Fashion as a Hyperreal

Today’s fashion has expanded outside of the average women magazine and runway to social networks and online publications. It has become a multibillion dollar global enterprise. Fashion is classified by many as either “high end” (typically high priced and carefully detailed) or ready to wear (usually consumer friendly and mass produced). Each element of fashion stems from the same pattern or one may say fashion is cut from the same cloth.

Fashion can be the clothes on one’s back, shoes on another’s feet, accessories in one’s closet and even furniture in a family’s home. According to Google,


Fashion goes beyond the norm of wearing clothes but transcends into the development of everyday behaviors within various cultures. In the mid-19th century, the fashion industry was typically comprised of handmade clothing manufactured in the home, but like most cultures fashion began to evolve with the advancement of technology. Thus, the sewing machine was invented, making way for the mass production of clothing worldwide.

Like many art forms, fashion has a multitude of mediums through which they can be produced, appreciated and purchased. A medium can be described as a material used by an artist to create a work, an outlet for gaining information, or a halfway point for two extremes. If one looks at a medium in the context of an artist as it relates to fashion, the human body is the medium for fashion. The human body is the main medium for fashion to be created and the fabric, thread, and buttons or zippers represent the paint and/or material used to create the artwork. This can be highly expressed through the glorification of the “supermodel”.

Another medium in the fashion industry is the outlet for information. There are more than 5,000 fashion blogs, and more than 50 popular fashion magazines (generated mainly for the purpose of having a space where consumers can appreciate fashion and become persuaded to invest in the fashion industry.

The discussion to follow will examine the hybridity within fashion and the adoption of various elements as done by typical art forms in genres including, pop art, photography, music, etc, which support the idea that fashion can be seen as “art”. This argument will be considered by the exploration of Guy Debord’s theory of the spectacle, Pop Art, and the critical concepts of dialogism, globalization, and Futurist theories.

Fashion makes a Spectacle of Its Self.

The theory behind the spectacle was best described by Guy Debord in the “The Society of the Spectacle”. A spectacle “presents itself simultaneously as (1) all of society, (2) part of society, and (3) instrument of unification” (Debord Section 3). In fashion, the spectacle is presented in (1) advertisements, (2) movies, (3) television, and (4) magazines.
Vogue plays a major role in showcasing the spectacle within fashion. Vogue, debuting December 1892, started as a high society magazine for New Yorkers. Now, Vogue reaching beyond the United States is global with publications in the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Korea, Taiwan, France, Japan, Greece, China, India, Mexico, Germany, Spain, Russia, Brazil. Portugal, and Turkey.
"A Vogue cover really holds a mirror up to its time," said international editor-at-large Hamish Bowles (CBS News, 2011). Not only does the cover highlight specific moments in time but the images within the magazine represent the culture in which we live.

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Photos Courtesy of Vogue

Debord explains that, “the spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images” (Debord, Section 4). Vogue captures images that tell stories, reflecting the reality in which we live. While depicting important events in time and depicting the changes within American culture and fashion, due to wars and depressions, Vogue honors the prestige and creates a standard of living amongst its readers. Not providing an exact truthfulness to their images but collecting elements of our reality, exemplifies the spectacle within fashion. The elements of our reality include, the clothes, houses, and scenery depicted in the images. A spectacle is the truth of a moment but produces the false, which is evident in the pages of Vogue.

When viewing the clip below you will hear, actresses’ mention how Vogue creates a fantasy, “it’s like reading a book about a life that you will never occupy” says Sarah Jessica Parker. Having elements of the real, while having elements that lead readers to a fantasy, develops the complete image of a spectacle.

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The fantasy which is expressed in Vogue is an example of the theory discussed by Debord. The images of the social life is the affirmation of the spectacle but understanding the fantasy-like quality of the images makes visible the actual negation of life within the spectacle (Debord). When readers look at the pages of Vogue they believe (or at least sometimes believe) they can live the life lived in the pages. Wearing the clothes within this magazine will hold one up to a certain standard. Vogue therefore forms mental models for the readers, which suggest, possession of certain clothing leads to a particular lifestyle.

The idea of possessing a particular lifestyle is not only portrayed in the articles produced by Vogue but also the advertisements within vogue.

Vogue does not only exemplify the false aspect of the spectacle but also represents the once before lived notion (Debord, Section 1) by showcasing the famous and wealthy, who have lived the life depicted in Vogue.

