than was once possible and seem deceivingly reachable. However, high street shops opening across a multitude of cities, have made fashion reachable, giving the vast majority of us a key to instant trend and a choice of clothes in a similar style than the expensive equivalent. This global outreach has formed identities across borders and across the net crossing over the borders of social status too.
 
A chosen fashion can make assumptions on a person’s identity: sexuality, religion and nationality, as well as any political affiliations. Just think of the Black Panthers and the power they projected with their style, or the mini skirt in the 60’s representing women’s liberation, a scarf reflecting moments of history from revolutions to humanitarian causes, and the 70’s hippie style associated with peace. Designers have had their input too through the years, with Katherine Hamnett’s political slogans and Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Climate Revolution’ or ‘I am not a terrorist’ T-shirts. Part of why fashion’s come and go, is due to it usually being affiliated to a cause or a frustration. Sub cultures, such as Teddy Boys or the grunge scene, have come about at a specific moment in time to have a voice. Fashion can also create an emotion that takes on an identity, whether for a career, with power dressing or like the disco era, be about looking good and about escapism. Today our identity can escape through the wires. No one needs anymore to go to Studio 64, just click click click and Studio 64 or other forms of entertainments, can be at your disposal through the internet in your own living room. Perhaps, it all used to happen more organically, more naturally with fashion dispersing across the globe, as, the message affiliated with the item of clothing dispersed at the same time, through soft power: film, art, fashion. Now, though messages disperse too through soft power, it relies more on technology (even print press is increasingly online). There seems to be less time for reflection or organic growth to occur. Artistic or political meanings that are sewn into the seams of our clothes move on as instantly as the next branded or PR tweet or post is made. Yet, technology as a tool has provided 'us' with the capability of more instant action  and to ask for more accountability from companies. 
 
So now, our affiliations are with social media. Yes we have access to different cultures, but there’s also an array of same global enterprises that multiply themselves all over the world, from fashion companies such as Zara, Chanel, H&M, Hermes to Starbucks etc. Surely certain cities are becoming uniform. Perhaps as Finnemore mentions, there is “the expansion of Western' culture as a 'world' culture" (1996:326-333). However globalisation does not just flow one way, it flows and moves in different directions “No country or group can shut itself off from others” (Beck: 2000:10). Fashion has endlessly been inspired by all parts of the world, projecting all aspects of it, suits, kimonos and kaftans onto catwalks, yes it modernises and modifies, but it does not discriminate from where it chooses its pool of culture or research. Though national dress is often deprived of its original identity and the design approach may take on an Orientalist method, the intention to represent a diversity of cultures in design, (as in designing fashion), is present. 
Yet at the same time, we have to acknowledge, that we are often fed the same images whether we are in Tokyo, Los Angeles or Dubai. The images alter, taking into consideration the marketing studies of a country, but the vision of identity and beauty seems to be uniform. Yet, since globalisation is not unidirectional, it should be allowed to offer different meanings of fashions and beauties, spreading diversity, and a variety of body images.

And yet, though the fashion industry sometimes dictates the norms of an idealised beauty and globalises it, it also can turn it on its head, surprise us and break norms. Because once fashion globalises an idea, or puts an idea out in the open, it usually searches for the opposite to present on the catwalks and put in the magazines. Fashion is about trends, whether about ideas, designs or images. But diversity and a variety of body images need to become norms in the industry and not just be for a moment, a trend, a branding.

It is easy to forget that there were always currents that came and went flowing globally. 1950’s Hollywood glamour toured the world, and impacted fashions globally. Furthermore, we have had companies multiplying, giving birth to a McDonalds and a Coca-Cola culture as well as a counter culture. There’s no new formula, it is just that now, it is moving as such a fast pace with technology, it is getting difficult to keep up with.

If identity is being affected by globalisation, and globalisation is constantly growing and moving through technology, then, we could associate Bauman’s theory of “Liquid Modernity” to the effects of fashion on identity through globalisation. Bauman’s theory states that “change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty”. For modernity, is a constant movement, there is “no ‘final state’ in sight and none desired”, (Bauman:2000:pviii-ix). Modernity is liquid, it is “forever ‘becoming’”. (Bauman:2000:pviii). Fashion identity is too, constantly moving, changing and “forever ‘becoming’” (Bauman:2000:pviii) with “no ‘final state’ in sight and none desired”, (Bauman:2000:pviii-ix).
 
Not in sight, hiding behind our clothes or masked by them, lies the individuality of our mind, our unconscious self. Until that is, humanity finds a tool to start reading our minds, search our brains. And as Alec Ross mentions in his book, "The robots depicted in the movies and cartoons off the 1960s and 1970s will become there reality of the 2020s" (2016, p16). I am sure they will be globalised too. AI.Style. Artificial Intelligence fashion. Futuristic fashion awaits.  
 
​In a round table on “Fashion, a Strategy of Desire” between Barthes, Duvignaud and Lefebvre in 1966, Henri Lefebvre stated that “Fashion is also concerned as much with literature, painting, music... [...] it is the whole society which is implicated.” (Translated:Stafford:2013:p81). So today, the whole society is implicated (or soon will be) through technology, whether, if affected by automation or identity questions connected via social media. We all now have a voice, but how many of us are being heard? Yes globalisation affects fashion identity, but this is nothing new, it always has through a different wire, it just is that we are more aware of how fast we are all going viral on the internet.
So perhaps we should take Lefebvre's notion and “not forget that fashion is a game. Getting dressed up is wanting to play” (2004: Stafford, 2013:p84).
Some games hurt though.
And despite globalisation of our fashion identities, as Maalouf suggests, ‘our identity’ is “made up of many components in a mixture that is unique” to us (1996:p2). Individual fashion style will live on through many who believe that though "the individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself". (A quote some say by Friedrich Niezsche (Bruce2009:p42) others by Rudyard Kipling).
 

-Barthes, Roland.[First Published in France 2004 Editions du Seuil (1993:Oeuvres Completes-Tome 1; 1994:Oeuvres Completes-Tome 2; 1995:Oeuvres Completes-Tome 3: All at Editions du Seuil)].2013.Translated by Stafford, Andy. The Language of Fashion. Published by Bloomsbury. 
-Bauman, Zygmunt.1998.Globalisation: The Human Consequences. Published by Polity Press.
-Bauman, Zygmunt.2000.Liquid Modernity. Published by Polity Press.
-Beck, Ulrich.2000. What is Globalization? Published by Polity Press.
-Finnemore Martha. 1996. Review by. Norms, Culture, and World Politics: Insights from Sociology’s Institutionalism. International Organization, Vol 50, No 2. The MIT Press. www.jstor.org/stable/2704081 
​-Gary L. Bruce. 2009. Quotes for Misanthropes. Mira Digital Publishing. St Louis MO. USA
-Ham Chae-bong. 2000. The Cultural Challenge to Individualism. Journal of Democracy, Volume 11, No 1 http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/journal_of_democracy/v011/11.1hahm. html
-Maalouf, Amin.1996.Editions Grasset & Fasquelle.2000.Translated by Barbara Bray. In the Name of Identity, Violence and the Need to Belong. Arcade Publishing.
-Ross, Alec. 2016. The Industries of the Future. Published by Simon & Schuster


 

words and illustration by Nour Saleh