All through history, individuals and groups have used clothing and fashion to project social status and political ideal. Clothes, generally viewed as human covering, have been used to express relational bond, religious beliefs, academic affiliations, marketing and advertising solutions, etc. However, over time, fashion has also been viewed from the perspective of identity formation. This has led to numerous debates about whether or not people’s outfits have any connection with their character, with some saying “dress the way you want to be addressed” and others arguing, “do not judge a book by its cover”.
In recent times, various theories on product patriotism – the study of how consumers construe their identity through nationally-iconic product consumption – have been postulated. Some wonder if fashion, not only expresses national sentiment, but also nurtures patriotism and nationalism. While the discussion has several variables, this article seeks to answer the simple question: “how can fashion promote national identity in Nigeria?” Put differently, how can fashion serve as a representation of the vast elements that make up the Nigerian identity (symbols, emblems, and ideologies)?
CLARIFICATION OF CONCEPTS
A few concepts that quickly come to mind are: fashion, national identity and national symbols. While these words may have general definitions, they are often misunderstood, which is why clarification is necessary.
The term “fashion” has been so widely used that it is becoming difficult to define. While fashion is often associated with trends, clothing or style, the words actually mean different things. Whereas a trend means a peculiar appealing expression, often lasting shorter than a season, fashion is a distinctive and industry-supported expression usually tied to the fashion season. Also, while clothing describes the material or garment, fashion often refers to the social and temporal system that activates dress in a certain time and context. Then style is a unique personal expression, which can be accepted by a specific group, and lasts over many seasons. But fashion is a versatile expression usually accepted by the society, which lasts a particular season. Fashion can be defined holistically as, “a form of self-expression and autonomy at a particular period and place and in a specific context of clothing, footwear, lifestyle, accessories, makeup, hairstyle, and body posture” (Wikipedia).
National symbols are marks, signs and objects for which a country is recognized. These collective symbols “help to create and sustain narratives about who we are and where we have come from” (Weedon, 2004: 24). Examples of such symbols in Nigeria are the constitution and map, national anthem and pledge, flag and coat of arms, as well as currency and passports. Nigeria’s symbols are connected to the nation’s rich history and heritage, as well as unique culture and identity.
National identity can be defined as a set of cognitions and emotions that express an individual’s relationship with a nation. (Barret and Davis, 2008; Blank and Schmidt 2003). While this is a social construct, it differs from “nationality”, which is more of an objective marker of an individual’s belonging to a nation. Nationality is set by the nation through birth, official registration, and issuing of relevant documents, while national identity is determined through subjective conviction, emotions/ stereotypes, and a strong sense of national affiliation. Therefore, “National identity is, at the same time, both a benign way of binding a nation together and a malign means of excluding others” (Times, Sunday Times, 2010).
FASHION AND NATIONAL IDENTITY IN NIGERIA
In 2018, while the Super Eagles of Nigeria were getting set for the World Cup in Russia, there was a lot of buzz in the country over the Nike jerseys they were to use. At the announcement of the tournament kits and travel outfits, Nigerians were sent into celebration. The designers had made a fashion statement, which left supporters, and neutrals alike, optimistic.
Although the nation had been riddled with lots of regional, ethnic and religious crises at the time, the World Cup presented an opportunity for Nigerians to unite. And despite the economic hardship, political turmoil and deteriorating condition of the country, this was a rare moment to cast asperities aside and rejoice. The national team was made up of players born within and outside the country, as well as people from various backgrounds, ethnic and religious group; but the Super Eagles jersey became a strong symbol of national identity, and a clear message of hope for Nigerians.
Similarly, the move to help Nigerians construct unified national identities, through fashionable representations of the national symbols, has continued to grow. In recent times, individuals and groups have sought to ensure that particular fashion trends do not only last seasons, but also influence cultural movements, social markers, and national symbols.
One of such moves have brought about the #9jaVibeCollection, a vast array of beautiful products, which are a representation of the unique elements that make up the Nigerian identity, through our exclusive emblems and symbolic features. The goal is to inspire patriotism through the purchase and use of these fashionable collections by Nigerians, and even non-Nigerians – within and outside the country – who seek to identify with this country. These products are outdoor lifestyle kits for casual outings, as well as travel and pop fashion, created to commemorate Nigeria’s 61st independence anniversary. Some of the products are: T-shirts, hoodies, and tote bags. This is an example of how fashion can be used to promote national identity in Nigeria.
While some people believe that, “Clothes don’t make the man”, Mark Twain says, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society”. This humorous expression goes to show how important fashion is in making statements, and communicating ideologies. Young people in Nigeria have generally sought creative ways to have their voices heard. However, since there seems to be a move by the leaders to hinder those voices from being heard over social media – as seen from the Twitter ban – product patriotism presents a way forward, as fashionable outfits can speak volumes, without people saying a word.
Here are two simple recommendations going forward:
Proudly wear your beliefs: since national identity is firmly rooted in convictions and a strong sense of national affiliation, it sends a strong message when people creatively represent their beliefs on their shirts, caps, bags, footwear, etc. If people believe in Nigeria, they should show it even through their merchandize.
Patriotism should be more than a fashion trend: while fashion trends can be a strong tool for conveying political messages, they are not the messages themselves. Jut because a person writes “proudly Nigerian”, does not mean that s/he loves this country and seeks to see her succeed. Politics is a game of interests, so fashion statements might only be made to promote selfish interests.
Happy Independence Day!