Archive for March, 2010

Fashion Fascists vs. Free Spirits: What Will You Wear?

March 31, 2010

As a fashion designer, artist, and writer in training, I was recently inspired to write this blog after two different types of research crossed paths, in a most unwholesome way.  The first tendril of annoyance wouldn’t have been nearly as prominent a factor in my current agitated state, had it not been so entwined with the second tendril.  It was that second tendril that spawned this blog and it’s name, but the first one must be understood as well, for the well being of artists, and free thinkers everywhere!

A few nights ago, as I was researching for my next batch of designs by scoping out the sales percentages of different key words in the completed listing section of the eBay search engine, I had a revelation: even though those of us who are not normally fashion drones, can be severely financially hindered by fashionista magazine dictation. Apparently only those who are avid reader’s of magazines like Vanity Fair got the memo that ‘Punk’ , a catch all title encompassing many of the more eccentric and creative of costumes, is anti-vogue.  With more than 22,000 listings- and a less than 16% sales per page in the high price sales end, the term “Punk”, appears to be a current sales kill phrase this season.  Most of the eBay crowd, myself included, that specialize in fashion reselling or design, could apparently increase our sales odds by switching the item heading description of the more feminine of the ‘punk’ garments with the heading  ‘Psychobilly’, a less socially known term with less competitors (we are talking620 listings as off three nights ago!), and 50% sales per page of high end items! ‘ Psychobilly’, like another higher success rate term, ‘steam punk’, are fringe culture terms. As relatively unknown terms, the mainstream fashion magazines haven’t learned of them, so they have not yet placed them on their fashion don’t list (which would be amusing- psychobilly is a more colorful, flamboyant version on the classic fitting 1950s and 1940s bombshell style, and steam punk refers to a modernized version of the very elegant Victorian garb). With the fading of Avril Lavigne and Paramore (psuedo-pop-punk music, at best), the punk clothing style also faces certain death by the words of the propaganda priests. If fashion runways, and by proxy, fashion magazines, were pitching honest, more inclusive methods to finding your personal style, this article would not be. People would dress as they want without fear of being out of style, opening many markets and businesses based here in the states to cater to various personality’s desires. Alas, this is not so. Instead this dark omen of eBay sales success rates (or lack thereof), fused tentacles  with another cultural phenomenon that hinders this nations artistic expression and economic growth.

The second tendril of agitation was spawned by that aforementioned very conformist and uneconomical pattern of thought- the assumption of these Milanese and Parisian designers that those of wealth can’t think for themselves what to wear- that the status and prestige of their labels will result in them blindly echoing the designer’s tastes, and by extension and lack of creativity, the magazines targeting the middle class will preach of their fashion superiority. It was joked about in “The Devil Wear’s Prada” and “Zoolander” alike, the way these runways preach styles to the wealthy, and a few months after a debut in Vogue, the less known designers sell knock offs of the style, and magazines like Cosmo carry the colors (Orange is the new black, or some such thing), so to speak. You’re supposed to combine these fascist fads with allegedly ‘classic pieces’, such as blue jeans (skinny jeans one month, capris the next, no real attention paid to what is actually flattering on most bodies- these designers make their style for size zeros…) , and white button up blouses (Pointed collars are in this month, but flouncy ones are so passe… til tomorrow). Many things that were considered in style one month are said to be out of style the next- and the very retail employees keeping the knock off sale stores in business, though making only 7.50 an hour, are expected to recycle their funds to keep up, while still somehow getting money for food and the bills. Never mind the CEO’s of these same companies getting most likely WELL over $75 an hour, pumped into distant gated communities, never to see the suburban workers economy again, make their bonuses using Keynesian economics- see how little they will work for, raise your own bonuses as such, make it increasingly difficult for their workers to keep up, and have any money for leisure.

