Honors Theses and Capstones

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Project Type

Senior Honors Thesis

College or School




Program or Major

Philosophy and Sociology

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

First Advisor

Jennifer Armstrong


Fashion has the potential to be liberatory and this can be seen in the ways fashion has been targeted by systems of oppression. Fashion is the use of clothes as a vessel to create a greater social meaning. According to Edward Sapir, the meaning of fashion “while it is primarily applied to dress and the exhibition of the human body is not essentially concerned with the fact of dress or ornament, but with its symbolism” (Barnard, 2007, p. 65). Fashion with the symbolism behind it is able to show the sentiments and attitudes of civilization at different points in history and is tied intimately with the ego (Barnard, 2007). It has the ability to represent time periods, self-identity, and cultures through the medium of clothing. The erasure of traditional dress and practices have been purposeful for the control of Indigenous and marginalized groups. It is purposeful that fashion has been bound to its relation with capitalism and consumerism. But the frivolous narrative that fashion has been given can not overshadow the historical significance that fashion has. Fashion has been used by colonial powers as means to oppress, control, and uphold capitalism, but it has also been used to unify groups of people and to provide solidarity among them.

Fashion can be used as a tool of oppression and this has been seen through residential schools in Canada and through the use of uniforms by militaries (Ottmann, 2020). The power of fashion is suppressed and minimized so people do not utilize it to their advantage. Though fashion has been used as a tool for oppression, it is crucial to not lose sight of how it can be used to combat it. Fashion and dress are more than just what we see in the media. It is a composition of eras, identities, and cultures. It can be used to liberate on many various scales. Liberation is when people that are physically or internally oppressed, under their own volition, release themselves from the control and domination of an oppressive group to regain physical and interal autonomy over themselves (Ruth, 1988). To overlook fashion is to overlook the significant role it plays within contemporary society as well as historical events. Fashion and cultural dress are important in retaining stories, way of life, and individuality. It liberates people by providing people with the opportunity to express themselves unforgivingly and also through the unification of people. Fashion is more than just trends and high prices. It can be used in many ways, especially in liberation.