Friday, 29 January 2010

The relation of Roland Barthes to Primark's Boyfriend Blazer

As a recent womenswear fashion trend the Boyfriend Blazer, a long, oversized blazer was seen (and partly still is) everywhere on the high street. What is particular about this blazer however, is not its cut or the fact that it is marketed as daywear, but its rolled up sleeves, which reveal a contrasting lining. The sleeves are not only displayed in their rolled-up form, but actually pre-manufactured -held up with a stitch .

Roland Barthes' 1967 The Fashion System (English translation 1983) draws upon the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure's semiology (the system of signs):
Saussure divides language into langue (language) and parole (speech), with langue representing a system of fixed rules, which is independent from the individual, whereas parole is the individual mode of using langue. Applied to fashion Barthes translates this into dress and dressing.
While dress is concerned with social components, like age, gender, class, degree of civilization and location, dressing is empirical and concerned with ‘how’ something is worn, yet for Barthes bears no conscious intention of transporting sociological value. (2006, p. 8-9) As a working hypothesis he put together the following dressing objects (2006, p.18-19):

1 - the individual dimensions of the garment in relation to the size of the wearer
2 - the degree and particularities of how worn-out, scruffy or dirty
3 - pieces or items missing
4 - non usage (buttons not done up, rolled up sleeves)
5 - pure protection. Not formalized (improvised outfits)
6 - choice of colours /except ritualized colours)
7 - circumstantial derivations for an item’s deployment
8 - non-stereotyped acts of usage particular to the wearer
9 - anomalies, or allowances, in the dress object

Now to return to the Boyfriend Blazer and looking at number 4 of Barthes dressing objects above, this reflects the cycle of fashion rather well: A simple stylistic aspect is first featured by a couple of individuals, which at this stage I would definitely classify as dressing in Barthes’ sense. The question of intention becomes interesting yet again. Whilst somewhere down the line the sleeves where rolled up to regulate temperature or to give more freedom of movement, the sole intention shifts to aiming to make a fashion statement. As it is adopted by more and more people and ultimately mass-manufactured, this trend enters dress and would have certainly been dropped by its initiators.

Barthes, R. (1983), The Fashion System. Translated by Matthew Ward and Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang
Barthes, R., Stafford, A. and Carter, M (eds) (2006), The Language of Fashion. Translated by Andy Stafford, Oxford and New York: Berg

1 comment:

  1. I bought one similar (minus the hideous lining) last summer. I wore it a few times, loved it. Then I put it one the other morning it looked tragic. That's what you get for buying into a fashion trend when it is already about to draw its last breath. I'll wait round with it for next time.