Fashion can either help you differentiate yourself, or become inclusive. Cultures, corporations, events and activities can all have dress codes that can put you in one group or the other. The dress code of a conservative company will be similar for most employees, but I can assure you that code is very different from how software programmer's dress at a start-up.
To show solidarity or inclusion, many people wear the colors of their favorite team at a football game. At a wedding all attendees as well as participating family have socially understood dress codes. The bride as well as the mother of the bride are there to differentiate themselves: the attendants are typically dressed alike to illustrate that they are part of an inclusive or supporting group.
The fashion industry itself is a rolling roulette of competing differentiation. Designers and their brands have to stand out to get noticed. The more attention a brand can get, the better it performs.
For me fashion began as a way of differentiating myself. As a plain, small child with a slight disability, I was always the last to be chosen to play sports on a team. As the only girl in a family with 6 boys, I mostly played alone. I was slow to make friends, and awkward in social settings. At birthday parties I was content to sit by myself.
By the time I reached my teens, I wanted to make social connections but I didn't know how to. My childhood had not provided me with any experience. What I did know intuitively was that fashion was tool, or a path toward beauty, even if it was just on the outside. I knew this because my grandmother would bring her Vogue magazines when she came to visit, and we would both pour over them. The world of fashion was mesmerizing for both of us. I knew there was some magic to it.
So I tuned to sewing, first as a solitary hobby, then, as I realized the magnetically social power of fashion, as a way to stand out in a crowd. But more than just a vehicle for attracting attention, fashion gave me confidence. Because I was proud of the way I dressed, I was able to speak with more confidence and stand up for myself.
Now that I'm older, plainer, saner (from the lyrics of 'Lost on You' by LP), the fashion industry has evolved into the second biggest polluting industry in the world, both because of a runaway manufacturing engine as well as a first world consumption mentality that sees fashion as a disposable commodity. The industry embodies many injustices, the primary and biggest one being the damage to our planet, but from my vantage point I can clearly see that it separates the 'haves' from the 'have nots.' Those of us in the western hemisphere can eat healthy, go to college, get jobs that provide us with living wages, and buy as many clothes as we want. Those in the eastern hemisphere producing our clothing cannot.
Buying 'as many clothes as we want' not only exacerbates this inequality, it likely exceeds your wearability capacity, contributing to the industry's 'throw away' mentality. Please vote with your wallet. STOP. BUYING FAST FASHION. We are all only one person on this planet, but collectively our consumption practices as a group can have a huge impact.