Hierarchies in Fashion: Yes, They Still Exist

Fashion is an aspirational, creative field. At the edge of innovation and trend-setting lies the doorkeepers of the fashion industry, traditionally figures like Anna Wintour or designers like Marc Jacobs. With the emergence of digital media, most specifically Instagram, the doorkeepers of fashion are now “influencers”. While the mediatization of various institutions, including fashion, has without a doubt changed the industry, the hierarchies of society are not erased.

Rocamore defines the mediatization of fashion as a transformation in the production, consumption, distribution, and diffusion of products. Fashion as an institution, defined in sociological terms as a repetitive set of behaviors, has without a doubt turned towards technology as a means of customization and commodification of clothing. For example, brick and mortar stores are using computers as mirrors to allow shoppers to combine the online shopping experience with customization affordances available with newer technologies. Additionally, as I mentioned previously, the front row of fashion week has drastically changed with the emergence of social media. Influencer brand marketing has made Instagram the starting point for brands to collaborate with highly followed users to promote products. Essentially, influencers are the new Anna Wintour.

Our image heavy culture, perpetuated by Instagram mania, eats up influencer-culture. The assumption, however, that digital media, since it is a part of the “free” Internet, will do away with societies’ flaws falls into ideas of technological determinism. Technological determinism is a belief that new technologies are at the forefront of societal development and cultural change. Belief in Digital Media’s ability to irreversibly change the ills of society applies to fashion’s hierarchies as well.

Hierarchies of race, class, and gender continue to exist in U.S. society despite new technologies. In fashion, it is most obvious in the influencers that succeed in the industry. While it is true that more people have access to fashion via instagram or other social media, the people that fall under traditional standards of beauty, are at the top of racial categories (i.e. white) and have access to generational wealth are the most successful.  Looking at my own Instagram feeds, and at the front row of fashion shows I have worked, the most financially successful and popular influencers on instagram fall into these tiers of differentiation.

The Fashion industry, while one of the more accepting and “liberal” industries in nature, cannot remove itself from engaging with dangerous stereotypes simply by virtue of digital media. With the help of open spaces like the Internet, AND a concentrated effort by society in general to open standards of beauty, the fashion industry has the potential to overcome dangerous stereotypes.

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