Fashion Design and Social Change: Women Designers and Stylistic Innovation

By Crane, Diana | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Spring 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Fashion Design and Social Change: Women Designers and Stylistic Innovation


Crane, Diana, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Women's fashion is always a statement about women's roles and how they are or should be performed. Therefore it is appropriate to ask whether, in their capacities as fashion designers, men and women interpret women's roles differently. To what extent does fashion express the experiences of most women? In the nineteenth century, fashionable clothes were intended to be worn for the social activities of upperand upper-middle-class women but were generally unsuitable for the everyday lives of other women. Gradually, in the twentieth century, simpler types of clothing, appropriate for women at all social class levels, appeared, but they often began outside the "fashion worlds" in which fashionable clothes were created. While women have always been dressmakers, only in the late nineteenth century did a few women become fashion designers and, in that capacity, begin to have the possibility of translating their experiences as women into clothing for women.

While one might suppose that women would dominate the field of fashion design for women, in fact, women designers have been in the past and continue today to be outnumbered by male designers in the field of fashion design for women.1 In the area of fashion design for men, they are definitely a minority.

Fashion design, as a type of cultural hegemony in which certain aspects of gender roles are favored rather than others, can be understood in part as the outcome of organizational structures and the constraints on behavior they necessitate. Social change which disrupts these relationships sometimes provides female designers with opportunities to challenge existing interpretations of female roles as they are embodied in fashionable clothing. In this essay, I will explore the differences between men and women fashion designers in the contexts of the fashion industries in three countries, England, France, and the United States.2 Using a typology of roles that fashion designers perform, I will compare the activities of men and women designers in those roles.

Based on Howard Becker's analysis in Art Worlds of the relationship between crafts and arts, the roles performed by fashion designers can be characterized as craftsman, artist-craftsman, and artist. Craftsmen and artist-craftsmen produce their work to order-for clients or employers. For craftsmen, utility is the major factor in evaluating their creations while artist-- craftsmen stress beauty and aesthetic qualities (27476). According to Becker, artists attempt to produce works that are unique-totally different from other objects. When artists use the skills of craftsmen, the objects they make are neither useful nor beautiful. Instead, they are deliberately created so as to subvert these values. Here Becker identifies the role of the artist with the avant-garde. In the fashion industry, the mass-market designer is likely to be a craftsman, while the luxury fashion designer is generally an artist-craftsman and, occasionally, an avant-garde artist. A contemporary equivalent of the avant-garde is the postmodernist, who violates standards of good taste through incongruous combinations of themes and motifs from past and present styles. An additional role that is not included in Becker's typology is that of innovator, specifically, a designer, either in the mass market or the luxury market, who creates styles that produce major changes in women's clothing.

Fashion industries vary by country in the extent to which they provide favorable environments for particular roles. The behavior of both men and women fashion designers is affected by the nature and echelon of the fashion industries in which they are employed. The situation of the French fashion designer is influenced by the long and prestigious tradition of haute couture, made-to-order clothes for upper-class customers. The French luxury fashion designer is revered as an artist-craftsman. Well-integrated in the upperclass social milieu whose members they clothe, these designers are seldom avant-garde.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Fashion Design and Social Change: Women Designers and Stylistic Innovation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?