Celebrity Fashion: Why They Wear What They Wear

Katelyn Brown Comm 320 December 16, 2006

Some wear stripes, and some wear spots. Some wear short, and some long. Some wear sparkly, and some wear sheik. What determines the fashions that today’s celebrities are crooning over when making an appearance on the red carpet or in the general public? Fashion is a form of self-expression that rarely receives the recognition that it deserves as a major influence on today’s popular culture. Throughout the decades, fashion has changed dramatically from the printed patterns of the 50’s and 60’s to the layered look of the new millenium. Regardless of the trend or time period, fashion is continually being portrayed and influenced by a certain group of people that have direct access to main media sources as well as seemingly unending funds: Hollywood’s finest, celebrities. The most important question that needs to be answered before even getting into this topic is ‘Why do people associate fashion with celebrities in the first place?’ An important psychological point to make is that people associate beauty with success and goodness (Ashmore)1. When we see celebrities on television and in magazines, of course they look surreal. Most pictures show famous celebrities in a light that appears to make them flawless: perfect hair, perfect complexion, perfect body…perfect outfit.2 We associate this beauty with the success and apparent happiness of the person pictured. Naturally, we aspire to be like these celebrities because of their beauty, success,

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In a study on the perception of “what is beautiful is good” by professors from Purdue University and Rutgers – The State University of New Hampshire, subjects were given photographs of people with different levels of attractiveness. The subjects were then asked to rate the people on the basis of different personality traits and life outcomes, such as career success. “Indeed, subjects ascribed more favorable personality traits and more successful life outcomes to the pictured individuals to the extent that they were physically attractive”. For more information on this study, read the article entitled “What Is Beautiful Is Good, But…: A Meta-Analytic Review of Research on the Physical Attractiveness Stereotype”. 2 These images are all manufactured, not natural; therefore, our association of perfection with this particular celebrity is flawed by the lack of authenticity of the image.

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and apparent happiness. People imitate the popular fashion trends because perhaps if they look like the people they aspire to, they will also be as happy and successful.3 New York Fashion magazine comments, “Some people’s search for identity goes no further than wanting that expensive bag on that movie star in that issue of InStyle. Shoppers who have to imitate Kate Moss to express themselves are a retailer’s dream; they’ll pay any price if you clock them wearing that Dior Saddle bag” (New York Fashion). Another reason most people associate fashion with celebrities is the issue of monetary wealth. One can assume that a nearly unlimited amount of money would result in the latest and most expensive fashion trends showing up in the closets of the most popular celebrities. Money allows them to keep up with the ever-changing trends without thinking twice about what it will cost. Also, money and popularity allow the celebrities to attend fashion shows in the so-called “fashion capitals” of the world (New York, Paris, Milan, London, and Tokyo), bringing back the latest trends that may not have been revealed in our home country. This European influence signifies status, something most people want and aspire to gain, because Europe is associated with luxury.4 A third reason that people associate fashion with celebrities has to do with the individual designers. If a designer is trying to gain publicity for themselves, or even if they are trying to get discovered, they need to put an outfit on someone that is going to attract attention. Who better than a famous movie star or musical artist? For example, contemporary fashion designer Zac Poser got his big break in 2000 when young actress Natalie Portman discovered his talent and wore one of his
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“These days the fashion industry relies more on mass market sales. The mass market caters for a wide range of customers, producing ready-to-wear clothes in large quantities and standard sizes. Cheap materials, creatively used, produce affordable fashion. Mass market designers generally adapt the trends set by the famous names in fashion. They often wait around a season to make sure a style is going to catch on before producing their own versions of the original look. In order to save money and time, they use cheaper fabrics and simpler production techniques which can easily be done by machine. The end product can therefore be sold much more cheaply. Increasingly more modern high-end designers are now beginning to turn to mass market retailers to produce lower-priced merchandise, and to broaden their customer base” (Wikipedia – fashion design).
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Consider the evolution of the word luxury. It has paradoxically come to mean “style that everyone can afford.” Ironically, luxury is associated with high-class material items that are not able to be purchased by the masses (New York Fashion). 2

