(in organizations, too)
Simmel, G. (1923), Die Mode, in: Philosophische Kultur - Über das Abenteuer, die Geschlechter und die Krise der Moderne - Gesammelte Essais, Potsdam: Kiepenheuer.
(Below, you can read first my application of Simmel's essay to fashion in organizations, and then my summary of the essay.)
Fashion in organizations
Six Sigma, Business Process Reengineering, Agile, Management by Objectives, 360-Degree Feedback. When working in organizations, it is important to understand the role fashion plays in shaping the formal and informal structures we create and reproduce.
As far back as the 1923 essay 'Die Mode' (Fashion) by the sociologist Georg Simmel, the balancing act between conformity and differentiation in fashion, and its influence on individuals and society as a whole, was explored. An important conclusion from Simmel's classic essay is that fashion is driven by social and psychological motives, rather than by practical or aesthetic considerations. This can be seen in the way individuals use fashion to both fit in with and differentiate themselves from the group. That goes for our organizational fashions too.
Simmel emphasized the dangers of assimilation and loss of cultural differences in fashion, and how this can lead to a homogenization of behavior and attitudes. As organizational members, we must therefore be aware of the potential of fashion to shape the formal and informal structures in our organizations. We must encourage diversity and individuality, while also creating a sense of cohesion and belonging within our teams. It is important to recognize the potential that fashions can be used as a mask, hiding the true self while still meeting group norms. This is relevant e.g. in the context of gender and power dynamics in the workplace. And it applies to adhering to the latest organizational fashion.
In conclusion, understanding the complexities of fashion and its role in shaping our interactions with others can help us critically evaluate where fashions are okay and where they hide conflict and inequality.
Many tensions are present in the typical human existence, e.g. the need for movement and rest, productivity and receptivity, the desire for the general and the specific, and the balance between attachment to others and self-assertion. The richness of life is revealed in the ongoing tension and balance between these dualistic poles. In the history of society this can be seen as a struggle, a compromise, and slow reconciliation between these opposing forces.
The nature and origin of fashions
Fashion is characterized by the constant balancing between conformity and differentiation, where individuals both conform to the group and seek to differentiate themselves from it. The arbitrary and insignificant nature of the choices made in fashion, such as whether a skirt is wide or narrow, demonstrate its lack of connection to practical or aesthetic norms. This abstraction and disregard for reality is what gives fashion its allure, according to Simmel. The origins of fashion can be both personal, such as a specific individual's preference, or societal, such as the influence of economic conditions. Fashion is driven by social and psychological motives, rather than practical or aesthetic considerations, and it is constantly evolving.
"Part of the tribe"
Assimilation and the loss of cultural distinctions in regards to clothing, behavior, and taste among different societies can be dangerous. This is particularly prevalent in primitive social structures, where differences between groups are often minimized. The use of fashion, or the differentiation of clothing, helps to hold different groups together; the way people dress can influence their behavior. The newness of clothing can impose a certain uniformity of behavior and the rapidity of fashion changes is indicative of a society's level of nervousness.
Admiration and envy
Fashion can be both satisfying and frustrating for individuals, as it allows them to stand out and be unique, while also making them feel like part of a larger group. This creates a mix of admiration and envy towards those who are fashionable. This envy has a specific flavor, where individuals can enjoy the appearance of something or someone even if they don't possess it themselves, in a similar way that someone might enjoy looking at a piece of art. This separation of pure content from ownership can make envy possible. This idea of envy creates a sense of proximity and distance to what one envies; This proximity is the not in material possession, but in psychological content.
"Be yourself, but do fit in!"
Fashion is often used as a way for individuals to fit in with others while still being considered unique. Simmel posits that it is often difficult to determine whether someone's nonconformity is a sign of personal strength or weakness, it can stem from a desire to be different, or from a sensitivity to not being able to maintain one's individuality within societal norms. In Simmel's time, women were seen to be more attached to fashion because of their historically weak social position, and their use of conformity as a form of protection. Fashion is seen as a way of being like others, while also being different. It is often hard to determine whether the drive to be fashionable comes from a desire to conform or from a desire to stand out.
Simmel suggests that fashion never fully captures the whole person, and that it always remains somewhat external to them. This external nature of fashion allows individuals to use it as a mask, hiding their true selves while still conforming to societal norms. People who are sensitive to fashion often use it as a means of preserving their own personal taste and style, while not necessarily revealing it in their appearance. This way, fashion becomes a form of resistance or a way of triumphing over societal constraints.
"Express yourself" AND "R.E.S.P.E.C.T."
Individuals may engage with fashion and personal style in different ways. Some people try to conform to the fashion norms of their social group, either through sheer conformity or through an active use of it as a mask for their personal tastes and expression. This level of engagement with fashion can be limiting, but it also allows for a sense of control or power that individual can have over the things around them. “High people”, who have a deeper and stronger sense of self, respect and appreciate the individuality of the things around them, and don't feel threatened by the autonomy or indifference of things or people. Individuals should strive to find a balance between expressing themselves through fashion and respecting the individuality of the world around them.
The fashion cycle
There is a cycle of fashion, in which old styles that have fallen out of popular consciousness are often revived, generating new interest in them due to the contrast with current styles. Like art, fashion does not have the ability to fully encompass all aspects of reality. Certain things are better suited for certain artistic or fashion expressions than others. Just because something is popular or trendy does not necessarily mean it is the most suitable for the medium. The sovereignity of the fashion or art on reality is limited, and is not neutral or all-encompassing, so fashion can take in any content but not always in a suitable way or form.