Postmodernism in/as Fashion

We know already that “the essence of fashion is change” from the first post; but when we hear modern or modernity or modernism we only think about “being up to date”, originality or doing something new, progress and reinventing, improving, rationalism and universal values. It’s not just about the look but the way it felts and how people behave and think; the “new look” replaces the old.

If you don’t have any clue of what modernism is, you are going to not notice what’s different about post. I think that “modernity is like a code and fashion is an emblem”. It’s what’s stands from all of these ideas.But can fashion exist in postmodernity? And if so, what is going to be like? Is it going to be different? If we think about this in sort of notion of change, we don’t have any certitude that we can progress anymore.

Postmodernism is about self-fashioning (multiple identity), borrow style (pastiche), fragmentation in terms of ideas, incredulity to metanarratives (big stories), parody and irony, rise of subgroups, no common language, suspicious of truth, open to interpretation, relativism of values (e.g.: good vs. bad) and finding your own way, your own destination.

Nobody knows what’s going to come. In modernism some things are better than others, you can have good and you can have bad and in postmodernism there is no such thing as high and less high, good and less good. It’s about relativism of values, you don’t have good taste vs. bad taste anymore, now you have taste or you have tastes.

You don’t hear people say: “this is a good design”. It comes down to the individual to subgroups, to different regions. Modernism is seen as very vertical and postmodernism is seen as very lateral, it has no point from where it’s starts and is going in both sides. So that leads to this notion of critique, originality and progress. You are not going anywhere in particular, there is a lots of destination depending of who you are in it. It’s like a lack of confidence in progress, everything is being done so what else you can do? Everyone should go to their own destination and no one’s destination is better than another. Finally, you can find your own way and find your own questions.

Postmodernism tend still to be driven by the west in terms of these ideas. If you move away from this notion of originality and progress, you can look at lots and lots of sources for your ideas. You don’t invent something “new” anymore, you look constantly of what other people have done in the past, in the present, you look at other cultures and you borrow from them, you sample from them. We can’t find any postmodern look or style because now we have this “pastiche” notion which is borrowing without meaning, without value which means you’re looking at something and you’re thinking…okay, what is this supposed to mean? Postmodernism is delivered to left done ambiguous; is open and you have the task to make your own decision, your interpretation is no better than anybody else’s or no worst, is just another one, is different.

In terms of fashion again, we have the notion of self-fashion: in modernism you were born what you were, but in postmodernism you can have as many identities as you want. You have to choose to be part to one subgroup or subculture.alexander-mcqueen(Alexander McQueen)

In this period, fashion is crazy (e.g. Alexander McQueen), unconventional, abstract, extreme and inventive, is interpretive as well but sarcastic (pastiche again), is challenging the popular because everything has been done before, is a “supermarket of style” (Ted Polhemus).

Postmodern icon of the 80s or “the queen of appropriation” was Madonna, the “cyber-model of the New Women”. She has gone through so many “periods” and styles: from the “Marilyn Monroe period, a pastiche of 70s images in the Deeper and Deeper video, the dizzying incarnation of classic stars from Lauren Bacall to Marlene Dietrich for the Vogue video, and recreated herself as a sadomasochist alley cat for her book Sex” (R.Appignanesi and C. Garatt). For me, Madonna is like a old Lady Gaga or vice versa.


(Madonna vs Marilyn Monroe and a picture from Deeper and deeper video)

I think that most people definitely forgot what style means and they are trying to bring together a lot of elements from different sources, because “authenticity”, which was the key of modernity, is seen as problematic on postmodernism. “Style is now worth for its look, not for any underlying message, or rather, the look is now the message” (Muggleton,2000:44).



  • Appignanesi, R. & Garratt, C. 1995, Postmodernism for beginners, Icon Books, Cambridge