dresses on the red carpet.5 Designers gain credibility when a celebrity chooses to wear a piece of clothing or accessory designed by them. Viewers can then assume that the top celebrities will be the best (or worst) dressed because they are in high demand by all of the newest and best designers. The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929. A black tie affair, yes; however, nothing compared to the commotion today about the fashion apparel of the celebrities at the ceremony. The values of culture have changed since then, and now we, as a society, place much more emphasis on the material image. Image has become a media commodity in which society has chosen to focus. This idea of changing cultural values is the first determinant of fashion because it directly affects the choices that celebrities make in their wardrobe. Back when the ceremony was first originated, it was more about the actual awards than the outfits of the recipients. People were praised for their accomplishments in their career rather than the accomplishments of their clothing designer. With the ever-changing culture, celebrities have to put more conscious thought into their appearance, which affects what they choose to wear on a day-to-day basis and on the red carpet. An aspect of changing culture affecting the wardrobe decisions of celebrities is the trends themselves. A celebrity who knows what the current trends are then has a decision to make: conform to a trend already established, create a new trend, or break away from the norm. One example of a celebrity that conforms to a trend already established is MaryKate Olsen. Her innovative “bohemian” style is simply a new twist on an already existing trend started primarily by actress Sienna Miller back in 2003. Sienna Miller’s “boho” style consists of clothing items such as vintage cowboy boots, faux-fur gilets, and cut-off denim mini skirts, all of which MaryKate, as well as others, try to replicate with a little twist of their own flare. This trend is just now catching on in a new wave of fashion for young celebrities.6
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For more information on Zac Poser, visit Wikipedia. See Teen Scene Magazine’s “What to Wear – Sienna Miller”.

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When a fashion trend is created, it only lasts so long and then becomes part of the mainstream. After this happens, new trends and distinct styles must be created in order to avoid becoming one of the masses.7 To publicly establish status and class in society, one must stay ahead of the game in the fashion world by wearing new trends or representing new and distinctive designers. Another example of a modern popular trend is referred to as “Jesus chic”8. Madonna, an example of one of the biggest trendsetters in modern-day society, has been spotted wearing this newly-discovered fashion. For Madonna, being spotted in a “Jesus is my Homeboy” shirt is going to gain major publicity because she takes part in a religion called Kabbalah, which could be considered a branch of Judaism.9 Madonna was the main player in popularizing this appropriation and parody of fashion10, which seems to be the new trend in Hollywood these days. An example of a celebrity that chose to break away from the norm is Icelandic pop singer Bjork when she chose to wear a “swan” dress to the Oscars a few years back. The changing culture has allowed some celebrities to break away from the traditional Oscar dresses and take a chance in the spotlight. This particular choice of outfit, however, received much criticism from other celebrities as well as the general public, showing that image does have its boundaries and that not all is acceptable. Fashion can have its extreme highs and lows, but some styles will never become a trend.

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See Practices of Looking.

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“Jesus chic” refers to the clothing that was created as a result of the success of the movie “The Passion of the Christ”. T-shirts, jewelry, hats, and many more articles of clothing proudly bear religious slogans such as “Jesus is my Homeboy” or “My Savior is Tougher than Nails”. I can easily make the assumption that people don’t wear these slogans to represent or show off their relationship with God, but to stay “in” with the trend because it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do. This trend has caused much controversy over the level of respect that putting Jesus on a T-shirt shows; however, this is exactly what the trend does, it makes a statement.
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The Jewish religion does not believe that Jesus was the Savior of humanity, therefore making Madonna’s shirt ironic and destabilizing religion as a whole. For more information on Kabbalah, refer to Wikipedia.
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Madonna initiated this when she mimicked the style of Marilyn Monroe in her music video “Material Girl”. 4

Cultural events also influence what particular celebrities will wear. Post-September 11th, many celebrities reverted back to a more conservative fashion such as black dresses and pearls as a sign of class. Alice Roi was quoted in the New York Times saying, "Right after 9/11 we were all into this perfect pearls, 50s lady look for a second, but I think people are ready to be stronger and more aggressive in more ways” (Roi). People certainly have become stronger and more aggressive since the tragedy back in 2001. Culture has allowed celebrities and also the public to become more aggressive in their costume choices. I bet within the next couple years, another major culture shift will leave the current trends in the dust, and out of the ashes will rise a new and completely unique fashion world. The second major determinant of a celebrity’s wardrobe is the emphasis or reinforcement of identity. We’ve all seen and heard sharp-tongued Joan Rivers dish out her opinions about fashion on the red carpet, but why does the entire media institution and its viewers crave this portion of the show as much, if not more, than the actual awards? Every viewer hopes to catch a glimpse of their favorite celebrity’s outfit, which gives viewers an inside look at the celebrity’s personality Celebrities are looking for that outfit that will describe their personality and bring out that personality for the public. From designers such as Chanel to Louis Vutton to Bebe, all fashion apparel is created and worn to give the wearer a sense of identity and distinction. With this sense of identity comes also a sense of ambivalence, a conflict between wanting to please ourselves while also pleasing others. …identity tensions that seek an outlet in dress… soon succumb to a dialect of endless reflexivities spawned by a host of ever-shifting ambivalences regarding matters of wealth, worldly attainment, and social position. And, as is the case with identity polarities in general, it is this ambivalence that affords dress and fashion endless opportunity for innovation and variation (Davis 57-58).