These two tiers of totalitarian trends trouble me.  Not that I don’t understand the appeal that blue jeans and tee shirts have to some- if you look relatively the same, the class barriers deteriorate subliminally, you look more like one of the group regardless of where you are on the economic scale, and you don’t need to be concerned with how your neighbors judge you for dressing, plus it makes dressing in the morning easier- I imagine. The issue for me that arises, can be summed up in the timeless axiom “dress to express”. The very evolution of fashion began from people wanting to set themselves apart, showcase their expertise. True, there are band and product shirts explaining what people are fans of commercially, but rare is it to see a person who regularly dresses in a style outside of an approved, for cookie cut culture, costume. While the rampant changes in what the fashionista dictators preach is explainable by consumer and corporate competitive spirit, and economical concerns, they simply don’t leave room for real creativity in dressing. With their do’s and don’ts lists in dressing, they bully people away from flattering and sentimental fashions, in favor of their flavor of the month. A quick 100K for them, and anxiety for you.

Free spirits too, feel a bit of the stress. Whether it’s those that prefer the romanticism of neo-Victorian and neo-Edwarian ensembles, the gypsy bohemian style’s mysterious allure, or the sleek and shiny cyber suit’s avant garde glory, chances are the fearful eyes of the insecure will set into motion a petty comment or callous remark. This can be even more troubling, as the low paying jobs most retail stores offer have dress codes that condemn creativity, in the guise of professionalism, including to my dismay, craft and fabric stores! Now, if I’m not mistaken, people’s problem solving ability is related to their creativity. That creativity is built and sustained by rewarding- not condemning, creative acts and creative combinations, as well as by having many reference points to call upon. That’s something you just don’t get if everyone dresses the same. This is culturally damaging on many levels – it hinders finding like minded people via visual cues, takes the power to steer society out of the masses hands (no longer do they have creative input, they only have more of the same to choose from, altering the markets, and making China have an unfair advantage due to labor costs), and, sad to say, actually psychologically increases the likelihood of people committing immoral acts, as determined by a study of conformity performed by Philip Zimbardo, a professor of NY State. With all these detrimental factors to society, is it really worth it to dress the part these oligarch’s dictate?

Many people occasionally go out on a limb and really dress how they feel, I applaud them for doing their part. However, many who don’t dress to self express might find benefit in trying it sometimes. Of those who don’t dress to their true preferences that I’ve spoken to on the matter, I’ve heard reasons such as “they will get to know who I am by talking to me, not by looking at me”, “It’s comfortable”, and the hinted at “I don’t want to be judged”. Each of these claims carry a certain level of validity, but those who hold these views might want to look over this paragraph carefully. Those who stay in character who hold up fort in the,”they will get to know me by talking to me” camp, have an especially sound set of viewpoints, that they will be judged on their words and interests rather than outer appearance, and that clothing and how you dress should never be all that you are.  To them I’d like to point out that by never giving any visual indicators to set you apart,  many in depth conversations about topics that really interest them, they might be missing out on. I’d also like to pose to them this rhetorical question, how many conversations that have nothing to do with anything they find really interesting have they had, because they looked, like the topics that were brought up… generic? To those who say the clothing is comfortable, know that on the physical level, many other styles are just as comfortable. If they mean it’s more socially comfortable, are they really living their lives, or one that’s been prepackaged for them by carnivorous corporations? To those that are concerned about being judged by clothing, I ask, how often do they judge others by clothing, and how do they judge them? If this concern is so strong, are they secure in where they stand in their own circle of friends, or do they fear they’d be abandoned for dressing differently? If the answer to that is yes, maybe being true to themselves would help them get real loyal friends. I know some of this might come off as a bit harsh, but honestly I do have concerns. It’s not just about art, and getting networking based off of interests to be easier to do when shopping at the grocery store, it’s not just about all the jobs that could be produced if American’s were to take up the mantle of the world”s most creative nation (to bring the jobs local for publishing enough magazines with varied view points, helping writers, small businesses or all branches of the clothing production, and photographers, as well as make up artists, co-op malls that pay far better than their corporate counterparts), it’s about living life the way you want to, and not being afraid of what others think about you. It’s about alleviating anxiety.

So be a fascist fashion follower, or be a free spirit?  The choice is yours.