Modernity, Fashion and Ideology (I)
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
Due to the fact that the presence of new social, economic and cultural paradigms is increasing in human society today, to the point where fashions are lasting less and less time, I will try to approach this cultural phenomenon from the historical perspective of modernity. Fashion is a set of behavior patterns, codes of conduct, consumption habits, artistic, ideological and political agreements shared by a society, that are modified in accordance with the economic and cultural development of that society. This leads to the periodic renewal of clothing and accessories imposed by industry and the mass media according to the seasons of the year. It is only the most visible and frivolous aspect of a very complex phenomenon that must be approached from a broader perspective.
According to most historians, 'modernity' dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries in the late Middle Ages, when merchants, pedlars, artisans, charlatans, dubious monks and adventurers, who were not accepted by the rigid structure of the feudal system of that time began to settle on the fringes of the walled boroughs. This phenomenon began in the north of Italy and in that part of Europe that would later become the Netherlands. In fact, out of that complex mixture of different social classes emerged the bourgeoisie who could not be identified as such at that time as they are now.
Little by little, the bourgeoisie increased their economic and then their political power in Western Europe where the nodal point was the Renaissance. Then came the Enlightenment and Descartes’ invention of the idea of secular reasoning; then the French Revolution with the creation of the notion of the citizen; followed by Romanticism and the discovery of the individual artist; and finally the Industrial Revolution with the formation of the proletariat which is now on the way to extinction.
Along with capitalism, the bourgeoisie invented modernity, without knowing that in creating the proletariat they had also created their own nemesis. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, modernity had already taken shape, and we are now at the end of that period. In fact, modernity is where we are now and it carries its own death within itself. And just like capitalism, it is dying, as Bauman noted with his concept of 'liquid modernity' or as in the signs you read in stores at the end of each season when all left over merchandise is marked down.
The European and American industrial bourgeoisie did not get rich by saving and depriving themselves of worldly pleasures, but by growing invested capital through the ingenious theory of surplus value which said that production cost was less than selling cost, and this was the start of the marginalization of the working class
In fact, money itself is sterile and to multiply it needs humans to feed it with their insatiable appetite for limitless consumption. That led to a dramatic increase in the wealth of the bourgeoisie, a class which is now globalized and still looking for raw material and food in poor countries, as well as new markets and the merciless exploitation of the planet's natural resources, as if their plan were to destroy it.
The growth of the European and US national economies, plus the market competition among their respective bourgeoisies, led to the two twentieth-century world wars, the first of which caused 8 million and the second 40 million mostly civilian deaths. That’s without counting the victims of the wars in Korea, Algeria, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This does not bother anyone in the world today because war is the world’s natural hygiene, especially if those who die are expendable. And so, like the two World Wars, capitalism invented fashion which didn’t exist before the rise of the bourgeoisie. And now in postmodernity, and definitely in the digital age, the process of creating new fashions has accelerated, to the point where not only are all consumption norms for clothing and domestic articles disappearing, but all the elements that constituted family and domestic life are changing, with all emotion(s) being kept under control and without there being any idea of how to appear and behave towards other human beings.
Addendum: At present, it is not only the companies that produce consumer goods that are disappearing but also the old system of stores to sell them; outlets no longer exist, nor the groups of big stores that used to employ thousands of people. It seems that the end of the spoken and written word is giving rise to a new fashion in the human way of life without ideology and without ethics, which we still cannot understand.