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For daily, festive, ceremonial, and ritual events, African clothing, like clothes everywhere else, conveys age, gender, profession, ethnicity, power, and religious devotion.  Africans use Islamic and indigenous clothing in addition to trendy Western clothing.  Dressing include completely or partly covering the body with clothing and accessories such as head coverings and jewelry, as well as altering the body with tattoos or piercing.  For Africans, dressing properly entails correct behavior and exquisite style, which includes suitable clothing, cosmetics, and coiffure, as well as spectacular carriage, graceful movement, meticulous toilette, and spotless clothes.  Everyday African clothing expresses personal idiosyncrasy as well as socially important categories.  When Africans wear uniforms or clothes made from the same fabric, their clothing promotes group connection while minimizing individualism. 

Jean Baudrillard

One of the foremost visionary theorists of postmodernism and poststructuralism is the French academic Jean Baudrillard (born 1929). 

His early criticism was motivated by a particular radicalism that emerged in France after 1968 and featured a critical challenge to the disciplines, techniques, theories, styles, and discourses of the academic intellectual establishment. 

He was educated as a sociologist. 

Major paradigm developments in Baudrillard's social theory occurred after the late 1960s. 

His theory of consumption, which he initially developed in the 1970s, predicted the rise of the consumer society with its dual emphasis on visual (material) and virtual (electronic and cyberspace) cultures. 

Theorizing by Baudrillard that relates to fashion was part of his earlier work and is a component of his larger examination of items in consumer culture. 

This plan hypothesized a progression from "dress," where sartorial meaning (of differentiating and distinguishing) lived in natural signals, to "fashion," where meaning resided in oppositional (structuralist) signs, to "post-fashion," where signs are unattached to referents and meaning (poststructuralist). 

As seen in The System of Objects (1968), The Consumer Society (1970), and For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1972), Baudrillard's early work can be divided into three phases: 

(a) the reworking of Marxist social theory with an emphasis on the "sign"; 

(b) a critique of Marxism as seen in The Mirror of Production (1975) 

(c) and Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), where Baudrillard substitutes symbolic exchange for utilitarian 


Initially, Baudrillard claimed that things become bearers of social meaning when they transition from the world of function (reflecting use value and exchange value) to the realm of signification (reflecting sign value). 

They specifically turn into "things." An analogy between a system of things (commodity) and a system of signs serves as the foundation for Baudrillard's concept of sign value (language). 

He studied fashion, media, ideologies, and images using the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure. 

Commodities are no longer defined by their use, but rather by what they signify—not individually, but as "set" in a comprehensive configuration—if consuming is a communication system (messages and pictures). 

De Saussure claimed that there are two components that make up the meaning of signs: signifiers (sound pictures), which index the signifieds (referent). 

The two underlying tenets of Saussurian structural linguistics are a metaphysics of depth and a metaphysics of surface. 

The metaphysics of depth makes the assumption that a signifier and an underlying signified are connected by meaning. 

According to the metaphysics of surface, signs get their meaning by their relationships with other signs rather than having an intrinsic meaning. 

In order to study commodities, Baudrillard built a genealogy of sign structures with three orders using a language (semiotic) analogy. 

The first order, which was built on imitation, assumes a duality in which appearances conceal reality. 

In the second, production-based order, outward appearances provide the impression that something is genuine. 


Images are reproduced from a model, no longer concerned with the actual, and it is this absence of a reference point that jeopardizes the ability to distinguish between genuine and false. 

There are similarities between historical theorizing of European sartorial signification and Baudrillard's historical theory of sign systems. 

The premodern stage is represented by the order of imitation, the modern stage by the order of production, and the postmodern stage by the order of simulacrum. 

Modern period. 

Throughout the history of European fashion, a lack of resources represented status in clothing. 

The wealthy classes possessed and showed expensive items. 

From the thirteenth century forward, social and technological advancements posed a challenge to the strict hierarchies of feudal society. 

This issue led to the introduction of sumptuary laws, which aimed to control clothing behaviors along social status lines by specifying exactly the kind and quality of materials that were acceptable to each class. 

Since fashion was not regulated by legislation, clothing started to evolve around the end of the fourteenth century. 

The aristocracy was able to differentiate itself by the speed at which it embraced new fashions thanks to this propensity, which was in accordance with Georg Simmel's "trickle-down theory" of fashion. 

Present-day stage. 

