Updated: Oct 12
With fashion month and the reputable Met Gala behind us, the world is processing the future as dictated by fashion. The conversation is no longer as simple as what colours, patterns, and styles will boom in the upcoming spring and summer seasons. Instead, designers are trusted to blend fantasy and reality, art and politics, to draw our eyes towards the important conversations. Some brands have taken on this task with a particular passion, while others have stumbled into political and social awareness, but all have played their hand in the discussion of mental health in one way or another. So, what is the relationship between mental health and fashion?
The damage that has been done:
The “bikini body:” setting unrealistic standards of body image.
Lack of representation in terms of sizing, culture, sex, ability, etc.
Plagiarism; major brands taking from small POC and LGBTQ designers.
Lack of safety within the industry, normalizing eating disorders, sexual assault, etc.
The opportunities for good:
The fashion industry has a massive and broad platform, with lots of room for diversity.
The visibility of the fashion industry, simply by wearing clothes, has the opportunity to normalize and break down stigma.
Fashion breakthroughs on social media give smaller creators an opportunity to find their audience and claim public ownership over their work.
Though it may not be obvious at first glance, there is a symbiosis between fashion and mental health. The fashion industry, and its choices, impact our mental health, just as our collective mental health, our concerns and our discussions, impact the choices of the fashion industry. More and more designers, brands, and fashion moguls are beginning to understand that the better grasp they have on that symbiosis, the more success that will come their way. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), attended this year's Met Gala, welcoming politics in to a space of fashion. AOC arrived wearing a white gown with "tax the rich" written across the bodice, designed by black-female founded brand Brother Vellies. She allowed fashion to aid her in amplifying her own political agenda. This is just one of many recent examples of how the social demands of fashion are transforming.
Adrienne Gaffney wrote a report for Vogue Business titled "What Brands Need to Know About Mental Health and Marketing to Gen Z" in which Gaffney breaks down what the new era of consumers wants to see when they look at a brand, their clothing and their initiatives. Gaffney takes an interesting approach to what mental health means to new generations, citing research from The American Psychological Association which states that "news of mass shootings, climate change and deportations are highly triggering and a contributing factor to a sense of collective anxiety that permeates Gen Z." Mental health in fashion is not just representing common struggles which have been stigmatized, it can be as broad as addressing social issues to express to the consumer that brands understand their concerns.
Gen Z artist Billie Eilish arrived to this year's Met Gala in a Marilyn Monroe inspired Oscar de la Renta dress. Eilish made headlines not only for her appearance, but for her refusal to wear the designer unless they agreed to cease use of fur in all future collections. Incredibly, the fashion house agreed. Eilish is an example of the accountability being held to brands who have long profited off of the lawless terrain of high fashion. The tides are turning. Gaffney offers an example of this as well, recalling the backlash Gucci received after "sending models down the Spring/Summer 2020 runway in straightjackets." Consumer demand has a newly founded moral imperative. More and more shoppers are beginning to ask what brands offer beyond clothing.
Here are some brands that are offering more!
Peace Collective: The Toronto-based company has released clothing with slogans including "mental health matters" and "mental health is health" with a portion of proceeds going to CAMH amongst other charitable organizations.
Madhappy: The streetwear brand's mission is to "make the world a more optimistic place." The brand was created in an attempt to bring awareness to mental health struggles, and has launched a blog and held events dedicated to the destigmatization of mental health.
Stella McCartney: The high fashion brand helped to pioneer eco-friendly fashion, and has committed itself to ethical means of sourcing materials and creating garments since its launch in the early 2000's.
Fashion and mental health is a long awaited collaboration, one that aids the consumer, the brand, and the world. As you look back at fashion month, and forward to new trends and brands, consider what styles are made for you and your mind.
Melissa is a 20-year-old undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, heading into her fourth year of study. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Arts with a major in English and History and a minor in Religion. She has a passion for reading and writing, and intends to pursue a career in publishing.
The views and opinions expressed in Community are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Madiha Foundation.