The Fashion System
Book: The Fashion System
Written by: Roland Barthes, Translated by: Matthew Ward and Richard Howard
Published by: University of California Press, 1990
Roland Baarthes’s ‘The Fashion System’ applies the semiotic method (use of symbols) to explain the fashion system. Barthes elucidates how fashion is a symbolic system that includes not only clothing itself, but also representations of clothing in text and image, fashion magazines, films, and other depictions. According to Barthes, any particular object (a dress, a tailored suit, a belt) has three different structures — one technical, another, iconic, and the third, verbal (p. 5). The technical structure represents the actual physical object, the garment itself; the iconic structure refers to any photographs/drawing of the object, and the verbal structure stands for the written or spoken description of the object. In other words the fashion system is the translation of the technical structure into the verbal structure using words to describe the fashion objects. Furthermore, Barthes clarifies that, “this study actually addresses neither clothing not language but the “translation,” so to speak, of one into the other, insofar as the former is already a system of signs: an ambiguous goal,… it escapes both the linguists, the science of verbal signs, and semiology, the science of object-signs” (p.x).
The book is devised into twenty chapters engaging with the themes such as- ‘written clothing,’ ‘between things and words,’ ‘the endless garment,’ ‘the assertion of species,’ ‘variants of existence and relation,’ ‘the rhetorical system,’ ‘the reason of fashion,’ ‘economy of the system,’ and so on. Barthes uses some terminologies to study the fashion system such as ‘the substance’ —the garment in its materiality, ‘the species,’ e.g., blouse, smock, necklace, skirt etc., ‘the genus’— which shows the richness of the species, e.g., apron, clip, belt etc., ‘the variants’ among others.
“Fashion can constitute itself as logic… an exact system. Fashion to the world…no longer human productive power in an abstract sense, but as an ensemble of “reasons” i.e., as an ideology…” (p.278)