The invention of the sewing machine and wash-proof dyes, among other technical advancements that typified industrial capitalism, helped to promote fashion by bringing down the cost of raw materials. 

The indexical role of clothing was diminished as a result of mass production's growth in stylistic uniformity. 

The industrial revolution improved mobility, gave rise to the city and mass society, and increased social positions. 

It was replaced by a new system in which social placement was defined by effort (achieved status) rather than ancestry (ascribed status). 

To indicate position in the workplace since clothes no longer represented rank order, uniforms were developed (but instead defined time of day, activities, occasions, or gender). 

The aristocracy and the "new money" as a consequence developed a nuanced expert system of rank discrimination via appearance. 

This ideology assigned symbolic interpretations to minute details of appearance that revealed a person's personality or social rank. 

Additionally, it connected certain fashion choices to moral principles (for example, the notion of noblesse oblige). 

Postmodern stage. 

A fundamental departure from the prevalent culture and aesthetics is referred to as postmodernism. 

It symbolized diversity of forms, dispersion of styles, and hazy boundaries in architecture. 

It has taken the place of modernist unanimity, absolutism, and certainty with division, subjectivity, and ambiguity. 

It denotes a "crisis in representation" in the sciences. 

A variety of "narrative truths" that reflect discourse conventions, such as grammar rules that construct gender, metaphors and expressions that encode cultural assumptions and worldviews, and ideas about what constitutes a "good" story, have emerged as a result of this challenge to the "correspondence theory of truth." The postmodern cultural change has an impact on the fashion industry because it rejects tradition, relaxes standards, emphasizes individual diversity, and offers a wide range of fashion trends. 

According to Baudrillard, postmodern fashion is marked by a transition from the aristocratic order of seduction to the contemporary order of production (functionality and utility). 

Seduction gets its thrill from excess (sumptuary useless consumption of surplus, such as is displayed by celebrities). 

According to Baudrillard, the system of seduction signals the demise of the structuralist notion of antagonism as a foundation for meaning. 

His idea of seduction is that of an alluring, charmed libido. 

It is a love for games and rituals rather than desire. 

The seriousness of reality, meaning, morality, and truth are negated by seduction, which operates on the level of appearance, surface, and signals. 


Figure above is the result of breaking down the three levels of sartorial representation in terms of Baudrillard's signification relations. 

Clothes unambiguously correspond to rank in the hierarchy of imitation that characterized the premodern epoch. 

They clearly represent the natural order of things. 

Mass-produced clothing lost its status symbolism throughout the modern era, which was defined by the sequence of manufacture. 

It became crucial to determine if individuals were who they said they were or were only acting. 

The signifier indexes an underlying meaning, either inherent or created, in the imitation and production regimes. 

The principle of postmodern dress, which is completely self-referential and indifferent to any established social order, is what is meant by the term "order of simulation," or fashion for its own sake. 

According to Baudrillard, when actual history is abandoned as a reference point, all that is left are empty signs, which signals the end of signification as we know it. 

In conclusion, as simulation takes the role of production, it liberates the signifier from its connection to the signified and substitutes a cyclical order for the linear one. 

Thus, fashion as a means of enjoyment replaces fashion as a means of expression.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

Find Jai on Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

See also:

Benjamin, Walter; Brummell, George (Beau); Fash￾ion, Theories of; Mallarmé, Stéphane; Simmel, Georg; Wilde, Oscar.

References And Further Reading:

Baudrillard, Jean. The Mirror of Production. Translated by Mark Poster. St. Louis, Mo.: Telos Press, 1975.

—. For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. Translated by Charles Levin. St. Louis, Mo.: Telos Press, 1981.

—. Simulations. Translated by Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983.

—. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W. G. J. Niesluchowski. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990.

—. Seduction. Translated by Brian Singer. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

—. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1993.

—. The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena. Translated by James Benedict. London and New York: Verso, 1993.

—. The System of Objects. Translated by James Benedict. New York: Verso, 1996.

—. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1998.

Works about Jean Baudrillard

Gane, Mike, ed. Jean Baudrillard. 4 vols. Sage Masters of Modern Social Thought. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2000.

Kellner, Douglas. “Baudrillard, Semiurgy and Death.” Theory, Culture, and Society 4, no. 1 (1987): 125–146.

—. Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1989.

Kellner, Douglas, ed. Baudrillard: A Critical Reader. Oxford and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1989.

Poster, Mark, ed. Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988.

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