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Am I Actually Free? An Approach Based on Gilles Lipovetsky’s The Empire of Fashion

Dressing Modern Democracy (1987): Chapters I, II & V- Part II.

Fashion beyond a dress is what Lipovetsky (1987) tries to capture in this extensive essay, from which I will only take three chapters that are key to understanding why fashion transcends the field of clothing and enters a much more complex sphere.

Image 1. Gilles Lipovetsky (Crash Magazine, n.d)

Gilles Lipovertksy is a french philosopher, writer and sociologist, professor at Stendhal University in Grenoble, France (Universidade de Aveiro, 2020). Lipovetsky began his philosophical career as a Marxist, similar to many others in the 1960s, affiliated with the "Socialisme ou Barbarie" which demanded the world not to transform it but rather to 'swallow it'. His work focuses on the modern world from the latter 20th century to the present. He has divided this time period into three segments: Marxist self-criticism (1965-1983), post-modern (1983-1991), and the hyper-modern period from 1991 onwards (Fernández y Tamaro, 2004).

This began with his 1983's book, which declared the world to be post-modern and characterized by extreme individualism and dissolute politics based on political parties, turning its back on a strong sense of social duty on which democracy and socialism depend. However, by the end of the 2000s, he proposed that this term had become obsolete and unable to describe the world past 1991. He then proposed 'hyper-modern', similar to post-modern but with a superlative and unstoppable meaning, focusing on new technologies, markets, and global culture (Fernández y Tamaro, 2004).

He was a member of the French National Council for School Programmes until 2005, as well as a member of the Council for the Analysis of Society with the French Prime Minister. The philosopher is also a consultant of the French Association for Progress in Management (Universidade de Aveiro, 2020). Lastly, Lipovertksy has been awarded multiple times with an Honoris Causa PhD: by the University of Sherbrook (Canada) and in 2013 by the University of Aveiro (Universidade de Aveiro, 2020).

Image 2. The Empire of Fashion (Lipovetsky, 1987).

To begin with, chapter one of the book establishes the relationship between fashion and economy: fashion as a mixture of the seduction of consumption and psychologism (Lipovetsky, 1987), whose purpose is the purchase of products, using design and range as fundamental weapons. In chapter two, the close relationship between fashion and advertising is established; the latter being based on the same principles of fashion (such as aesthetics) (Lipovetsky, 1987) and, therefore, alluding to the concept of consumption. Finally, chapter five glimpses the veneration of change, of the present (linked to the concept of the ephemeral) and how this element is what transcends individual differences within society and unites us as such (Lipovetsky, 1987). These three chapters establish fashion as a social concept that can affect different aspects of collective life.

In this framework, fashion being a concept that affects the collective and that at the same time involves concepts such as consumerism and transience, it would be homologous to that of consumerism. Therefore, it would object the freedom* that we possess as humans being both, fashion and freedom, ephemeral.

In the first place, fashion can be considered as homologous to consumerism, since it is argued that fashion within our societies is interpenetrated with the officialization of consumption, "the large-scale creation of artificial needs and the normalization and hyper control of private life” (Lipovetsky, 1987, p.177). These same words are consistent with the definition of consumerism since it involves indirect manipulation to lead us to consume products, limiting our free choice.

Image 3. Overconsumption (HISOUR, n.d)

In the sense of control of individuals, one would discuss the concept of freedom, since both fashion and consumerism would restrict the choice options of the human being: in the end, one must choose within the options that are given to me (even if they are several)**, are the only options I must choose from, and I can't think of anything outside of that. Here the relationship between consumerism-fashion and freedom has been established.

Secondly, in order to be able to speak of freedom and transience, the text states that associated with the concept of fashion, the economic method has consciously displaced all instances of permanence "(...) the norm of the ephemeral is what governs production and consumption of objects” (Lipovetsky, 1987, p.180).

This means that fashion is constantly changing, a permanent renewal that converges with the time of consumption emerging. If fashion and consumption are established as transitory knowing that there is a direct relationship between fashion-consumerism and freedom, it would be valid to affirm that, if these two concepts entail momentary nature, so would freedom.

And what I mean by the transience of freedom is that our margin of freedom is going to change according to the options that capitalism and consumerism are giving us. This can be seen reflected initially by the emergence of propaganda, since it contributes through its invasion of spaces (Lipovetsky, 1987) to consumerism and the emergence of needs and, consequently, to the emergence of fashion.

Image 4. Consumerism and Freedom (ESDAW, n.d)

As we watch advertising, our options will be limited according to how they want to guide our behavior from the outside, penetrating even the furthest corners of our society. Towards chapter five it can be seen that within our human condition we are constantly changing, focusing mainly on the present. This is precisely what the concept of ephemeral refers to living immersed in brief programs, in the eternal change of norms and the stimulus of living in the moment; the present is built on the main axis of social temporality (Lipovetsky, 1987). This is what ultimately unites us as a society.

Considering everything stated above, it could be effectively concluded that freedom is ephemeral insofar as it is affected by ephemeral concepts such as consumerism fashion. Realizing our current condition of freedom is what can produce a change both on a personal and collective level: Am I really free?


*: I consider the concept of freedom as the quality with which man is born and should die, without being under any enslaving power. For this case, I focus on freedom of consumption.
**: Refering to the concept of range: the emergence of more products (variety) for the public to consume (Lipovetsky, 1987, p.184)



Fernández, T. & Tamaro, E. (2004). Biografia de Gilles Lipovetsky. In Biografías y Vidas. La enciclopedia biográfica en línea. Retrieved from

Lipovetsky, G. (1987). The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy. Princeton University Press.

Universidade de Aveiro. (2020). Gilles Lipovetsky. Retrieved from

Images References:

Image 1: Crash Magazine. (n.d). On Artistic Capitalism By Gilles Lipovetsky Crash 65. Retrieved from

Image 2: Lipovetsky, G. (1987). The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy. Princeton University Press.

Image 3: HISOUR. (n.d). Overconsumption. Retrieved from

Image 4: ESDAW. (n.d). Anti.consumerism. Retrieved from

Cover Image: Medium. (2020). Fashion Meets Philosophy, or Heidegger in a Handbag. Retrieved from


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Dinka Hernández Avilés

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