Why Are We Captivated by the Fashions of the Red Carpet?
Contact:  Lori Wright
UNH Media Relations
February 13, 2008

EDITORS AND REPORTERS: Catherine Moran is available at clmoran@unh.edu and 603-862-4077.

DURHAM, N.H. - As this year's Academy Awards approach, the Hollywood elite are contemplating which designer dresses they will wear as they walk down the red carpet. According to a University of New Hampshire professor, this pre-awards show spectacle says a lot about our society and the role of celebrities in it.

"Fashion is molded by the intersection of our personal choices and societal standards, as well as by our individual activities, social locations, and membership in social groups. While it may seem frivolous or simply faddish, studying fashion can tell us a lot about our society," says Catherine Moran, who teaches "The Sociology of Fashion" at UNH.

Historically, fashion has been closely tied to social class. In the 19th century, lower classes adopted the styles of the upper class in an attempt to acquire the status and prestige associated with it.

"As the styles of the elite were adopted by the lower status groups, those with the ability to do so would take on new styles in order to maintain the symbolic delineation of their group," Moran says.

Today, our attraction to celebrity fashions may not be so much a desire for class emulation but for emulation of certain lifestyles.

"Fashion is communicative. It can tell others information about who we are and what we stand for, including our politics, support of social causes, sexual orientation, values, consumption patterns, and activity levels," Moran says. "We have a multitude of lifestyle choices available to us, alongside a staggering array of consumer choices. This gives us all the opportunity to make choices about how we present ourselves in society."

This public image is so important to celebrities that they employ stylists and image consultants who carefully craft dramatic and subtle choices to express stars' identities.

"The symbolism conveyed by a deeply plunging neckline or super low-cut back on a star who, say, is still a teenager or who has been known for being more modest sends a message about age and sexual expression," Moran says. "And it is often the case that others will adopt the styles of celebrities once the 'messages' conveyed by their fashion have been read by the public."

In some ways, the subtle fashion messages of the red carpet may speak louder than words. "A graphic T-shirt with a political message paired with a suit or a colored ribbon often speaks louder than the winner's acceptance speeches," she says.


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