Politics and Fashion

  • by Societal Store

One peculiar trait common to big communities and social movements is the creation and advancement of structural, organizational principles for all group members in conformity with their dress system.  

The only people who can solve societal problems and demands are those who are versed in the delivery of social control services. These people are in the position to exert influence over members of the group.

Hence, the organization's laws show the type of government, which is birthed from the standard ideologies of the group. Its conscientious beliefs shape the beliefs of a group, and it determines the way of life of its members.

Some social behaviors that are commonly controlled by social organizations are presentation, attire, and how members of the group behave at certain times and places.

The regulations for fashion and dress are controlled formally and informally via the organization's political framework and influence.

Below are some functions of the governing body:

  • Creating a structure for ensuring members abide by the rules
  • Developing a groundwork relating to the duties of the members
  • Outlining, assessing, and modifying the guidelines to ensure the organization’s beliefs reflect in them

Also, the penalties for defying the rules and the means for introducing new rules should be simultaneously developed.

In Western communities, the court system's power is exerted to clarify and enforce regulations that might prevent the members from taking part in some engagements, alongside recommending some activities for them to participate.

Also, the Government has the right to regulate interactions with societies whose interest does not favor the group. And they have the autonomy to employ force to protect the group from breaching other interests.

Furthermore, the Government creates pacts such as trade alliances and standardization with other societies. For instance, it would be disadvantageous to domestic manufacturers if their foreign counterparts produce clothing items at a reduced cost.

The Government could also encourage customers to patronize domestic manufacturers by regulating the influx of foreign-manufactured products.

The government can also regulate apparel products to protect indigenous customers by developing laws that keep hazardous apparel items away from the reach of customers, alongside keeping the environment safe from human abuse.

For the protection of customers from unsafe apparel products, one good instance is the laws that prevent the usage of flammable clothes. The protection of the environment is endangered species rules and regulations that disallow the use of some animal furs and skin in clothes.

It is common for you to see the message of power in various societies' fashion style. And the regular topics that informal and formal regulations address comprise body disclosure and gender disparities.

Various communities have principles regarding when female and male individuals can have parts of their bodies showing or not. So, the sexual character is determined by the volume of skin shown.

Civil attempts to regulate social behaviors might include rules regarding genitals exposure, showing up nude in public, cross-dressing, and separation of sexes using government-owned properties.

Some of these rules might be formal like health statutes for skin exposure, and informal such as the volume of skin reveal at community places like beaches. Informal rules depend on the situation.

Now, a lady who wears underpants and brassiere might be considered to cover her body more than if she wears a swimsuit. Although, for apparel like swimsuits, they can be worn at swimming pools or beaches. However, brassiere and underpants would not be acceptable.

The laws and statutes of social organizations are different in their level of importance, how they were formed, the backlash of emotional responses if they were violated, and the penalties that violators would pay.

For failure to engage in fashion, there are negative and positive coercive measures. The negative measures are connected to the level of emotional responses received. In comparison, the positive coercive measures are commendations and words of praises to individuals who comply.

If the contravention provoked a minute emotional response, then the worry should be the violation of the regular dress custom of the group. A contravention of a customary dress custom should normally not upset the group’s social organization.

If the group members set up disciplinary measures to persuade the rogue member, such measures would be blabs or light jokes.

In small societies where members are familiar with one another, a negative coercive measure effectively ensures general compliance. Also, a warm coercive measure might emerge when there is a minor aberration from the group's rules, and it might be welcomed as a slight offense.

If there is a major aberration of dress codes and it causes a major emotional response from the group, then the aberration is morally-inclined.

Moral standards for political clothing can be controlled informally like dress customs. Usually, customs have a history of implementation, and aberrations from members might be greeted with negative coercive measures like expulsion, avoidance, and mockery.

Also, Moral standards for political clothing can be formally controlled by setting laws with strict coercive measures like capture, imprisonment, or death, if they are violated.

Notably, society's rules bring power, but it is not a surety that all members' interests would be represented. A good example is an incident in Terengganu, Malaysia; the state government reportedly implemented dress codes that were perceived as gender discrimination.

With reference to Endaya in 2002, the government-backed Islamic statutes which forbade women from donning a swimsuit and other apparels that revealed their skin. Also, there were dress statutes that barred young Muslim ladies from leaving their heads uncovered. These kinds of laws have become conventional in Islamic clime.

Another instance of gender discrimination via dress codes was the proclamation by King Mswati III of Swaziland, South Africa, in 2002. According to Familara 2002, this edict forbade women from putting on trousers in Mbabane, the state capital. The reason for this was because it was against the traditions of the country.  

