what is fashion continues ...
are used to group cultural values together and isn't surprising that they manifest as part of the fabric of dress. A symbolic affiliation is made for many reasons, for example, to express solidarity with a football team or -- although the image here exaggerates how this might manifest -- for familial allegiance.
Similarity or difference? Identity is often a negotiation of affiliations and differentiations.
The watch on the right could be used to demonstrate class affiliation (what would Paul Fussell say about that?). Equally it could be a demonstration of gender, both an affiliation or differentiation. How is this possible?
As absurd perhaps as it is evident, this image is of a gentleman's watch. Although there is clear scope for gender playfulness in contemporary dress, it is important to recognise that gender is a regulated cultural activity which marks out and determines certain objects as male and female.
Another good example would be scents and perfume packaging. How so? 

Although we reserve the word uniform for the school, work place or other formal social institutions, and prefer to see our dressed identity as 'individual', at the same time we cannot afford for our clothes to look so distinct as to cause alienation from important social groups. As the image of Fruits in the Loom suggests, we tend to conform even in our choice of under-clothes.
Elizabeth Rouse points out that 'members of any group are expected to look like members by their fellows and by outsiders' (E Rouse. Understanding Fashion, 1989). Indeed our very selection to membership may come about because our appearance suggests we are one of them.
Much of the similarity in dress is a response to meeting social needs, of fitting in (conforming). This film explores seminal studies into the psychology of group conformity.

Youth subcultures are usually considered a scene of expression, yet subcultures and other youth styles would not be recognisable without uniform aspects being identifiable both to members and non-menbers.
This might be a useful point to ask a more philosophical question about decision making. Is dress choice a personal thing (related to the inner world of the psyche) or a cultural thing (a matter of socially regulation, even though it may sometimes seem individual)? At this stage it is vital that neither is ruled out entirely and that we are left with an interesting open question about our agency (the capacity of an agent to make a meaningful action). 

Alison Lurie argues that dress is about communication. Having a fluent vocabulary of dress allows us to communicate complicated meaning. A fashion leader will have many sentences at their disposal, whereas a sharecropper may only form a few bare concepts devoid of much decoration.
For Lurie, dress, like language, is a readable text. A black tie, for example, has a cultural association with formality and class. Not all languages are shared by everyone and therefore some dress codes may form a secret language only accessible to a few.
Alison Lurie argues that we use clothes to make statements: ‘The Japanese-American lady in Western dress but with an elaborate Oriental hairdo, or the Oxford-educated Arab who tops his Savile Row suit with a turban, are telling us graphically that they have not been psychologically assimilated’ (Lurie, Understanding Clothes.
The study of signs is called semiotics, but not all semioticians agree with Lurie's interpretation. Barthes, for example, argues that signs are arbitrary.

Umberto Eco says that all clothes communicate, but some communicate more frankly than others. Paul Fussell makes some witty comments about legible clothing. ‘When proles assemble to enjoy leisure, they seldom appear in clothing without words on them’ he says. Brand names and logos, as we have already seen, make language learning easy. ‘Brand names today possess a totemistic power to confer distinction on those who wear them. By donning legible clothing you fuse your private identity with external commercial success, redeeming your insignificance and becoming, for the moment, somebody’ (Fussell, P. 1984. Class: Style and Status in the USA).

Having and demonstrating taste in dress communicates what Bourdieu calls cultural capital. Cultural capital is a non-financial social asset that promotes social mobility. 'Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed' (Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction, 1984)'
Watch the film about cultural capital and ask yourself how it relates to taste in dress. How does one benefit from demonstrating knowledge in dress? On the next page, there is a case-study about this.


Jonathon Green, All dressed up: the sixties and the counterculture, 1998 

Alison Lurie, The Language of Clothes, Rev Ed 2000
Kigouron: how clothes make us human [CONFERENCE] Report on the 2012 Japanese Association of Semiotic Studies conference at the Kobe Fashion Museum READ ON   

Who will read these
legible clothes?