by Rhian Sasseen on June 13, 2012
On the red line last week, and amidst the tourists headed towards Harvard, the black-clad middle-aged men desperate to be seen as intellectuals, and the middle-class mothers balancing strollers and Eugenides paperbacks I spotted him – a man, no, a boy, a man-boy, puffy with post-adolescence, clothed in a bulky leather jacket and too-big ripped jeans that read “fuck off” on each knee, the words scrawled hastily in ballpoint pen. He wore his rebellion on his sleeve – his meaningless rebellion. His empty sleeve, a white flag waving.
Fashion bores me. Theoretically I can appreciate the distinctions it offers, the classifications of rank and social status that the buttons of a lapel or the worn heels of a sandal can signify. But when we mistake fashion for ideas, for a legitimate questioning of the overarching system at hand, I think we have gone too far. Fashion is not life, it is not an art; it is for the most part an arcane presentation of what the morning’s weather patterns made us feel emotionally.
Do not tell this to the fashion girls and boys. The Internet, a platform particularly well-suited to the leisure of the empty image, has led to a proliferation of fashion blogs and street style tumblrs the likes of which society has never before seen. Paradoxically, fashion is presented as simultaneously democratic and elite. Anyone with an Internet connection can start a blog detailing their daily outfits, but not everyone can be born with a silver spoon – no, a silver closet.
Fashion allows uncreative people to pretend to be interesting. Rather than coming up with anything new or forward-thinking, they can cast doleful eyes at the camera and feign deep thoughts via their love of la Nouvelle Vague. (If only I had a dollar for every photo of Anna Karina I’ve seen re-blogged throughout fashion-land.) I knew a lot of girls in college who seemed to think that by wearing the right Jeffrey Campbell platforms and a lot of leopard print, they were suddenly unique individuals fighting the status quo by virtue of their very presence. Because $158 shoes are suddenly revolutionary.
It is the materialism of fashion that drives me especially mad. There is nothing particularly artistic to the variants and additions of one’s wardrobe, but in the fashion world there is a weird feeling that we are supposed to applaud the $500+ handbags and heels that we women are supposed to drain our bank accounts for in an effort to appear put-together. When even supposedly alternative women’s blogs are publishing headlines like “Why Buying From Emerging Fashion Designers Costs More Money (and Why That’s Okay)” and “What to Do With Your Allowance This Week” (spend it on $800 dresses, apparently), it becomes clear that to be seen as an intelligent, cultured, and worthwhile individual these days one must spend exorbitant amounts of money on the creation of an empty self.
Wearing all black or leather or ripped clothing is not intellectual, interesting, or rebellious when the actions, words, and thoughts of the individual in question are none of those qualities. “They seem so…normal,” a friend of a friend once commented on another friend’s companions, surprised that these t-shirt clad liberal arts students produced thoughtful and interesting works of art. But what the hell does “normal” even mean? Spending too much time and money on the cultivation of an image rather than the production of new work – to me, that is what seems truly normal.
A concern with fashion makes one infinitely valuable to the capitalist faux-counterculture that makes up bourgeois bohemia these days. Buy local! Buy artisanal! Buy all of these things and then sit in public at the hip cafe or restaurant or bar with your artfully-clothed friends and produce nothing of value while you whittle your time away posing. The artist that wears nothing particularly interesting and sits in his or her room creating significant work is not particularly useful to anyone trying to make money off of the image of “artist.”
Playing dress-up will only get you so far. Sooner or later, the work, not the image surrounding the work, will have to speak for itself. But then again, to quote the season finale of Mad Men, an artwork that goes decidedly beyond image in its examination of an industry concerned only with image, “This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but are not an artist.” You become image only, rebellion de-voiced, de-toothed, de-clawed – you become, in the end, a fashion victim.