In addition to the environment in which man is placed by nature, without any participation on his part, he creates himself another, which is generally called the “cultural world.” When we consider the human being in this cultural world, we see that of all its multitudinous cultural forms his dress is not only the one which is physically closest to him but also that which most immediately and most intimately expresses his relation to the environment. Not even the cultural forms assumed by man’s most elementary vital activities, such as nutrition and reproduction, are so directly and so constantly interwoven with human life and the human body as dress is, except as they express themselves through it.
A century and a half ago Count Rumford suggested that the hygienic properties of clothing merited serious scientific study. Included in the aims of the Royal Institution was the instruction of the public in the proper practice of the domestic arts, particularly those relating to “the management of heat and the saving of fuel.” Among these the application of the laws of heat to clothing and fuel economy was specially mentioned.1 That these very subjects have now become the everyday practical concern of every citizen hardly needs emphasizing; and besides these topics there are in modern war, as Sir Leonard Hill has graphically described in his recent article,2 a considerable number of situations which call for the provision of highly specialized clothing.
The metaphysical and ethical dimensions of human freedom are intimately related. This is the most significant difference between the existentialists and Husserlian phenomenology: the existentialists link the power to disclose the world to the necessity of human beings to decide who they should be, in terms of the fundamental values directing a person’s life.
The concept of “existence” designates precisely this ethical dimension of human life. The existentialists argue that, of all the beings existing in the world, the human being is the only one that can decide what it should be; indeed, it is forced to do so since it has no fixed nature. As the existentialist motto goes, “man is condemned to be free.”
The rise and fall of popular positions in the field of philosophy is not governed solely by reason. Philosophers are generally reasonable people but, as with the rest of the human species, their thoughts are heavily influenced by their social settings. Indeed, they are perhaps more influenced than thinkers in other fields, since popular or ‘big’ ideas in modern philosophy change more frequently than ideas in, say, chemistry or biology. Why?
Aesthetics is the philosophical branch of inquiry concerned with beauty, art and perception. From its philosophic roots in ancient Greece, where thinkers like Socrates and Plato considered the inherent meaning and beauty of things, aesthetics is also used to refer to the critique of art and design.
The word—aesthetics—derives from the ancient Greek word aisthanomai, which means perception by the senses. As such, it is used in modern English as a noun, in the sense that something can appeal to the senses. Since the meaning of the word relies upon sensory perception, its definition is fluid, varying through time, and it is subjective, differing between people and cultures.
The term ‘popular culture’ holds different meanings depending on who’s defining it and the context of use. It is generally recognized as the vernacular or people’s culture that predominates in a society at a point in time. As Brummett explains in Rhetorical Dimensions of Popular Culture, pop culture involves the aspects of social life most actively involved in by the public. As the ‘culture of the people’, popular culture is determined by the interactions between people in their everyday activities: styles of dress, the use of slang, greeting rituals and the foods that people eat are all examples of popular culture. Popular culture is also informed by the mass media.
The conformity paradox in fashion looks something like this: Say you are an individual in the truest sense, and everything you do and wear is so unique and interesting that everyone who sees you acknowledges that you are different. A real trend-setter. As a result, your Instagram photos routinely get Pinned across the planet and end up featured prominently in trend analysis reports by mega-retailers like Zara.
In a matter of months your unique style becomes everyone else’s, and you are forced to evolve, or become just another clone of yourself. So you evolve. Again and again, until the only thing that makes you appear an “individual” is the fact that you keep evolving. The paradox lies in the fact that being “an individual” doesn’t seem to be possible in fashion, because eventually, we all end up dressing the same, liking the same things, and posting the same Instagram photos.