What makes a Style Icon?

This profile was written for QUT Introduction to Fashion

“I’ll have a chai latte on almond milk,” Bianca Rapp beams at the waiter, “please!” As she jots down the 18-year-old’s coffee order, the waiter’s eyes linger on Bianca’s metallic sandals, before moving across the bright blue shift dress falling across her tanned legs. It’s Gorman, of course: Bee’s signature brand. What inspired me to choose my long-term dance partner as my fashion icon is her ability to maintain a strong personal style of “colour and patterns”– no matter the environment or context.

Studying a diploma of dance full-time, Bianca’s current clothing cycle consists of ac- tivewear five days a week. Her daily selection of lycra tights and sports bras upholds Joanne Entiwstle’s argument in Fashion, Clothing, Identity: A Modern Contradiction that how we dress ourselves is almost always contextual, as our “clothing is shaped by prevail- ing social conventions.” Despite the narrowing of her wardrobe to suit her environment, Bianca says: “I don’t constrict myself… I’m still known for my colour co-ordi- nation and funky tights.” The vibrancy and boldness of these garments are transparent with her identity, as Bianca’s clothing allows her to assert her identity and bubbly personality. Entwistle states that the fashion industry invites people to express their values, attitudes and beliefs through their outfits, both subtly and overtly. Bianca’s vivid dresses, statement sunglasses and flared leg pants are a conscious decision to convey her own optimistic disposition.

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While Bee adores wearing the current trends of “Birkenstocks, vintage jeans and button up shirts,” she won’t be caught dead (or alive!) wearing Nike slides or a Gucci bumbag, regardless of the label. Fashion writer Uche Okonkwo stated in her book, Fashion Branding, that “Consumers expect brands to innovate in creating trends … We desire for them to understand our psychology, changing tastes and way of thinking.” Not all trends manage to reach all demographics, but those that do are backed by highly-acclaimed branding. Okonkwo says true companies generate trends, which are reinforced through branding. The branded items found in Bianca’s wardrobe include Gorman, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Coach and Victoria’s Secret, which she says have superior fabric quality and unique, distinctive designs. “Differentiation, exclusivity, innovation, product craftsmanship and precision” are all core characteristics of luxury brands that separate them from everyday clothing lines.

Location also impacts the success of a label or trend, as Bianca believes the geography of fashion differs between countries: “When I go to America I am a lot more brand driven, as their outlet stores are amazing.” In Australia, she finds herself more boutique-focused, scouring vintage stores such as West End’s SWOP shop for second-hand scores. Shopping is an example of material culture in fashion, which refers to textile production, washing machines and even a certain mobile app called Instagram. How so? Fashion bloggers, stylists and influencers dominate the surplus of images circulating the app and therefore the globe. Instagram plays a prevalent role in defining Bianca’s personal style, as she “gets so much inspiration from social media.” According to Heike Jenss in Fashion Studies, fashion is an integral part of material culture, limited not “to what we may associate with high fashion or an elite” but the “fashioning of the body and self,” or in Bianca’s case: scrolling on Instagram.

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In Fashion and Gender, Entwistle emphasises the absence of a “natural link between an item of clothing and femininity… instead there is an arbitrary set of associations which are culturally specific.” This concept is representative of Bianca’s explanation of femininity and masculinity in particular garments: long dresses comprised of light material leads to the dancer feeling like a “fairy queen,” whereas slouchy jeans make her look like a “surfer boy.” These omnipresent reactions to gender are present because society fundamentally connects skirts with women and pants with men. Universally, jeans are considered a “global phenomena that effectively dominates contemporary clothing and fashion,” becoming a staple in every wardrobe around the world as a representation of both genders. Sportswear has fallen under the same umbrella, forming part of the uniform of youth. “Like jeans, sportswear items are ubiquitous in the everyday dress of people in the 21st century,” the wider public wearing activewear not just for sweat sessions, but coffee dates and grocery shopping.

So, what makes a style icon? A style icon refers to someone who is highly fashionable, influential and unique. Bianca upholds this ideal vision as she applies her vibrant style to all aspects of her wardrobe, keeping her fashion identity consistent despite her environment. The dancer engages in material culture by shopping for high-end brands and their related trends, and finding her own style icons through social media. Bianca recognises the gender association she has with clothing, identifying with a feminine sense of dress while embodying the uniforms of youth: jeans and sportswear.

 

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