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We are a society that makes judgements based on appearance and impressions. Celebrities are constantly under the judgmental surveillance of the public eye and are continually pressured to reiterate their personal identity. "The red carpet is now more important than the catwalk as millions more people watch these kind of events than fashion shows, meaning millions more will imitate their clothes," says Fiona McIntosh, a columnist on the celebrity and fashion magazine Grazia. With the red carpet becoming ever more important, the public is starting to incorporate their fashion trends straight from the celebrities at this event as opposed to the catwalk. The third major determinant of a celebrity’s attire pertains to the availability of designers that fit their specific identity. Individual designers have his/her own sense of style that celebrities will either accept or reject based on the compatibility with the identity they want to portray. For example, Kate Winslet has been in the spotlight for a number of years, but made her big break in the movie Titanic, playing the protagonist, Rose. Now 26 years old, Kate portrays a certain simplicity and maturity in her image that defines part of her identity. Richard Eyre, director of the movie “Iris”, comments, “You can always find Kate in a crowd. But what she's also got, and what's so attractive, is her intelligence. You know, that's what's sexy” (Eyre). One popular designer brand that Kate Winslet praises, Badgley Mischka11, has been in the spotlight highlighting numerous famous celebrities besides Kate Winslet, including Madonna, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Jennifer Lopez. The signature style presented by this particular brand is “simple, streamlined, and thoroughly elegant”. By wearing this brand, she is presenting herself to the public in a positive light because this brand is associated with elegance and timelessness.12 These traits are parallel to the identity that she is aiming to portray, which is a reason why she has chosen this particular brand. By exploring
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The brand name was created from a combination of the two creators, Mark Badgley and James Mischka. See the website at http://www.BadgleyMischka.com.
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A perfect example of this classic elegance is when Kate Winslet wore a lovely periwinkle blue gown to the 77th Academy Awards in 2005 (see image).

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color and style, Kate Winslet is also showing that she is not afraid to step away from motherhood and indulge herself in beauty and class.13 Kate Winslet choosing to wear Badgley Mischka is just one example of an actress choosing a designer brand to make a statement about a particular identity; in this case, elegance. Another very famous celebrity whose identity is brought out in her attire is Christina Aguilera. As a young artist, she was very innocent-looking until the release of her second album in which she becomes highly sexualized. Now a mature celebrity, Christina Aguilera is one of the top trendsetters on the scene in modern-day popular culture, wearing styles from extremely scandalous to theatrical to retro, all very risky attire. Her identity is one that continues to change physically, however, she remains true to herself by continually choosing new fashions and expressing herself independently of all the other trends. Christina Aguilera portrays an element of scandal combined with an aura of sophistication. Her hair stylist, Peter Savic, comments “Christina Aguilera refuses to be typecast. Just when the public had come to love her baby blond looks, the Irish-Ecuadorian singer stopped playing Barbie and defiantly embraced cornrows and a gaggle of hair colors—even granny gray with black lowlights” (Savic). When Christina Aguilera got married, she wanted to choose a dress that would reflect her inner creative personality and truly express her identity as an individual, so she chose a very unique designer, Christian Lacroix. Christian Lacroix is known for his very theatrical style, designing dresses for stars such as Uma Thurman. His unique creativity puts extra emphasis on antique styles with lots of lace and a variety of colors with a slight element of scandal. By choosing this particular designer and gown, Christina Aguilera makes a statement that says she is creative and unique which supports her portrayal of an identity revolving around
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Badgley Mischka is not just for the older generations of popular celebrities. MaryKate and Ashley Olsen have just recently been replaced as the fresh faces and spokespeople of the particular brand. Sharon Stone, another popular young celebrity, is taking over as star of the new Fall advertising campaign. Sharon Stone comments on why she likes this particular brand, “I've always thought of wearing their dress like going to a great party -- they're fun, elegant and intricately detailed" (Fashion Windows).

