The Fashion System / Systeme de la Mode, 1967
book by Roland Barthes
In this book Roland Barthes discusses fashion and literary theory. The purpose is to articulate the essence of women's fashion. Under this cover of fashion, he seems to link literature and its criticism to an inarticulable feminine signified.
Taking a James Bond story as the tutor text, Barthes analyses the elements that are structurally necessary if narrative are to unfold as though it were not the result of codes of convention. Characteristically, bourgeois society denies the presence of this code. A structural analysis of texts, however, implies a degree of formalization that Barthes had begun to reject. He was unhappy with this foray into what he calls 'scientificity' and only published his book on fashion (originally intended as a doctoral thesis) at the demand of friends and colleagues. It is in The Fashion System, however, that Barthes clarifies a number of aspects of the structural, or semiotic, approach to the analysis of social phenomena.
Barthes examines the rhetorical system of fashion, a system that captures 'the entirety of the clothing code'. The fashion system always implies that things (clothing) are naturally given; shoes are 'ideal for walking' or made 'for that special occasion'.
Barthes notes that, within fashion magazines, there is always image, accompanied by text: there is always image-'clothing', accompanied by the written-'garment'. It is the latter that he sets out to examine; the way that these sign systems produce not clothing, not women, but the abstract notion of Fashion.