International Fashion: Some General Notes

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After ruminating a little on my post from last week, I’ve realized that it is bit too much of a generalization to say that French woman are always the ultimate in style. Or that they always wear black and look utterly elegant. It is true that they do experiment with trends and wear unusual and unique items that may or may not be deemed “beautiful.” Some French women even embrace a kind of grunge that doesn’t necessarily have universal appeal.

However, it still remains the case that French woman “appear” more classically and universally attractive than some in other countries (most notably, America). I’ve been thinking on this and I am still puzzled as to why this is the case.

Is it simply because there is more basic uniformity in their physical appearance than there is in other countries? Like, say the ethnic melting pot that is America? Or is it only my (and other’s) culturally-informed perspective(s) that inclines me to perceive a certain physical “look” as more attractive than another?

Now, obviously, these are huge questions that could launch a thousand books, but I do think it is worth investigating a tad deeper into what it is that molds our own standards of beauty and style and where, or why, we ever got our own criteria of what is fashionable in the first place.
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As we continue to explore a variety of international style scenes, it is important to remember that each of us represents an amalgam of different stylistic and sartorial references. And as I’ve written elsewhere, true fashion only appears when we are loyal to the whole variety of memories and influences that reside within each of us as individuals.

Additionally, to discuss fashion in an international sense, or any kind of broad manner, is to make certain generalizations about a group. As Georg Simmel wrote years ago, fashion is explicitly the interplay between the group and the individual. By making observations about any one nationality or location, I am in no way diminishing the individuals who stand out as unique within that particular background.

Which brings me to one last point… It seems as if certain kinds of regional and ethnic dress are disappearing. While this is not necessarily a recent phenomenon, I’m sure that the advent of the internet (as well as the influence of American styles of dress on all kinds of fashion) has made trends accessible to everyone. Now any fashionista, in any small town around the world, can check out a blog or style.com to learn what she “should” be wearing. As a result, clothing has certainly become more and more homogenized. Supposedly, this allows more people to gain access to global “trends,” but are we in fact losing precisely the regional particularity that makes each geographical region unique?

So why are regional styles of dress important anyway? I would argue most basically that collective fashions maintain group identity. See this article for a study of how children who are in touch with their national forms of dress are in fact healthier.

Even as we foster our individuality through dress, it is always significant to remember the context within which we clothe ourselves. Ultimately, an individual trendsetter only makes sense against a background of some kind of cultural uniformity.

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