Fashion Litmus Test for Identity
the physical world and in the online world, fashion speaks volumes
about a person's identity. Contrary to popular belief, fashion does
not exist for the benefit of allowing people to better express themselves.
It's more important function is to communicate a person's social
eptness. Fashion is always rapidly changing for a reason. If you
want to communicate to others that you are en vogue, you have to
expend the money, energy, and effort to keep up. Fashion, or style,
to be more specific, is a highly regarded, high quality, assessment
signal. It's almost foolproofness makes it an easy rite-of-passage
litmus test for entrance into any social scene or online community.
From my own analysis, there seems to be five levels of fashionability,
each forming an identity: the avant garde creators, the trendy early
adopters, the pop consumers, the ignorant, and the classy timeless.
is born in the hands of a few -- these are the avant garde artists
and visionaries who think about the last best thing, listen to the
lessons of history, and create the next best thing. they choose
new cultures to highlight, or old cultures to reinterpret. They
have keen insight into what the collective soul of the world is
hungry for. The new fashion they create is not just the physical
garment, car, or new webpage aesthetic...the new fashion is the
new product plus a provocative tale, told explicitly or
implied in the hunger of the soul of the world, about why this is
the next best thing. The provocative tale, told from the mouths
of these oft-worshipped fashion oracles, is how the new product
gets anointed its meaningfulness. Once the new product is borne
into the world, it's meaningfulness is perverted over time, and
eventually, lost. Measuring the point along this lifecycle at which
a person consumes a particular product allows us to learn about
the nature of their style and identity. These avant garde creators
are easy to identify. They are celebrities who start trends, fashion
designers, car designers, philosophers, artists. But even some "regular"
people can fall into this category. People who buck the trends and
start their own, albeit, necessarily very aesthetic and timely,
trends. It's important to stress that not everyone who bucks the
trend is an avant garde. What separates a visionary from a confused
person is that the style of the visionary is a refreshing unanticipated
aesthetic, while the confused person's style will be filled with
inconsistencies and offensive vulgarities. It is very easy to detect
an offense or inconsistency in fashion. This is what affords fashion
with its foolproofness as a high-quality assessment signal.
the avant garde creators have given birth to a new product, it is
the trendy early adopters who take the torch. I'm not using trendy
in the pejorative sense which misnomerously refers to pop-ish posers.
It is very easy for a discerning person to decide if a person is
genuinely trendy, or engaged in deception. Take for example, a girl
who owns a louis vitton bag because she believes that it catapults
her into a higher social strata. Unfortunately for her, she picks
an extremely flashy gold monogram bag. Little does she know, that
these flashy pieces are the most difficult to "pull off".
You have to complement it with the right wardrobe, hairstyle, culture,
and attitudes. For her, she has none of these necessary qualities
and it becomes painfully obvious that she is posing. Posing is easy
to detect, because there is usually something out-of-place or vulgar
about a person's use of a purportedly fashionable product. In the
online world, it is just as easy to tell if someone is posing. Lowercase,
graphical minimalism, novel use of punctuation, and rich color schemes
are all fashion trends of the online world. But these trends are
aesthetics. When used inappropriately, or when their use is inconsistent
with other cues the person gives off, it is easy to detect posing.
Subtle color differences of just a few degrees can tip someone off
that there is something "fishy" about a person's purported
fashionability. But I disgress. The real trendy early adopters genuinely
appreciate the new products bequeathed to them. Only genuine connoisseurship
ensures that a fashionable product will be used appropriately and
without vulgarity, and in only the right contexts.
through the trendy early adopters, the provocative stories of the
creators are somewhat intact. These stories are what bridge the
inherent symbolic meaning of an object with its newly coined fashion-based
meaningfulness. There is evidence of a good faith transfer of these
stories to the early adopters. Store employees at diesel style lab,
for example, are well-versed in the creational stories motivating
each season's collection, and enthusiastically relate these stories
to their customers. By the time a sufficient quorum of early adopters
have taken a liking to a product, pop fashion's attention is caught.
This is as true of the online world as of the physical. In the physical
world, celebrities and hipsters attract the attention of the popular
media. In the online world, hipsters and hipster communities attract
the attention of some very good trendspotter journalists. Once in
the media limelight, the commercial industry tries to replicate
and further disseminate the product. In the process, the product
loses its story, it's intended meaning, and all the care that was
put into the original idea and original product. The product becomes
dilluted as more and more pop consumers misuse and vulgarize the
product. It is easy to spot a popster by their fashion. They are
sporting or doing whatever is already in the popular media, such
as mtv. They consume products without as much care as to its origin.
