Visual Ireland – Fashion


In a previous blog, we saw how the Tara Brooch and Gleninsheen Collar were worn to show social status in ancient Irish society. In the modern world, what we wear also communicates information about who we are and our place in society.


Throughout the world, clothing and image can have multiple functions. Apart from providing protection from the elements, clothes in all cultures are used to communicate messages such as social status, intentions or belonging to a certain group. Clothes are also worn for modesty (the parts of the body that must be covered may vary around the world.) We dress differently for business and recreation.

Do you think a lot about what you wear? What do you think your look communicates about you?


Has your style changed over time? Do you have any embarrassing fashion mistakes from your past?

Here is one of my own crimes against fashion…

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Jewellery – Hats – Tattoos – Piercings – Hairstyle –

Clothes – Facial Hair – Sunglasses – Makeup

All of the these fashion items in the box can tell us things about a person’s job, attitude to life, religion, politics, social class, hobbies, lifestyle, nationality etc.

Here are some ideas about what different fashion items might say about us.

  • Jewellery can be worn to show wealth or marital status.
  • Hats can show your job as part of a uniform or your status as in a graduation, or in a law court etc.
  • Tattoos and piercings might show youthful rebellion, lack of conformity, or membership of a tribe.
  • Hairstyles can show membership of a fashion movement, eg. hipsters, mods, punks etc.
  • Clothes in general can show your profession a suit, a uniform. They can social context, and in some cases an intention to sexually attract.
  • Facial hair can sometimes indicate sexual orientation or even religious beliefs.
  • Sunglasses can show lifestyle choices, eg. sporty, sophisticated etc.
  • Makeup is often a marker of gender, ie. male or female. It can indicate social context, formal or informal.

What messages do you think the ‘fashion statements’ in each of the pictures below communicate about each person?


Here are some suggestions…

  1. Hat, glasses, oversized earrings – playfulness, youth, cheeky innocence…
  2. Jewellery, dress, pose – wealth, sophistication, sexual attractiveness…
  3. Headband, long hair, tattoo – rebellion, hard-working, rock music…
  4. Hairstyle, leather jacket, makeup – anti-establishment, independence, punk music…
  5. Beard, hairstyle, bow tie, braces – ironic, artistic, intellectual, liberal…

Would you agree with these associations or would you have different ideas?



You would dress very differently for a job interview than when meeting friends. Changing clothes can change your behavior and the behavior of others towards you. Getting dressed up for a fancy dress party, for instance, it can be quite fun to adopt a different persona from normal, depending on the costume that you are wearing. Some studies have shown, for example, that when people wear military uniforms or a doctor’s white lab coat, they naturally become more assertive. In addition, others automatically become more likely to follow their directions.

Do you notice a difference in how people behave towards you when you are wearing a suit or dressed casually?  


What do you know about Irish fashion? Read the statements below. 

‘Irish street style has lots of individuality and creativity.’ vs ‘Irish often pretend not to care how they look, even if they do care a lot.’

Which do you think is most true?


‘Irish street style has lots of individuality and creativity.’  

Irish dress with personality. The inspirations absorbed are combined with a ‘make-do and-mend’ mentality which is typical in a nation that was used to being poor. Irish have always had to be creative and imaginative when copying fashion trends. The common theme is individuality, the personal touch. There’s a freedom to it that comes from never having had to follow a specific style rules.

Irish often pretend not to care how they look, even if they do care a lot.’

In Ireland you have to pretend not to care about how you look. Mess up your hairstyle a little so you look like you’re not too ‘into yourself’. There seems to be a built-in Irish desire not to follow the rules. You may be following the latest style but you’re making it your own. If someone gives you a compliment about how you look, deflect it or put yourself down, the ‘What? This old thing?’ response.


Which of the styles by Irish fashion designers in the pictures do you like most?


The examples of men’s clothing in pictures 7 and 8 above are from general Irish collections. Picture 5 is a famous Irish model and the rest of the outfits are designed by famous Irish designers. Read more about them below.

1 – Peter O’Brien


Peter worked at Christian Dior, Givenchy and as a senior designer at Chloé. He has created collections for retailer AWear and for the Irish department store, Arnotts. He also designs for Dublin’s Gate and Abbey Theatres. O’Brien is renowned for his classic, elegant designs and typically ladylike, tailored coats.

2 – Louise Kennedy


Louise designed the outfit for the inauguration of Ireland’s first female president, Mary Robinson. She has designed judge’s robes for the Irish Law Courtsand has dressed the wives of British Prime Ministers. Kennedy’s dresses are noted for their sophistication, elegance and glamour.

3 – Paul Costello


Paul is an Irish designer who for fifteen years was the personal designer for Princess Diana. Costello has often focused on the idea of ‘affordable luxury’. He has a love of Italian tailoring, cut and style and his clothes are aimed at ‘today’s modern woman of quiet taste and understated sophistication’. He has designed the British Airways uniform and also the Irish Team uniform for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

4 – Philip Treacy


Philip is a hat maker who has designed for Chanel, Valentino, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. He has designed hats for various films, such as Harry Potter; for singer Lady Gaga and for members of the English royal family. He is known for his over-the top designs and headpieces.

5 – Anne Gunning

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Anne was an Irish model who gained global recognition when she appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1953. She was one of the top international models of the 1950s.

6 – Lainey Keogh


Lainey is an Irish designer specialising in knitwear. In 1997 one of her evening dress and coat ensembles was chosen as part of the Dress of the Year. Her textiles were used by Galliano at Christian Dior. In her work, she tries to preserve traditional Irish weaving and knitting techniques.

What fashions do you love? Or hate?

How would you describe the attitude to fashion in your country? Do you think your country has better fashion than Ireland? 

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