Street Style: Form over Function

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When you think about beanie hats, the first thing that might come to mind is to keep our heads warm in cold weather. However, as I’m writing this, I’m sitting comfortably inside a warmed room and continue to wear my purple beanie with a pink pom-pom on top. When I was picking out my outfit this morning, I specifically chose it as part of my outfit to be worn at all times of the day. People often turn beanies into an integral part of their outfits rather than a utilitarian item to keep them warm; thus, the fashion trend of form over function is illustrated.

In design pursuits, such as architecture, the phrase form follows function is often thrown around. The so-called “Father of Skyscrapers” American architect Louis Sullivan contradicted this by stating: “Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.” However, fashion goes even further in this contradiction by allowing form to dominate in the long run. Items that originally serve a specific function evolve over time until the importance of the aesthetic form eradicates its purpose.

Graduate student Kayla Wu made me realize this trend. Strutting around campus, she sported large Beats headphones, but she wasn’t listening to music. In fact, the headphones weren’t even on her ears, they were around her neck. This look has become popular, turning headphones into stylish accessories instead of items used to listen to music. Their functional purpose has been diluted over time, emphasizing a fashionable expression of a person’s interest in music.

In addition to the headphones, Kayla was wearing a parka in forty-degree weather. Quite a departure from the original Arctic weather for which parkas were designed. The fur-lined hood once meant for extra head warmth is now a fashion statement, especially during the current industry fur-frenzy.

Entire brands are included in this pattern of form over function as well. Take Carhartt, for example, which has significantly evolved its image over time. It started during the Industrial Revolution and produced clothes for railroad workers. This industrial function continued on during automobile manufacturing a few decades later. During World War I Carhartt supplied uniforms for soldiers. It wasn’t until the 70’s and 80’s that the brand witnessed a dramatic shift towards the in-style scene outside blue-collar trades. The transition is most attributed to the big-name musicians who started wearing the clothes such as their top-selling Hoodie. The brand expanded to different countries and now can be found on the fashion-savvy retailers and department stores like Urban Outfitters, Macy’s, and more. Their transition from functional to strictly form gradually occurred for a little over a century, but the company’s purpose is completely altered.

Fashion is the exception to the rule when it comes to form follows function, which simply is not the case. Although political, social, and cultural movements are reflected in fashion and provide more depth, the purpose of specific items or brands typically change to follow popular aesthetics or trends. This is the inescapable path of fashion that never lets it become boring.

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