Also, once the product has made its way to the popsters, it is usually
of very poor quality. For example, popster clothing stores like
gap and express produce rather vulgar and in-your-face versions
of distressed jeans. In an online chatroom, a popster will try too
hard to give off the signals of online fashion, through color, fonts,
lingo, signatures, etc. All meaning of the product is eventually
lost in the popsters, who would hardly miss it in the first place.
the cycle, we have left out the two remaining fashion identities:
the fashion ignorant, and the classy timeless. The fashion ignorant
is wholly unconcerned or unaware of the effects of fashion on their
own identity, and it is not a part of their vocabulary for identity.
To judge these people, it is still possible to examine them for
their personal fashion aesthetic. Is it tasteful or offensive? As
for the classy timeless, they do not so much participate in the
cycle of adopting new trends. But rather, they stick to very classy
principles of fashion. In clothing, the classy rules are: black,
white, well-fitted, good-material, and comfortable. In the online
world, it's: good spelling, good html etiquette, not overly formal,
not overly obnoxious colors, no cheesy email addresses or signatures.
Classy can be defined as the absence of trendiness, but also, the
absence of vulgarity.
each of the five fashion identities: avant, trendy, poppy, ignorant,
and classic, there is a prescription for recognizing the identity
from the personal fashion. For the former three, this recognition
is relative to knowledge about where a fashion product is in its
lifecycle. For latter two, this recognition relies on the presence
or absence of overt vulgarity in a person's style. Recognition into
these identities is quite foolproof because it is very difficult
to successfully pose because it is hard for a disgenuous person
to be wholly consistent in their posing.
future of fashion will be very different from its past. Globalization,
and the accessibility of cultures, and the interconnectedness of
people over the internet and through mass media will likely force
a convergence of fashion trends in architecture, music, online presence,
and clothes. The senseless obliteration of good fashion by the poppy
mainstream may jade and turn off many hipsters to being trendy.
More hipsters will likely stay classy. In the online world, that
means a longer-term trend in lowercase, readable pages, rich by
tasteful colors, real email addresses, and minimalism.
to Kelly Green
green is the "in" color right now... "in" in
certain circles in europe that is, not the u.s., because sadly,
americans are generally slower to catch on to this sort of thing.
but it's also a trend who has odds stacked against it in the u.s.,
because the last big thing, distressed denim, still lingers in the
stubbornly slow moving american pop mainstream, like the houseguest
that overstayed his welcome. the swedish department store h&m
does a pretty good job of staying with the fashion trends, and hence,
they have lots of kelly green in their spring 2003 collection. a
friend of mine at comme des garcons offers this precious advice:
"i like h&m.. i buy lots of it, hide it for a year or two,
and then pull it out and wow my nyc friends...you can't wear it
too soon or people just won't get you."
green is a real gem of a color. i'll tell you why. it's not one
of those low-maintenance fashion statements. with a pair of distressed
jeans, you can treat them like crap, or bust out an old pair of
painter's overalls from your daddy's closet, and you're en vogue.
but kelly green is an obnoxious color. living in boston, i'm particularly
sensitive to its irish connotations and will avoid it like the plague
around st. patty's day. kelly green is also a very common color
for extremely low-end clothing because the dye is so accessible.
you really must take care in what neighborhoods you stroll down,
sporting your kelly green peacoat. heaven forbid that you get caught
in places where the wrong people match you. context is key, and
kelly green, being such a high-maintenance color, should only be
worn in extremely trendy neighborhoods like williamsburg, rodeo,
or newbury. because it's so finicky, kelly green is a particularly
regal color, and anyone who can pull it off is a real someone. and
if it happens to be an american, extra kudos to her, because she's
dressed herself into the ranks of the avant garde... a fashionista,
a sentinel, in a country so polluted by the imitative mainstream.
of which, why are people still stuck on distressed denim? i saw
a girl strut down the street in very dark denim, with what appeared
to be two big bleach stains on her thighs... then, passing her,
i'm shocked to find a bleached white splotch covering her derriere.
but the tragedy is not of this girl, it is of the whole of american
pop culture. the pop fashion in europe seems to move quite rapidly.
h&m, fcuk, and united colors of bennetton pluck styles from
the runways with a delay of only a season or two, while american
mcfashion houses like gap and express are both slower to catch on,
and to move on. one can only speculate why this is. perhaps the
europeans, being more concerned with fashion, invest more in fashion
trends. or perhaps american pop fashion passes trends through a
conservative filter because its consumers are more fashion risk-averse?
for example, capris pants for men never caught on in the states..
i'm assuming this is why. sometimes it is so painful to live among
such a populous. but then again, it's sometimes quite nice to never
have to try very hard to differentiate oneself here. it's too easy
to stand out if you have any fashion savoir-faire. return from a
shopping trip in milan or berlin and you're guaranteed to be en
vogue for a couple of years. and your goods are usually so avant
that you run no risk of being imitated. so i guess fashioning in
the states has its perks and drawbacks. you're guaranteed to be
avant sporting your kelly green peacoat, but you also have to live
in constant fear that you might have a run-in with your neighbors,
sporting their vulgar kelly green celtics shirts.