‘Agency’ is a term my students often have a lot of trouble understanding. During one of the class’ discussions, my students came up with a wonderful definition of ‘agency’: “collectively shared ideas and/or interests”. According to my students, a trend group could thus be considered an agency. They collectively decide upon, or rather create a trend in fashion. And, as a consequence, they ‘decide’ to collectively wear the same thing. By means of this photoshoot I want to show that I have agency in styling my (clothing) identity Islamic proof. Could I then also say that with showing this, I influence others to do the same?
Anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen describes in his book ‘Small Places, Large Issues’ that “action or agency implies that actors can reflect on what they do. [..] people know that they act, even if they do not necessarily know the consequences of their acts”. As an example I sometimes style (= act) myself in an ‘Islamic proof’ way. Me wearing a veil/hijab/headwrap, or whatever you would like to call it, has to do with the fact that my clothing identity is influenced by the ‘rules’ and/or clothing ‘codes’ of different (sub)cultures. As a consumer, I am aware (= agency) of the fact that I actively choose to convey these (sub)cultural messages to others. I do this mainly because I am proud of those influences.
But, there is a difference between individual and collectively experienced forms of ‘agency’. As Sophie Woodward describes in ‘Why Women Wear What They Wear’, it is upon us consumers to balance between our individual agency and the social structures around us. “The social only exists as it is actualised through the practices and agency of individuals; the individual does not exist outside culture. [..] what is ‘in fashion’ is not simply dictated; rather, we exercise choice in deciding whether a particularly fashion fits our personal aesthetic”. Without it becoming a fashion trend per se, I try to influence others with my agency in deciding to dress in an ‘Islamic’ proof way. By doing this, I hope to inspire others to view fashion and dressing behaviour in a different way.
This blog is an altered version of a piece that I wrote for FoA. First of August.
Pictures taken by Jeftha Pattikawa.