Often the fashion industry is treated superficially, yet our relationship with clothing runs deep. Using Steve Jobs as a case study, this article illustrates how clothes communicate and why people who say they ‘have nothing to do with fashion’ should think again.
“Clothes are among the most fraught objects in the material world of things, since they are so closely involved with the human body and the human life cycle. They are objects, but they are also images. They communicate more subtly than most objects and commodities, precisely because of that intimate relationship to our bodies and our selves, so that we speak of both a ‘language’ and a ‘psychology’ of dress.” (Elizabeth Wilson, Adorned in Dreams, 1985)
Ever thought about studying fashion? Most people think fashion is merely about clothes. However, even first-year lectures at AMFI teach you there is much more meaning behind a piece of clothing. Often the non-verbal language and underlying psychology doesn’t come to mind when the average person thinks of ‘fashion studies’. Author Elizabeth Wilson considers fashion to be a kind of performance art. While certain fashion makes you feel different, it does not necessarily express how you are feeling. One of the best examples is Steve Jobs’ infamous black turtleneck and blue jeans. Legend as he was, the man needn’t have been in the same mood whilst wearing these clothes. This uniform was part of the identity he sought to create for himself as well as his company Apple computers.
But Apple and Steve Jobs didn’t start off with this signature identity. In 1977 Jobs had rented a prime space at the West Coast’s first computer fair, an event for which he bought and wore his first suit. In his early career, Steve was mostly seen in formal attire during important occasions.
Looking back at his first presentation for the Macintosh computer in 1984 you’ll notice he is taking advantage of the social connotations attached to wearing a suit — many people assume that men in well-fitted suits are powerful and smart. Since the presentation in 1984 kickstarted Apple’s growth, Jobs wanted to be taken seriously. When men dress in suits they feel more confident, which plays into their ability to put themselves forth and present in a convincing manner.
Ironically, the 1984 Macintosh advertisement rejected submissive prisoner-like conformity, a ‘language of dress’ that was read in the grey uniform wearing big-brother company that rival Microsoft was. Steve Jobs himself was an extension of the Apple brand. If Jobs decided to continue to obey business dress conventions like every corporate exec, it would have undermined his deal . As Apple continued to grow, he admired the sense of community and pride embodied in uniforms and stuck with his.
When Jobs had visited Sony factories in Japan in the early 80’s, he saw that every employee of Sony was wearing the same uniform. The chairman of Sony, Akio Morita, told him that they had made these uniforms because no one owned clothes anymore after the war. Then, over the years, the uniforms became a way for workers to bond with the company and to express the company’s style. Steve decided he wanted that type of bonding for Apple. He let the same designer that made Sony’s uniform, Issey Miyake, create a special vest for Apple. However, the idea got booed off the stage in America because everybody working at Apple hated it.
Steve Jobs stayed in touch with Issey Miyake and he came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, something that was both convenient because he did not have to decide on a new outfit every day, but also because of the ability to convey a signature and identifiable style. Jobs was drawn to the classic black turtleneck from Miyake and so the designer sent him around a hundred copies. “I have enough to last for the rest of my life” (Steve Jobs, The Man Who Thought Different, 2012).
The example of the late Steve Jobs confirms that clothing can be seen as ‘unintentional, non-verbal communication, a sign language’ (Alison Lurie, The Language Of Clothes, 1981). “You are what you wear” – how others perceive you, your image, and how you see yourself, your identity, are definitely influenced by your clothing choices. What Steve Jobs wore personified his spirit. His uniform revealed he was a rebel — he thought differently, making him one of the most recognisable CEOs in the world.
Still, even after knowing all of this, there are people that say they don’t care about fashion or the clothes they are wearing. The kind of people that think as fashion students, we only read fashion blogs and take OOTD snapshots of each other. But actually, the ‘see and be seen’ of bloggers and celebrities at International Fashion Weeks promotes a constant redevelopment of fashion identity.
The human relationship with fashion is a daily ritual, which is why I get confused when people say they have ‘nothing to do with fashion’. Whether we want to or not, we take brand cues from our social circle and often don’t even notice the subtle messages from brands trying to catch our attention. AMFI students are often seeking these deeper meanings behind the façade of fashion. A specific scene from the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ dramatizes this point all too well. Question yourself: why did you decide to wear what you are wearing?
Studying and working in this profession is more than just loving clothes or designers, it frames a bigger picture. Simple choices you make, like the colour of your sweater as seen in the video, reference fashion history and culture. And Steve Jobs’ infamous black turtleneck and blue jeans may seem like an insignificant detail at first, but everything Jobs did was intentional. It is curious to look back and think about the kind of brand impact Apple would have if Jobs would have dressed like every other CEO. Jobs’ uniform embodied perfection. Like Elizabeth Wilson says in Adorned in Dreams: “Fashion freezes the moment in an eternal gesture of the-only-right-way-to-be. ‘Now is past’, and the ‘now’ of fashion is nostalgia in the making.”
Article by Sanne Nooitgedagt, Second-Year International Fashion & Branding student.