Clothing, with its shapes, colours and styles is an integral part of our daily communication and interaction processes. Ugo Volli, in his Block Modes: The Language of the Body and Fashion, compares a wardrobe to a dictionary. A wardrobe, like a dictionary full of words, therefore, becomes a list of elements, ordered by colour, type or occasion that we freely combine for specific reasons. We may want to go shopping, attend a job interview, go out to dinner: for each occasion we will decide on a tone of voice, a set of words, the elements of an outfit.
If the dictionary of a language is made accessible online and offline to anyone who wants to use it, then why – in its different stylistic languages – does the desired wardrobe remain the prerogative of the few? We are not bothered by imperfection in pronunciation, but we hesitate in the face of a person who is out of shape. What are we unconvinced by? We smile when we hear a foreign accent but turn up our noses if our feet need two different-sized shoes. What stops footwear companies from selling shoes individually instead of the usual pairs? We are fascinated by the fact that a foreign person learns our idiomatic expressions to the point of totally mastering them, but we remain uncertain in the face of a man who gives ample space to his feminine side. What confuses us? I discussed it with three professionals.
Viviana Capurso, who has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience, and is a researcher and writer, answers:
‘Language is not a simple, direct reflection of reality, but expresses a personal view of facts and becomes the product of the relationship between thought and interaction. In an era in which fashion changes and opens up more and more to the real world, outside of ideals and stereotypes, social media and the media in general play an extraordinarily important role since, according to the latest studies on the brain and language, the way in which we ‘label’ a concept establishes its form. The most recent neuroscientific literature explains to us that naming an emotion is enough to activate the prefrontal cortex, enabling us to master and manage the same emotion without involving the amygdala, an area intended for primary instincts. Changing our words, making our language more inclusive, can make us more open to reality and more aware of reality itself, modifying any superstructures and prejudices. Inclusive fashion, therefore, also starts with inclusive language.’
Jourdan Saunders, Disability Inclusion Consultant and Founder of The Resource Key states:
‘Language is an embedded element in fashion and beauty products. Fashion and beauty provide a voice that has the power to initiate conversations, break down barriers and create connections. When we develop an inclusive fashion system, we allow people to share their stories, in relation to their personal language of fashion and beauty.’
I also asked Caroline Desrosiers for an opinion who, in order to favour the evolution of the system and support brands in creating increasingly inclusive online shopping experiences, founded Scribely, the first company specialising in the production of Alt Text for fashion e-commerce websites.
‘Inclusive fashion images,’ says Desrosiers, ‘are an essential part of the online shopping experience, because by crossing language barriers they help us visualise how we will look and feel. The images also inspire us to use fashion as a form of self-expression and to create our own way of presenting ourselves to the world. Inclusive fashion is a visual language that celebrates the beauty of our diversity. This is why it’s so important for brands to provide descriptive captions (alt text) on websites and social media.’
Christmas is not that far off: the best gift we can give ourselves this year is to be… free to be. In order to become free to act, respecting ourselves as people, and our communities.