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taking risks in her wardrobe. She is willing to step outside of the box that is typical fashion and explore the possibilities, taking a chance in a culture that is not always so forgiving of fashion mistakes. A third example of a celebrity whose identity is apparent in her wardrobe is Kiera Knightly. “Unafraid to speak her mind, Knightley's personality is as much a breath of fresh air as are her looks. She comes across as a fun-loving yet determined woman who's content with riding out her wave of success”(AskMen.com). Her image is of a hard-working woman that is grounded and ready to tackle the harshness of the movie industry. This diva also has a darker side that is apparent in some of her movies, as well as in some of her fashion choices. Who is this starlett wearing these days? A very proper choice for the 2006 Oscars was a gown from the Spring collection of Vera Wang (see image). This deep purple dress is unique for the season and “darkly romantic”, describing that side of Kiera Knightly perfectly. Vera Wang is a highly accomplished ChineseAmerican designer who has worked her way up from the bottom of the chain to become successful and a popular choice among many of today’s hottest celebrities. Similar to Kiera Knightly, Vera Wang also experiments with a darker element in a portion of her collection. She appeals to the side of Kiera Knightly that wishes to illustrate that darkness, making these two a perfect fashion match. By wearing this particular dress, Kiera is reiterating that she does indeed have a darker side; however, that darker side is not necessarily less elegant or mature in regards to fashion. While a lesson in fashion is not the aim of this essay, a crucial point that I am trying to make is that today’s popular culture has greatly overlooked the variety of influences that affect what people in our society wear and consider fashionable. A big part of understanding and appreciating the aesthetics of today’s fashion is related to the concept of taste. Pierre Bourdieu came to the conclusion that “taste is not inherent in particular people, but rather is learned through exposure to social and cultural institutions that promote certain class-based assumptions about correct

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taste”(Practices of Looking). This exposure to social and cultural institutions is brought about through mass media in form of television and magazines in today’s society. I do not believe, however, that correct taste is purely based on class assumptions. Anyone, regardless of class, can appreciate a work of art, including appreciation of fashion. Class distinctions are made based on monetary wealth; what someone can or cannot afford does not divide the population on tastefulness. However, what one can afford will affect the wardrobe that they will buy, but having taste doesn’t necessarily mean buying the most expensive products. New York Fashion Magazine states that “even if we can’t afford the painting in the museum, we love looking at it” (New York Fashion). There are many determining factors that affect the wardrobe of today’s popular celebrities. While changing cultural values play a big role, identity and the availability of designers to create attire that fits that identity also are major factors. Culture is always changing, and celebrities are expected to keep up with the current trends and styles in the fashion world because they have the knowledge and monetary support to do so. Fashion reflecting identity is important in any celebrities’ wardrobe because it makes a statement as to who they are and what they are attempting to portray. The designer choice greatly reflects that illustration of an image that a celebrity tries to achieve, and therefore, a match can be created between the designer and the celebrity. The determining factors of what celebrities wear affect all of society. The trends that are created, as well as the trends that are simply conformed to, affect the way that we as the general public, view the fashion world and its icons. We want to share that same symbol of status that the famous celebrities possess, and one way that we feel we can accomplish this is through the imitation of major fashion apparel. The supposed happiness and success of these beautiful people affect the way that we see ourselves and the goals to which we aspire. We are the masses. We can run into Kohls and recreate an outfit that we saw on our favorite celebrity within 10 minutes of having seen them; however, if we wait a day or two until a designer decides that it is a fashion trend, we can buy

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it straight from them for ten times the price. The dominant hegemonic force driving us to go into a store is the hope that we, too, can express our identity and personality through the clothes that we wear. By wearing what we see on television and in magazines, we, for a moment, can transcend our class boundaries and be associated with the celebrities that also exercise that same look. Coco Chanel states “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening”(Chanel).

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Works Cited

Ashmore, Richard D. “What Is Beautiful Is Good, But…: A Meta-Analytic Review of Research on the Physical Attractiveness Stereotype”. Rutgers- The University of New Hampshire. 2003. Cartwright, Lisa and Marita Sturken. Practices of Looking. Oxford University Press, Inc. New York, 2001. Consumption, Markets and Culture. e. Alladi Venkatesh and A Fuat Firat. Vol 2. Number 1. Gordon and Breach. 1998. 1-104. Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture and Identity. University of Chicago Press. 1992: 57-58. Freeman, Hadley. “The Politics of Fashion”. The Guardian. London. 2006. Patner, Josh. “The High Price of Fashion”. Spring Fashion Guide. New York Magazine. Feb, 2006. “Transformation – Christina Aguilera”. InStyle online. Time, Inc. 2006. “What to Wear – Sienna Miller”. Teen Scene Magazine. e. Ritu Sharma. 2000-2006. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. http://www.wikipedia.com. Dec. 16, 2006. Winkenwerder, Heide. “Sharon Stone Headlines Badgley Mischka’s Fall Advertising Campaign”. Fashion Windows. 2006. www.AskMen.com. “Kiera Knightly”. Dec 16, 2006.

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