There are a handful of laws that standardize fashion, appearance and dress in schools and offices in the United States. Although there are dress codes specific to offices and schools, and there are judicial rulings that have emerged over time.

According to Rothstein 1994, most courts will back an employer's right to set dress codes provided they are for legitimate, sanitation, and health reasons. Because of this, scanty complaints submitted by employees have been discarded except if it is gender-based. (Lennon, Schultz and Johnson 1999)

The courts have also declared that students maintain their constitutional claims when they are within the school premises. However, there can be regulations for student conduct, particularly their appearance.

In schools, dress codes are conventionally valid if safety is promoted, and students can focus more. (Alexander and Alexander 1984)

Seeing that dress is a communication tool, complaints have been lodged by students in the US, that some of the dress codes are an aberration to their constitutional claims, which were certified in the First Amendment (Lennon, Schultz and Johnson 1999).

According to Lewin 2003, he mentioned that a student who wore a T-shirt with a picture of erstwhile President Bush and the text “international terrorist” was sent home.

The high school student donned the T-shirt to show his antiwar displeasure and the revelation that his constitutional rights were infringed on. Hence, the school’s responsibility was to verify that the T-shirt was a detraction from the educational course.

A major case that rocked the political fashion world was Tinker versus Des Moines Independent School District (1969). The case was about some students who planned to don black armbands to show their displeasure in the Vietnam war. The school’s officials got wind of the plan and brought up dress codes that prohibited wearing armbands within the school.

The U.S Supreme court ruled in favor of the students. It directed that the school officials have to support their claims with predicted substantial disruption and ample evidence that the move was disadvantageous to the school's learning atmosphere.

Dress codes can determine how the members of an organization dress, and it is also useful in protesting against regulations.

According to Familara 2002, King Mswati III of Swaziland, in 2001, brought back an archaic law directing females to use tassels with chastity belts. According to the king, the belts would prevent HIV/AIDS and keep their virginity. Swazi women kicked against this ruling by protesting and putting tassels at the entrance of the royal palace.

Freedom of Expression in Political Fashion

Although the constitution backs the expression of political opinion with fashion, gender fashion regulations might not be backed up.

According to Rabinovotz 1998, in a school in the US, a young boy was suspended for donning a long rustic dress with a low cut neckline. The problem was not only with the feminine cloth, but he put tissue paper in the front region to symbolize the female private organ.

The school mentioned that they wanted to avoid a creepy atmosphere because the learning process could be disrupted.

Communal Social power and fashion

Often, the dress is used to convey the message of interpersonal social power, which is having the prospects to be socially influential. According to Raven, 1992, social influence is the change in an individual's belief because of the action of another individual.

Six origins of social power were created by Raven and French and later modified by Raven in 1992. They are expert power, legitimate power, coercion power, reward power, referent power, and information power. These channels of social power can be informal and formal and conveyed via dress.

Expert power is the impact that has its source from experience or knowledge. An example of expert power is the distinct dresses of academicians and scientists. These people give instructions because lots of people have faith in their proficiency.

For Legitimate power, it is the impact of holding a position in the society or organization. This position enables the rules of the group to be upheld. An example is either the robe of a legal officer or the uniform of a military officer.

Coercion power shows the level of achieved influence due to warnings of punishment. An example is a police officer's outfit because they have the power to arrest and detain citizens.

Reward power is the impact that comes from the capacity to give social permission. An example is fashion experts' power to reward individuals and celebrities for dressing well and showing their pictures in the magazines.

Another example of reward power is the beauty of a woman, which is considered to be very desirable to lots of men (Buss 1989)

Referent power is the impact that comes from the will to associate with someone. A good example is movie celebrities and fashion figures who exercise their power when people imitate their dress.

Information power is the impact of the reasoning of an influential individual that makes other people submit. For instance, the pope’s white cloth makes people believe that he has direct access to communicating with God (Lennon 1999).

It becomes clear to see the legitimate influence over fashion when various societies create dress regulations. There have been developed laws that prevent some individuals from wearing certain colors and clothes to prevent them from mixing with other classes and gender.

The moment the Communist Party started ruling in China, it was easy to see coercive power at play. There was standardization of fashion that put everyone on an equal level (Scott 1958).

The military and the civilians styled their fashion in a similar pattern; the only difference was the color of the civilians’ dress that was different from the military uniform. This act became widespread because everyone realized that no one was reprimanded.

The influence of reward power on dress has become visible by portraying some celebrities to the rest of the populace, as being best dressed. And this changes the course of fashion. Fashion designers will create styles that they trust would capture the interest of people who read their magazines.

With this, fashion is shaped, and a norm is created when it comes to what to wear at social events during a particular place and time.


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