This post is written by Sarah Rezaei, senior research assistant at the Department of Psychology, Monk Prayogshala.
Kali Uchis’s song “Melting” plays softly in the background of an Intagram reel where a woman is seen gracefully applying her elaborate skincare routine, doing her hair, and then slipping into a light cotton white dress with a baby pink cardigan. Her movements are effortless and the editing of the reel is dream-like, exuding an aura of gentleness and serenity. “Soft girl aesthetic,” they call it.
Source: Japheth Mast/Unsplash
I scroll past a few other reels until another catches my attention. This one was evidently different. The rhythm of Bad Bunny’s “MONACO” sets a bolder tone. The woman styles a pair of baggy cargo pants with an oversized t-shirt and some striking blue Jordans. The contrast is fascinating—from delicate softness to bold, street-smart chic. This juxtaposition highlights an intriguing aspect of our social media era: the ease with which we are introduced to and can appreciate a spectrum of fashion aesthetics. Each style, distinct and expressive, allows one to explore and celebrate diversity in personal expression.
Girl wearing a chikankari kurti
Source: Sahil Shettigar/Unsplash
Fashion, a timeless medium of self-expression, communicates an individual’s interests and beliefs. Historically, fashion varied significantly across different cultures and geographical regions. However, contemporary urban fashion, especially among the younger generation, has been largely shaped by Western influences.
The rise of specific terms for fashion aesthetics, like “cottage core,” “grunge,” and “dark academia” in recent years, particularly with Gen Z’s entry into fashion, illustrates this point. The term cottage core (an internet aesthetic defined by a romanticised pastoral life with traditional rural clothing and crafts such as drawing, baking, and pottery), for instance, emerged in a 2018 Tumblr post, but its roots trace back to Greek pastoral poetry from the 3rd century BC, especially the works of Theocritus who wrote poems about an idealised form of the shepherd lifestyle. Grunge, inspired by the late 80s and early 90s music genre, typifies an edgy yet laid-back style popularised by bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and characterised by a fashion including flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and combat boots. These and other internet aesthetics, predominantly Western in origin, have, through globalization and the internet, seamlessly integrated into the wardrobes of many non-Western countries.
The Globalization of Fashion and Cultural Identity
Jennifer Craik’s book, The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion, dove into the cultural ramifications of fashion and found that the global spread of Western fashion has led to a certain homogenization, where distinct traditional attire may be overlooked in favour of more universally recognized Western styles. Despite the book being published three decades ago, its insights remain pertinent in today’s fashion landscape.
A recent chapter, revised in 2020, echoed the observations and discussed how globalisation, largely driven by Western fashion norms, synchronises fashion trends across the world, potentially diluting the uniqueness of local fashion cultures.
Women in Ankara dress/headwrap
Author Yuniya Kawamura wrote in The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion shed light on how Western trends can sometimes lead to a cultural erosion, where unique aspects of traditional Japanese fashion are replaced or significantly altered. This raises a poignant question: Are we witnessing the slow fade of local fashion identities into the backdrop of a more uniform, global aesthetic?
Choosing to wear Western fashion could potentially be a statement about one’s identity and perceived social status. In many cultures, Western attire is associated with modernity, affluence, and progress. Adopting Western fashion might reflect an individual’s aspiration to align with these values, highlighting how human behavior is influenced by social hierarchies and the desire for social mobility. It also highlights humans’ tendency to conform to global norms and standards, driven by a desire for modernity, acceptance, or perceived prestige associated with Western lifestyles. Another reason could be the global reach of Western media and popular culture, through movies, music, and the internet, which has had a significant impact on fashion choices. This reflects the human susceptibility to influence and the desire to emulate figures perceived as successful or fashionable. It demonstrates how behavior can be shaped by external influences and the importance of representation in media.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. As the global fashion landscape evolves, so does the narrative. There’s a vibrant counter-movement where local cultures are not just passive but active participants in the fashion dialogue. Take India, for instance, where the youth are redefining style by marrying the traditional with the contemporary. Picture this: a young woman striding confidently in a pair of jeans paired with a classic chikankari kurti. Similarly, a woman wearing African-inspired accessories, such as bold, patterned Ankara fabric head wraps or beaded jewelry paired with simple Western dresses or suits. It’s a statement, a declaration of how fashion transcends being mere attire to become a medium of personal expression and cultural connection. This not only highlights the individual’s heritage but also introduces elements of African or Indian culture into everyday Western wardrobes, making the fashion scene richer and more diverse.
This blending of styles serves a greater purpose, especially for those navigating the complexities of cultural identity in foreign lands. Fashion emerges as a powerful tool for acculturation, offering a sense of belonging while keeping the essence of one’s cultural heritage alive. It’s a testament to how, even in a world that seems increasingly small, fashion offers a boundless canvas for the expression of identity, heritage, and belonging.