Theory of Fashion

University teaching has many advantages (although it has some disadvantages, which we are not going to discuss here and now) – it makes you feel always young because you are constantly communicating with students; gives you an opportunity to feel satisfied because of the awareness that you live a meaningful life and that there is someone to whom you could pass on your experience and knowledge;

It gives you a certain emotional-intellectual feeling and thus a special vitamin of spiritual confidence, for which there is no analogue. However, together with all of the above mentioned, academic commitments do not allow your brain to stay lazy and keep it in a good analytical and informational condition and form.

Besides, the need arises for textbooks and manuals to be written – which are the mature form of every scientific and academic process. What you can read in these lines is a sense of acknowledgment to the National Academy of Art and its faculty Fashion because if it has not been for them it would not have been in the near future that the author would undertake the task of compiling a manual on theory of fashion. The need to be of use and service to a given spiritual and enlightening mission is one of the most powerful and respectable motives in the human activity, even if it is dependant on a something so simple as writing a manual for future designers.

The present textbook is the first book of its kind on theory of fashion in Bulgaria where the education in fashion design is still in an embryonic stage. The aim is to provide even in a partial form a scientific and methodological basis for the students of fashion from the National Academy of Art. By introducing them to some of the basic aspects and problems of the fashion theory, this textbook will help them to rationalize better its complex, mystical and fickle nature. Together with this, it is the ambition of the author to lay the conceptual framework of the conceptual and terminological thinking of the students from the “Fashion” university programme; to acquaint them with one of the most important, key terms in the theoretical system of fashion; to introduce them successfully to the lexis, the verbal and expressional sphere of style and fashion. Another aim of the present textbook is to help students and, in general, all potential readers to acquire knowledge in fashion as a social, cultural, aesthetical and communicative phenomenon and to relate its workings to the whole cultural and civilisational situation. Fashion, perceived not only as a technological, sociological and social-psychological phenomenon, but also as a form of creation, extraordinary in its nature and dimensions, deserves to be a worthy object of study and interpretation – both by those who study fashion design as theory and practice and those who have devoted themselves to art, art studies and theory of culture. The proving of such a thesis is another, though not a direct one, ambition of the present textbook.

What is included in the structure of this book? The first chapter explains the reasons, because of which the theory of fashion and fashion design lag seriously behind fashion and designer practice and this subsequently leads to difficult handling of the present challenges, which are posed by society, culture and the new lifestyle to science. Looking into some of the most pressing theoretical problems of fashion shows that the science, which deals with this social, cultural and aesthetical phenomenon is faced with lots of blanks and unresolved issues. When we speak of “the science of fashion”, we cannot – at least at this stage – talk of a single fundamental study, because its subject is a multi-layer, changeable and mystical one. Thorough study of this phenomenon is not possible only by using an interdisciplinary approach, involving mostly the spheres of cultural studies, aesthetics, art studies, sociology, historiography, theory of communication, social psychology, economics and other. The smart and functional integration of these academic disciplines guarantees the creation of a certain “scientific mix”, so necessary for building an original model for analyzing the style of dressing and the new phenomena in the haute couture, subculture, progressive technologies and futuristic inventions of design and textile.

The second chapter draws the attention to a point, which is in particular fundamental to the fashion theory: the essence and definitions of fashion. In order to get as close as possible to the scientific truth about this extraordinary phenomenon, we use an interdisciplinary approach and combine dictionary and encyclopedic definitions, provided by the biggest researchers of fashion and style in the world, as well as the opinions on fashion given by famous designers of clothes. Fashion is a reason enough people to change their looks, to be different from each other, communicating through their clothes and to draw attention to themselves. The effect of the new has been pointed out as one of its most important advantages (and according to some it is its most important advantage). The reason for the rise of fashion as a process is the western civilization, the appearance of capitalism and manufacture, the invention of printing and the mass media as a whole.
During the different stages of the development of humankind fashion is a sign of richness and poverty, power and subordination. Its clearly marked class nature is portrayed in one of the most spread models of the fashion system, according to which the new models in clothes are distributed from the centre to the periphery, from the highly developed to the poorer societies. According to the second model, fashion is defined by the collective selection, and namely: fashion creators offer their new ideas, which get accepted, approved and re-arranged by traders, manufacturers, consumers and leaders of the public opinion and thus become fashion. Being a combination of values, it allows people to identify themselves and communicate through the signs of clothes, to imply specific connotations in clothes and accessories: to change themselves, by showing freethinking, creativity and imagination. In the present textbook fashion is considered as a social and cultural chance given to the personality in order to become a leader and innovator by showing individual originality, courage and progressive thinking and thus to revolt against the limits of the human being.

The fashion process involves such consecutive and basic stages as creation, presentation, fashion leadership, social visibility, darkness and sunset. However, we should have in mind that the fashion cycles and processes do not exist in an isolated and “laboratory pure” type in life. Often they mix, permeate and overlap. In the last decades the fashion cycles have been shrinking extremely and have become shorter and shorter. Even we have heard of the danger of the different cycles blending – which could cause huge mutations in the structure of fashion as a social phenomenon.