Pop Art in Fashion

As popular art changes with the advancement in technology (Alloway), the same can be true with fashion. Alloway explains that within an industrial civilization the popular art of the time will evolve with the evolution of technology. When technology changes the art form itself will change. During the sixties, three things changed and grew to a new status: (1) the population, (2) mass production of clothes and (3) Pop Art. Fashion was influenced by the new adoption of technology, improving colors, and adding shapes. The fashion industry adopted some of the traits of the Pop Art world, paying homage to the artist of the time, all the while cutting cost with new innovative designs.

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The above image is one of the many examples of fashion in the Pop Art world. This paper dress references Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, unveiled in 1962, was comprised of thirty-two canvases and arranged on a grid, noting the rise of mass production and consumerism (The Warhol Effect: A Timeline). Technological advancements in textile technology made ‘Throwaway’ dresses inexpensive and popular (Blackman 240).

The fashion didn’t stop with the implementation of the throwaway dress but also discovered shapes and bold colors. Like many of the artists during the rise of Pop Art, fashion designers were using technology to create new structures and new rules, inventing concepts, and being unique while paving the way for originality. Betsey Johnson “specialized in using unconventional materials: plastics, foil, sequin sheeting, creating paper ‘Throwaways’ and making garments from paper that sprouted seedlings when watered” (Blackman, 238). Johnson showcased geometric motifs on multiple designs reflecting the impact of Pop Art on fashion.

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Pop Art was also an art form highly endorsed by celebrities. Focusing on the culture of today, the fashion industry has adopted the use of celebrity endorsement. Designers style celebrities, who in turn, influence the consumer on which styles and brands to desire. For example, celebrities participate in photo shoots in fashion magazines and the designer receives acknowledgements. The same celebrities also mention designers on the red carpet at various events and award shows. The celebrity aspect of pop culture is very evident in the world of fashion. Especially in the fashion magazine, when Vogue itself turned from using “supermodels” to actresses and public figures for their cover.

Fashion is Limitless

In today’s world, we live where most things are derived from one another. Therefore, it is not difficult to fathom the idea that fashion too is a product of hybridity within its own subculture. Nicolas Bourriaud explains postproduction simply, “since the early nineties, an ever increasing number of artworks have been created on the basis of preexisting works”, not in a manner of stealing ideas but being inspired. He continues saying, “more artists interpret, reproduce, re-exhibit, or use works made by others or available cultural products”, evident in many art forms such as music, books, and fashion.

“Julia Kristeva referred to (book) text in terms of two axes: a horizontal axis connecting the author and reader of a text, and a vertical axis, which connects the text to other text…united axes form codes, and every text and every reading depends on prior codes” (Chandler, 2003). The same ideology can be applied to fashion, as fashion has two axes as well. The horizontal axis connects the fashion to the consumer. The vertical axis connects the fashion to other fashions. The fashion of the past and the fashion of the present have a symbiotic relationship, each thriving off the other for relevancy. To be relevant in the fashion world is to be a survivor in the world itself.

Nothing is completely new in the world of fashion. Not to say that originality doesn’t have a place in fashion but each design stems from some previously drawn pattern. Designers today did not invent the trousers, rather, they remix the original, embellishing and shaping and in a way to tell a new story. The appreciation in fashion, some may say, stems from the dialogism within fashion. “The word in living conversation is directly, blatantly, oriented toward a future answer-word: it provokes an answer, anticipates it and structures itself in the answer's direction” (Bakhtin, 1992). The same is done in the fashion world (typically for the high end lines); every season designers make collections, and produce fashions shows. The collection can be viewed as their book, their words, or their opinions awaiting next season’s response. Fashion is a living conversation that prepares for future conversations, while appreciating what has come before.

Fashion Globalization

The fluidity of fashion, motioning from past to presents, makes it impossible to escape the effects of globalization. The United States is made of diverse cultures and each culture adds something new to fashion. Anthony McGrew argued that "globalization refers to those processes, operating on a global scale… integrating and connecting communities and organizations…, making the world in reality and in experience more interconnected” (Hall, pg 619).
Yves Saint Laurent, among many other designers, was inspired by countries foreign to him. He grew fond of ethnic inspired dresses and drew inspirations cultures such as: African, Moroccan, Chinese and Russain (Blackman pg.247).

