Fashion and Communication

In a new blog post on the CommsWomen platform, Palmer Hayes, a student at the University of Alabama, College of Communication and Information Sciences, analyses an article on fashion and communication by Malcolm Barnard published by Popular Communication Journal by Routledge.

The article “Fashion as Communication Revisited” written by Malcolm Barnard, begins by highlighting fashion’s prevalence and lengthy history in human culture by characterizing it as the clothes individuals wear daily. It is said that fashion is a well-recognized topic that has been around for at least seven hundred years and is available to everyone. The article goes on to discuss how clothes are frequently perceived as sending messages about the person and how fashion is typically considered as a means of expression. It explores the sender/receiver communication model that is frequently used in the fashion industry and points out its drawbacks.                  

Fashion journalism and cultural studies frequently see fashion as a means of communicating ideas. It references several researchers and examples, including Jennifer Craik’s investigation of clothing as a distinct code that identifies both elements and messages and Doug Kellner’s research of Madonna’s shifting fashions. Examples of how fashion is seen as conveying strong messages, whether on purpose or not, include Lucy Clarke’s analysis of Meghan Markle’s outfit selections and Melania Trump’s remarks regarding her parka worn to a detention facility.           

 The piece highlights how common it is for fashion journalists to speculate about hidden or secret messages, as well as Melania Trump’s parka episode, which raised and then refuted the possibility of a hidden message. To challenge the idea that there are hidden messages in fashion, the constitutive prosthesis concept was introduced. Fashion communication is more complicated than only transmitting and receiving signals.                                      Uncertainty about the sender and recipient’s identities, trouble characterizing noise in communications, and difficulties comprehending and telling what was sent from what was received. David Gunkel’s analysis of this paradigm, which questions conventional notions of the human subject, introduces the idea of the cyborg. Gunkel talks about the fundamental nature of the prosthesis, which truly facilitates human experience, and views the cyborg as merely an addition to the human. To explain why concealed messages in fashion are improbable, this critique proposes that the sender/receiver model is insufficient for comprehending fashion communication.                 

Semiological models of communication are constructed through signifiers and signifieds. It presents the idea of a prosthesis as a critique of semiological and sender/receiver theories. It is argued that the prosthesis—which is defined as an external object that stands in for or represents us—contributes to the development of both individual and group identities. It casts doubt on the notion that fashion reflects a permanent cultural identity or an innate nature. Writing serves as a model of the constitutive prosthesis, which is necessary for experience and meaning. It disproves the idea that there could be hidden signals and contends that fashion objects, as signifiers, are always already signified and help to shape both individual and societal identities. This highlights the contradictory nature of identity creation and confuses the commonsense view of clothes as mere extras to the self.

In conclusion Malcolm Barnard’s article “Fashion as Communication Revisited” explores the intricacies of fashion communication, questioning accepted beliefs and paradigms. It looks at how people frequently view fashion to express themselves and how clothing is thought to convey messages about the wearer. It does, however, criticize the sender/receiver communication paradigm, drawing attention to issues with message interpretation and identification uncertainty. It introduces the idea of the constitutive prosthesis and raises concerns about the possibility of hidden messages in fashion through examples drawn from cultural studies and fashion journalism. This idea contends that clothing and other external things have a role in the construction of both individual and social identities, challenging semiological conceptions of communication. In the end, the essay clarifies the contradictory character of identity construction in relation to fashion.

A full article can be read using this link.


Malcolm Barnard (2020) Fashion as communication revisited, Popular Communication, 18:4, 259-271, DOI:

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