Curious and a bit exotic is the third chapter of the present book, focusing on the scandalous nature of fashion. What are scandals in fashion? Can they be differentiated and categorized? The public clash is yet another key to clarifying the nature of fashion design and dressing style. Scandals often help fashion break away from the banal, the familiar, the worn-out and the boring. Frequently the harsh public clashes help disposing of the conventional forms, fabrics and colours and tune in a new cultural and aesthetic wave.

The fourth chapter is an analysis of the functions and workings of anti-fashion. The author provides the answer to the following questions: What do we understand as “anti-fashion”? What are the contemporary forms and varieties of anti-fashion? Are the differences between anti-fashion and non-fashion visible? Anti-fashion is too much dependant on the scandalous divergence from the mainstream line of dressing, promoted by the media, experts in style and fashion houses. Its main functions – the terminating, experimenting, inspirational and social-protective have a purifying effect on the fashion and enrich it with new ideas, technical means and inventions. The conclusion has been drawn that anti-fashion speeds up the transience of the fashion itself and provokes thoughts on one of the biggest paradoxes, according to which the sense of fashion is to stop being fashionable.

Chapter 5 investigates the relationship between fashion and subculture, one area, which, honestly speaking, is still reigned by ignorance and prejudices. The so-called “subculture” is a combination of values, symbols, rituals, styles, patterns and differences, which differentiate one micro group from another in the society. It helps people and especially the young generations to define themselves and find realization in their micro cultural world, chosen by them spontaneously and freely. It is necessary and logical to look more seriously into the interaction between the non-formal and official fashion, between the subculture and haute couture. The subculture styles of dressing have a positive effect on the development of haute couture because their uncommon fresh forms, colours, silhouettes and technical facilities deal away with the stereotypes in the manufacturing of clothes and enrich traditional fashion design in terms of symbols and signs.

Generally we could outline two varieties in young people’s subcultures – elegant and anti-elegant. The first one involves teddy boys, mods, poppers (to a great extent yuppies and metrosexual men) and others, and the second one – the anti-elegant variety - includes – rockers, beatniks, hippies, punk, grunge and others. The techno-modification of the street style and of the traditional subcultures covers trends such as cyber fashion and cyber punk. The most contemporary male subculture – the “ubersexual”- shows an interesting and important tendency towards a more authentic style of dressing and an avoidance of the extremes in the outer appearance at the account of spending more time and energy on mental activity, on the classical values in life and as a whole – on the natural and spontaneous behaviour and clothes.

Is it really that clothes are the text and the signifier, whereas fashion is the signified? What is the characteristic of fashion as communication? Can we argue that modna journalistika is already being replaced by the so called fashion journalistika? Which are the main themes and zones in fashion journalistika and what does the world education in this field cover? Can we pinpoint the most important advertising aspects of the fashion promotions and what is the role of theatricality and change of space in the presentation of the new fashion creations? Chapter 6 draws the attention to these and a number of other questions. It also touches upon the PR in the fashion field, discussing in details the fashion public relations (PR) by analyzing separate practical cases.

Is there fashion of the corporate clothes? How do the employees of the different organizations dress and what guarantees their success from the viewpoint of finding the appropriate dress code? What is characteristic of the work, protective and uniform clothes? Are there any rules for the most-appropriate manner of dressing for job interviews? Which is the successful business look for men and women? Chapter 7 of this textbook, entitled “Fashion or Clothes of Success” provides the answer to all these questions.

At the end of the present manual – in Chapter 8 the researcher’s focus is on Bulgarian design of clothes and its behaviour in relation to the total element of style globalization. What should we understand as the term “glocalization”, while analyzing the contemporary Bulgarian fashion? Which are the signs of development and prosperity in our design of clothes, marked by phenomena, names, events, tendencies and workings? Whether a quick interpretation of the dynamics of the Bulgarian fashion design will allow us to rethink more specifically fashion in the process of glocalization? The last chapter of the book draws the conclusion that Bulgarian fashion is an example of glocalization, that is a peaceful and constructive co-existence of local and global tendencies. The glocalizatation of Bulgarian fashion is represented by a professional combination of a national taste and global tendencies, a quality interpretation of eclectics as a method and of ethnical motives as a source of creative inspiration.

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Hopefully this book will reach beyond the limits of its narrow goals and will be of use to clothes and accessory designers, coiffeurs, make-up artists, fashion photographers and styling specialists; it is possible that it will be of use to fashion journalists, editors of lifestyle editions and television broadcasts, as well as art critics, sociologists, culture specialists and media researchers. If this be the case then this will be a big compliment for the author. But he considers as a bigger compliment the fact that this textbook will help fashion to be at last considered more seriously from a scientific and theoretical viewpoint, because by being a litmus and a criterion for the democracy of the socium, for the flexibility and openness of the personal culture, personal identity and progressive thinking and behaviour, it truly deserves such an acknowledgement.
This article is part from the book monograph “Theoretical Problems of Fashion” by Lubomir Stoykov - Sofia, 2006 (Edited by National Academy of Art and “Ot Igla Do Konetz”).

© Lubomir Stoykov
© National Academy of Art
© “Ot Igla Do Konetz”

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