Fashion and style as a form of social and cultural expression in South Africa

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2011

12 Pages, Grade: 85%



The first humans created according to the bible in Genesis 1:25 came to earth naked and not ashamed. However, through the changes that have taken place clothing has become an important part of human culture. South African society can be defined as a burgeoning consumer culture and consumption of clothing has allowed South African youth to enact and display social identities. Therefore, fashion and style have become important purveyors of social and cultural meaning in modern societies. It can be argued that clothing has become a global language that plays a major role in identity formation and personal self-expression. In premodern societies, clothing represented the biological necessity of covering bodies or of protecting the self from the elements to sex role demarcations in societies. For example, women were expected to dress in a stereotypical feminine manner, while men were expected to dress in a typical masculine way.

This however, poses great challenges in contemporary societies characterized by the need to express individuality considering the notion of homosexuality where masculinity and femininity cannot be distinguished. Modern fashions have blurred the boundaries of what is considered masculine and feminine. Men wear clothing traditionally associated with femininity and women dress in clothing traditionally associated with men for example trousers, shirts and ties. Therefore, in modern societies, it can be argued that fashion and style creates and conforms to social expressions, cultural beliefs, and customs. Therefore, fashion and style goes far beyond biological necessities and is related to aesthetic, social and cultural factors and influences.

The concept of fashion and style are expressions that can be seen in glossy magazines, on pages of popular publications. For South African youth there is a magazine named true love that focuses on mostly fashion and high society and is richly illustrated with glossy photos and regularly features superstars. It can therefore, be argued that media culture manifests itself in young people’s bodies. In the sense that the body is covered by media culture through fashion and style which produces cultural identities. Obhiambo (2008:72-73) views the human body as a marketing billboard with characteristics of humanity and further emphasis on the importance of the black female body as being a consumable subject. The emphasis on the black female body is created by the racial divides that exist within South African locations resulting to identities being defined through space.

Salo (2009:15) recognizes a coconut identity that is acquired through material goods such as fashionable dress, the ability to speak English or Xhosa and spending leisure time in cosmopolitan touristy spaces such as the waterfront, or glamorous city center. Meaning that dress, accent and location are of importance in contemporary society. Nuttal suggest that in contemporary South African society, the manner in which the body is dressed, the way it walks and talks are all metaphors of what the youth is becoming, as cited in Odhiambo (2008:71). Therefore, coconuts are the newly mobile young blacks, with the ability to speak English. They are considered more financially secured as compared to the previous generation as they are the majority buyers of vehicles, clothes, real estate etc. (Ohdiambo:2008:71). Hence they possess more confidence as compared to the previous generations of young black people in South Africa. This statement is further supported by Dolby’s argument that South African youth do not replicate the former generation instead their identities are based on racialised identities, as cited in Strelitz (2002:269).


Coconuts use fashion to challenge the assumption that township is for the poor, a space associated with poverty. Therefore, fashion serves to bring together township lifestyle and urban lifestyle. It is black young people who have taken the full advantage or new opportunities that have arisen. Hence they are referred to as coconuts, brown of the outside but white on the inside, as these groups of young people are referred to as blacks who act white. Therefore, a coconut can be viewed as a construction of identity and race depending on certain stylistic choices associated with the perceptions of what constitutes blackness or whiteness. It is evident that given the deep divisions in South Africa, a national identity that is unified does not exist, looking at issues of race, class and modernity. According to Degenaar it is due to the lack of commonalities such as language and culture, as cited in Strelitz (2002:225).

Furthermore, socioeconomic status is greatly associated with spaces within the separated communities in South Africa; however magazines such as true love also break the boundaries through high fashion. Loxion Kulcha is a clothing label associated with township culture. It is seen as an infusion of black township culture into the city that was once recognized as a place for white people during the apartheid era, (Nuttall, 2008:95). Merging the township culture and city can be seen as a symbol relating to democratic transition of 1994. Mstali further suggests that this label is described as a pride-driven line that remixes African American styles in ways that speak to its own culture, as cited in Nuttall (2008:95). This style could therefore be seen as a way to be recognized with global identity outside the local.

Consider the notion of ghetto fabulous which is a concept that refers to township fashion and style. A different meaning is registered to different people at different times among different communities. The signs and codes of fashion convey multiple meanings which many have ideological implications and values of a culture or society are infused.

In this case fashion can be viewed as the facilitator of empowerment and liberation of black women from the experiences of social violence and material deprivation. In addition, considering the New South Africa where there exist a non-racial, non-sexist and where there is equal access to the economic market. Women from townships can feel powerful in their own space through fashion. This statement relates to Foucault’s notion of stylizing the self, where an individual creates certain operations on the body and soul, as a form of self-transformation through self- fashioning. This process ensures that practices such as political liberation are practices of freedom, as cited in Nuttall (2008:93).


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Fashion and style as a form of social and cultural expression in South Africa
Monash University, South Africa Campus  (Monash University)
Communications & Cultural Studies
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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1376 KB
ghetto fabulous, social and cultural expression, fashion statement
Quote paper
Thuthula Namhla Dlepu (Author), 2011, Fashion and style as a form of social and cultural expression in South Africa, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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