Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2018-19/Imperialism in Fashion

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This chapter focuses on fashion’s role in different disciplines and the extent of imperialistic influence in the disciplines of interest. It will be presented in four sections: introducing fashion as an interdisciplinary academic field, then zooming at its scope in anthropology, politics, and economics.

Fashion as an Interdisciplinary Academic Discipline[edit | edit source]

A young discipline of 30 years, fashion lacked academic interest because of its regardance as a subcategory of material culture. However, throughout the years fashion aroused curiosity among scholars and became a topic of research because the abundance of methodological and theoretical frameworks that fashion contains, and the interdependency of fashion and other disciplines to expand knowledge. Accordingly, examining fashion from an educational lens helps in terms of providing insight into the interdisciplinarity of it. Holly M. Kent’s Teaching Fashion Studies and Heike JenssFashion Studies: Research Methods, Sites and Practices are seminal works about fashion studies that both prove the interdisciplinarity of the methodology to study fashion by providing subject-specific examples. For instance, the section in the former book, “Analyzing the Social Functions of Dress in Different Historical Eras” highlights the links between the fashion choices of societies in history and how they attain knowledge about gender, race, sexuality, and identity.[1] Similarly, the latter book includes a section about the significance of fashion’s role in ethnographic research by drawing personal experience from Dr. Christina Moon [2].

With the rapid growth of the fashion market, fashion education expands its popularity among numerous students worldwide who want to go into fashion for higher education. Due to increasing demand in fashion, Western institutes like Condé Nast College of Fashion and Istituto Marangoni launched programs in India and China to incorporate fashion education to their fast-growing economies.[3] Although the first fashion program in China, launched in China Academy of Arts and Crafts, aimed at manifesting the idea of "Chinese Dream" [4], it could be argued that Asian branches of Western schools try to implement their fashion into Chinese trends and take place in the Chinese market.

Aesthetic Politics and Modest Fashion[edit | edit source]

Aesthetic politics is a term associated with fascism, to describe the use of propaganda to change the views of the public. In recent years it has returned to popular politics with Trump's election[5]. His rhetoric against muslims has fed into the debate against terrorism, and fuelling hostility and prejudice against islam. This has partly influenced the political debate on muslim women's religious freedom, integration to Western-dominated societies, and fashion choices. While some claim the wear of extremely covering hijabs such as the niqab is unethical because of the oppressive connotations, many muslim women find it empowering. Especially muslim women who have integrated non-muslim societies are proud of the vocation and courage it takes to stand out. Their experience in Western cities is filled with prejudicial hostility tied to people's views on terrorism [6][7]. Additionally, the economic power of financially independent muslim women is rising. Called Generation M, they demand higher representation and a wider selection of fashion choices [8]. While many muslim women who choose to wear hijab see it as a religious garment that should not be decorative nor captivating, some have started finding new exciting ways to wear it. Accordingly, brands like Nike have embraced the "modest fashion" trend by hiring hijabi models and designing pieces targeted towards muslim women. The controversiality stems from the fact that the hijab aims to hide and divert interest, but modest fashion rebels against that and lifts it to the level of high fashion, making it a commercial product [9].

Anthropology in Fashion since Colonialism[edit | edit source]

Prometheanist is a fresco mural done by Jose Clemente Orozco in 1924 Mexico City, Mexico. The image depicts the colonisation of Mexico by the Spanish as a colonizer stands above the body of a victim of violence.

Anthropology, as the study of human societies, identifies fashion as complex material culture, relevant to civilization's ethnographic understandings as a way of deriving status, social cohesion, and ritual. Fashion has been a constant in societies and can be analysed during colonialism and post-colonialism.

Mexico during the colonialist period in which the interpretation of fashion varies between cultures. This could be observed by the work of Jose Clemente Orozco which documents the interpretation of the Spanish steel armor, representing the soldier in a machine-like, dehumanized way as he stands on the body of an indigenous person.[10] In contrast, the Spanish viewed the armor as a symbol of social cohesion and status as colonialists.

