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prideandprejudice

When fashion meets nationalism

Clothes can represent class and privilege, nation and religion. Whether we like it or not, there is meaning behind the threads we wear. The only real question is, what flag do you fly?

Our clothing today is filled with social and national significance, from the quality and cut of suits to the patterns and textiles used. We may not always think about it but our clothes are a form of visual information, from wealth to occupation or nationality.

Class and social hierarchy were legally required in dress for hundreds of years. Nationalism entered the picture later, often mimicking military uniforms.

"People back then took for granted that your place in society should be clearly visible in the clothes you wear," says Alexander Maxwell, who has studied the connection between nationalism and clothing throughout history and authored several books on the topic. "We have lost that idea and it's interesting that we have lost it."

Today, nationalism is still apparent in fashion, sports and everyday clothing. But mandatory form of dress to show your status is now gone. There are some cases where you might have to wear a uniform - like in some countries at school, or in particular jobs - but in your private life, you can choose what you wear.

"You can signify you are a businessman, scientist or student without showing your nationality," says Maxwell.

How democracy shaped fashion

During the Enlightenment, the concept of egalitarianism became popular -- and along with it the idea of a required national uniform became vogue: people started wearing a French costume or Italian costume, creating a sense of unity among people of one nation, but rejecting social hierarchy.

So nationalism in fashion was born out of a democratic ideal. But that's hardly the case these days.

Clothing that identifies wealth or class or coolness are everywhere but it's also easier than ever before to have clothing represent a certain anonymity. Though it might not be required, fashionistas and politicos alike imbue clothing with meaning. And so we have a choice every time we take something off the rack, be nationalistic and classist through your clothes… or not.

What type of fashion is typical for where you live? Let us know in the comments below or send us a picture via social media using the hashtag #prideandprejudice!

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