Barthes claims that there are two interconnected variables in the use of clothing (U) relating to its purchase (P).
Here below is the table of his theory:
- U=P no fashion
- U>P poverty
- U<P fashion
From a communication point of view, this means that clothing assumes a value of sign in the second and third case, but not in the first.
As in the second case, when clothes are used much more often than they are purchased, this indicates that people wear old, often worn-out clothes.
In this case, clothes become the indicator that people cannot afford to buy new ones. Clothes become a sign of poverty, an involuntary form of communication.
In such cases, there is obviously no room for Fashion.
In the third case, when new clothes are often purchased but not often used, this indicates that people can afford to use clothes as signs to communicate their wealth and refined taste to others.
In this case, clothes become a symbol of wealth, a status symbol, a voluntary form of communication.
Fashion has the chance to manifest in this context, either as haute couture or as prêt-à-porter.
In the first case, when people buy new clothes only after realizing that they need to be changed because they have either shrunk or because they are no longer tight enough, or because the colours have faded from too much washing, there is no communication, but simply a form of aesthetic function that makes people decide to change clothes.
Fashion has narrow leeway in this context.