The exchange of material culture during colonialist times resulted cultural translations in the form of appropriation and homogenization.[11][12][13]

A rise in consciousness of cultural appropriationas a result of post-colonialist hegemony of dominant versus minority cultures was seen in the 21st century. This infringement of the collective intellectual property rights was recently documented in the case of the Navajo Nation v. Urban Outfitters due to copyright infringement of their Pendleton designs in 2012 in which Urban Outfitters ultimately won on the basis of fair use in 2016.[14]

Fashion is gradually becoming homogeneous in a global scale due to the fast and inexpensive production of clothing and Western influence.[15] The macro culture of haute couture allows people to accessibility and customization of Western fashion. This has resulted in the documentation of decreasing national fashion and the increase of the westernization of clothes, for example, in Meiji Japan as Japanese society moved from an isolated feudal society to a Westernized form.[16]

The Socio-economics of Fast-Fashion Industry[edit | edit source]

The significant diminution of protectionism and the opening of countries to free trade has allowed Western multinational companies such as Zara or H&M to establish themselves globally. For example, Inditex – the parent company of Zara, Zara Home, Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Stradivarius, Pull & Bear and Uterqüe – has now over 5,900 stores in more than 85 countries.[17] Their omnipresence and low-cost products have given rise to a new way of consuming: fast fashion.[13] Fast fashion, today's prevailing production method, has two main characteristics. Firstly, production and distribution must be carried out in a very short period of time. Secondly, clothes must be very fashionable, often meaning imitating luxury brands.[18]

The Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs) are currently dominated by the industrialized countries, this is called economic neocolonialism.[19] In the fast fashion sector, this is demonstrated by the place of countries in the production process. To satisfy consumerism and therefore produce more at ever lower costs, fast fashion companies have as their main strategy offshoring. Indeed, if the design of clothes is conceived in Western countries, they are then produced in countries like China or Bangladesh, the two largest textile workshops in the world.[20] Multinational firms that divide their production process this way rarely take into account the interests of the nations in which they operate. This leads to the multiplication of sweatshops, where working conditions are extremely poor as shown by the numerous fires or factory collapses. In April 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, more than 1,000 workers died in the Rana Plaza collapse, an eight-storey building.[21][22]

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. Lauren Downing Peters (2018) Teaching Fashion Studies, Fashion Theory, DOI: 10.1080/1362704X.2018.1518750
  2. Anneke Smelik (2017) Fashion Studies. Research Methods, Sites and Practices, Fashion Theory, 21:5, 617-620, DOI: 10.1080/1362704X.2017.1310436
  3. Amed, I. and Mellery-Pratt, R. (2018). Is Fashion Education Selling a False Dream?. [online] The Business of Fashion. Available at: [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018]
  4. Templeton L. World’s leading fashion schools open in Asia to meet rising demand [Internet]. South China Morning Post. 2018 [cited 7 December 2018]. Available from:
  5. Billet. Donal Trump and the Aesthetics of Fascism [Online newspaper]. The Guardian; 2016 [Cited 2018 Dec 7]. Available from:
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  7. Tarlo. Visibly muslim – Fashion, Politics, Faith [eBook]. Berg fashion library 2010 [cited 2018 Dec 7]. Pages 131-160. Available from:
  8. Sherwood. Meet Generation M: the young, affluent Muslims changing the world [online newspaper]. The Guardian 2016 [cited 2018 Dec 7]. Available from:
  9. Mann. The immodest Modest Fashion controversy in France [blog post]. Carol Mann 2016 [cited 2018 Dec 7]. Available from:
  10. Ideas and ideologies in twentieth century Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1998.
  11. Crane D, Bovone L. Approaches to Material Culture: The Sociology of Fashion and Clothing. Poetics [Internet]. 2006 [cited 2 December 2018];34(6):319-333.
  12. Calefato P. Fashion as Cultural Translation: Knowledge, Constrictions and Transgressions on/of the Female Body. Social Semiotics [Internet]. 2010 [cited 3 December 2018];20(4):343-355.
  13. a b Maynard M. Dress and Globalisation. Manchester: Manchester University Press; 2004.
  14. The Fashion Law. Urban Outfitters Wins Latest Round in Navajo Nation Case [Internet]. The Fashion Law. 2018 [cited 5 December 2018]. Available from:
  15. The Value of Fast Fashion: Quick Response, Enhanced Design, and Strategic Consumer Behavior. (2011). Management Science, 57(4), 778-795.
  16. Hirano K, Chen Y. The State and cultural transformation. Tokyo: United Nations University Press; 1993.
  17. Joy A, Sherry J, Wang J, Chan R. Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands. Fashion Theory. 2015;16(3): 273-295. Available from :
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  20. de Rocquigny T, Minvielle G, Mouhoud E. Au fil de l'éco (3/4). L'odyssée mondiale du vêtement. [podcast] 2018. Available from: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2018].
  21. Dhaka collapse toll passes 1,000. BBC News. 2013 [cited 5 December 2018]. Available from:
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