As our real-life identities become blurred with those of our online avatars, so do our notions of work and play, and nowhere is this more apparent than within social networks like Instagram and on the resale platforms that mimic them. To many, influencer markets are essential to selling clothes, and the best way to tap into them is by making shopping networks feel more like social media. But beyond likes, shares and friendly copy inspiring users to ‘join the community,’ social commerce isn’t really all that social. In an era where trends proliferate faster than the seasonal shows that once spawned them, recommerce apps have the power to both dictate trend cycles and undermine them too. If you keep that Balenciaga City bag in your RealReal wishlist for long enough, you might forget why you even wanted it, especially if you couldn’t really afford it in the first place.
In a way, we’re just bags, full of spirit, and then somebody puts a label on and you get out there and you push the product. I’m just the container you know, that’s all I am. I learnt that from Joan Crawford. But I feel like a perennial; they planted me in the right soil and I just keep coming back year after year. I serve a purpose, you know me – I’m just a flag pole. People put their flag on me and I fly it proudly. That’s part of being a model. Beauty is my goal: to find the most beautiful things. Whether it’s inside a person, or a flower, or a place, or the clothes they wear, I try to find the most beautiful thing I can in the moment. I have this needle inside me like a compass that says, ‘due north, follow your star, this way, this way!’
It was her own life that was in the middle drawer. She was the person she was not only because of her mother but because, fifty-eight years before, in the little town of Oberelsbach, another woman, whose qualities she would never know, had died too soon. Death, she thought, absolves equally the bungler, the evildoer, the unloving, and the unloved – but never the living. In the end, the cicatrix that she had, in the smallest of ways, helped her mother to bear had eaten its way in and killed. The living carry, she thought, perhaps not one tangible wound but the burden of the innumerable small cicatrices imposed on us by our beginnings; we carry them with us always, and from these, from this agony, we are not absolved.
When you make your commitment as a monk, after five or six years of probation, you are officially clothed in a cowl. The experience of being enveloped by it signifies being brought into monastic life. You become part of the fabric. The actual experience for the wearer is to be enveloped, and it induces a thoughtful, sober mood. It’s not frivolous. At the same time, nothing could be simpler in terms of the shape of the garment. But it’s not a totally impractical garment, so long as you don’t want to do a lot of things. If you want to sit, it’s perfectly comfortable, but it gives the kind of sobriety that’s inductive to the contemplative life. My best cowl and my newest (I have three in total), is seventeen years old. My oldest is from 1965 and I’m still wearing it every day. There is the slowness in that it impedes fast movement, but also attesting to the stability of the cowl. I suppose that is another sort of slowness, since you’re wearing the same garment for fifty- odd years and it doesn’t change colour, or season, or style.
Disease origin stories, while important, can lead to dangerous narratives. We need to recognise that the hegemony of global supply chains to produce the clothes that are advertised, stocked in retail outlets, bought and worn should not lead to ‘pathologising’ the entrepreneurs and workers who produce them. We need to imagine different futures that push back against demographic nationalism. We need not to criminalise the people who work hard to make clothes as they follow a desire to realise dignified lives. Diseases have not only origin stories and life history narratives but also afterlives.
When lockdown was announced, the luxury stores seized their shoes, bags and belts. The high street left theirs in full view. Oxford Circus is now Xanadu, drained. The long stretches of abandoned storefronts remain dressed. Moored in a state with no purpose, the bi-weekly deliveries of new stock and quick-fire changeovers have been disrupted: the fast fashions linger with no warm bodies on which to be pulled. These shop windows have become a sombre Vanitas. They are allegories of the long erasure of fashion’s ceremony and purpose. Much of what we revere about fashion has nothing to do with what it has become.
The Babcocks owned their house and a tiny sum in the bank, upon the interest of which they lived. Nobody knew how much it was, nobody would ever know while they lived. They might have had more if they would have sold or mortgaged their house, but they would have died first. They starved daintily and patiently on their little income. They mended their old muslins and Thibets, and wore one dress between them for best, taking turns in going out.