Dresscodes freak me out


Text / Laura Meijnen

To me, there’s nothing scarier than an invitation with a dress code. All these bloody questions that come with it! For the sake of my own confusion, I started a little investigation towards the relationship between fashion and language. No more drama needed.

Meaning, language and fashion

Imagine getting a party-invite with the dress code ‘suits’. What do you wear? A tracksuit, a pyjama suit, a swimsuit, a normal pantsuit, or maybe just a typical suit, worn with a bow tie? So many options, yet so little clarification.

As it turns out, I am not the only person who’s been digging into this question of meaning, language and fashion. Various researchers from the field of sociology, cultural theory and later fashion theories preceded me. They’ve researched the topic and came up with some interesting conclusions that might serve as an inspiration for my outfit. Hooray to theory!

Take Roland Barthes, a French philosopher, linguist, critic and semiotician. He was one of the first to connect language, a system of signs, to the world of fashion. His collection of essays in the book The Fashion System have proven to be very insightful when it comes to debates about what to wear when your invite has a dress-code. By investigating specific cultural materials, he exposes how society has connected certain values and meanings to objects.

'Wear a suit', was all I knew

Let’s get back to that dress code invitation of ‘suits’ again. The first suit popping up in your head to wear at a party might be a black tie suit. When thinking of this garment, we (or at least, I) instantly think of a successful male figure in an official occasion like a gala, wedding or another high-class event.

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Our connotations with the word become meaningful through our experiences. These meanings have become so called ‘second-order signs’ -in Barthes’ words- for a specific item of clothing. Whereas some people may still think of a suit in a different way, anyone having the same experiences with a suit as I do will connect similar values to the material object that is the black-tie suit.

The magazines will provide answers

You might be thinking now, isn’t this how everything in fashion works? Magazines nowadays tell us how tracksuits are back in fashion, that bathing suits are the new ‘sexy’ and that we can be sure they will replace the bikini for the next season.

All the connotations that used to come with, for example the tracksuit; it being sportswear (or ‘athleisure’), are suddenly gone. A new meaning replaces the former, just because of the authority that the magazine seems to have. It kind of indicates that any item can be loaded with any meaning, as long as the sender has enough authority.

Oh well, I guess if the magazines now tell me the kind of suit to wear this season is the tracksuit -leaving open which version I might go for- then this is what I must pick for the dress code party. The only thing I’m left hoping for is that everyone visiting has been reading the same magazines as I did.



Art directors Annika & Lotte, Photography / Stephen Ligthert, Models / Joost Koster & Luna Voors, Mua / Dominique Rikken