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Tendencies towards adopting traditions from different cultures were statistically high during the 1960s and 1970s. Emilio Pucci, Italian designer, explored the idea of diaphanous and colorful caftans, and Andy Warhol described his collection as the“Pakistani-Indian-international-jet-set-hippie-look”, and was explored by many designers during those years (Blackman pg. 250).

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Globalization within fashion is viewed, not only from the viewpoint of designers capturing styles from various cultures around the world, but also as a global multibillion dollar business due to the production of fashion internationally.

Although fashion originated in Europe and America, today the production of fashion is a global enterprise, with clothing being designed in one country, manufactured in another, and sold in a third (Britannica). For example, an American fashion company might source fabric in India and have the clothes manufactured in China, finished in Italy, and shipped to a warehouse in the United States for distribution to retail outlets internationally (Britannica).

Furthermore,due to technological advancements, multiple global clothing stores make it more possible for consumers to purchase clothing from countries around the world. This global trend spans the very high end clothing lines to the inexpensive every-day-wear. The fashion industry is a major player in international trade.

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The video below showcases the pro and cons of fashion on a global scale. Depicting the insider business of fashion and the beneath the radar designers and seamstresses involved.

Inventor and author Ray Kurzweil, envisions a world where, “We will combine our brain power—the knowledge, skills, and personality quirks that make us human—with our computer power in order to think, reason, communicate, and create in ways we can scarcely even contemplate today” (Kurzweil pg. 39). Based on the prediction of Kurzweil fashion can acknowledge the fact that it has undergone changes in regards to technology and created concepts, clothing, and showcases using technology.

Watch at 40 second marker.
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“The cyborg is a condensed image of both, imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation” (Haraway pg. 150). Fashion falls in line with the attempts to combine imagination and material reality, forming a cyborg like attire.
Designer Rei Kawakubo for Commes des Garcon designed “Dress Becomes Body Becomes Dress” better known as the “Lumps” collection. She designed a collection for women who were interested in utilizing their mind rather than their body. By forming dresses in a lumpy manner she attempted (and some say she succeeded) to overturn the accepted notions of female beauty (Blackman pg. 338).

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Designer Junya Watanabe created looks for Comme des Garcons. His looks do not fit the human body as normal due the rearranging and manipulation of the garments. Fashion has taken hypothetical leaps into the future by forming a not quite easy but ready-to-wear fashion category entitle “techno couturier” (Blackman pg. 348).

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The video below is an excellent example of fashion affecting the body and the possible transformation of the human daily functions.


Fashion has stood the test of time and has been a respected industry in the business, cultural, and technological aspect. Fashion has expressed evidence in being hyperreal through the spectacles in which it is exhibited. Showcasing advertisements and instilling mental models with in fashion consumers, fashion has a major outlet reaching the masses and invoking change. Fashion has adopted the elements of dialogism and intertexuality by forming a symbiotic relationship with past fashion and constantly producing opportunity for future innovations. By evolving with technology, people and culture fashion has proved the capabilities of adapting with the times and staying relevant as a major art form and not just clothes on one’s back.

Fashion has created opportunities for millions of people, and aided in strengthening many economies by breaking down many extensive cultural barriers. The globalization aspect of fashion is more prevalent than many art forms to date, making fashion an industry worth investing.

CBS News, Vogue puts its 120-year history online(2011),
Cally Blackman, 100 Years of Fashion, Lawrence King Publishing, (2011)
Daniel Chandler, "Intertextuality."
Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto" (excerpt from Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181: Web version | pdf.
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (1967) [Another copy.] (Selections: Sections 1-6, 10-11, 17-18, 24-30)
Kenneth Thompson, eds. Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies. Oxford, UK; Malden, MA:
Lawrence Alloway, "The Arts and t heMass Media," Architectural Design & Construction, February 1958
Metropolitan Museum, NY, "The Warhol Effect: A Timeline."
Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992).
Nicholas Bourriaud, Postproduction (2002)
Ray Kurzweil, on the Singularity, AI and Utopian Futurism, Essay and editorial in The Futurist (2006)
Stuart Hall, "The Question of Cultural Identity," excerpt from Stuart Hall, David Held, Don Hubert, and
Wiley-Blackwell, 1996, pp. 596-601, 611-623.