As the service industry has taken over goods, the parameters of conspicuous consumption have also shifted. The ‘lifestyle experience’ is how architectural theorist, Brian Lonsway, describes the subtle aesthetic choices used to complement the interests of target consumers. And for spaces like Coal Drops Yard in London and Birmingham’s Custard Factory, where a creative, ‘edgy’ lifestyle is cultivated through its authentic-slash-heritage infrastructure, digital technology has been as essential as the buildings themselves. Embedded within these spaces then is a connection to the past and a lucrative, aestheticised placemaking that emphasises authenticity – an especially important factor in a digital, social media-driven age.
My mother has not held a job in nearly fifty years. This is not because she chose to be a stay-at-home mom or enjoyed independent wealth or relied on a man to dole out an allowance. She had four children from different fathers, none of whom contributed financially in any notable or legally mandated way. We lived with my grandmother in her once-stately New England home in a small Connecticut town in which we, as a familial economic entity, were ill-fitted at best. We were poor and happy. And my mother was jobless but prolific. She woke every day between four and five in the morning, made coffee and began to work. That is: to sew.
An Amish catechism manual devotes nine pages and forty-three questions and answers to dress – second only to the topic of heaven. In hypermodernity, dress articulates individuality and personal taste. In Amish life, clothing expresses exactly the opposite meaning. When members wear Amish garb, they relinquish their right to self-expression and signal their commitment to communal authority. Clothing that shows off one’s individuality produces a proud, haughty person, and pride is considered an abomination in the eyes of God.
To be pregnant, and then to be a mother, is to be reliant on others – to greater and lesser degrees dependent, like almost everything, on access to money, although family and community can play a vital role of support here too. I was reliant on the information and care of each different midwife I saw throughout my pregnancy. Then I was reliant on doctors, nurses, more midwives and the neonatal care team to keep me and my baby alive. I was reliant on my employer and the government to provide maternity leave, I was reliant on my boyfriend to provide income when I couldn’t, though many mothers, my own included, are reliant on government support instead. The extreme individualism of late capitalism both ensures this dependency, and does not make space for it having any value, any sense of positivity. It is simply a drain on resources. As I lost my privacy and sense of self-governance, I was no longer able to feel like an autonomous woman, and I craved the aesthetics of a woman who did.
The Chinese dragon is Chinese, but how did it become so? And what does ‘Chinese’ even mean in the context of a transcontinental empire from the 1300s? What does it mean today? Decentring fixed notions and dichotomies can be the first step in initiating transcultural discussions, and doing so acknowledges the interdisciplinary nature of transcultural, globalised study. History and art history, archaeology and material studies and visual studies — all of these go hand-in-hand when disassembling dishonest labels of ‘pure’ or ‘original’ or ‘national.’ In this way the broader realisations of hybridity, influence, or exchange can shine through.
Carlo is concerned about his looks; it’s important to him how his ‘outer shell’ – his coat – appears. Decent clothes make it easier to earn money, easier to approach people on a more or less equal level. But the coat also comes with a second purpose: it’s the smallest possible of homes, a sleeping bag and a comforter. ‘Since childhood we’re used to feeling something on top of us when we’re sleeping, something heavy,’ he says. ‘Turning a coat into a duvet is better than wearing it, somehow. It feels more secure and warm.’
Having your ashes placed in a handbag by Louis Vuitton is another way of writing a love-letter, not to a man, but to commerce. If Marilyn had only meant what she sang in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,’ she and Zsa Zsa and Anna Nicole would have been in agreement. There was never any question of landing a man until death do us part in ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’; the part that mattered was having the diamonds to die in. The thing that people without a great fortune always say about riches is: ‘you can’t take it with you.’ The thing that rich, dead women seem to say is ‘watch me.’
Prison literature and theory often focuses on the oppressiveness of the system, the callous discipline enforced on the prisoner, the strict rules which often seem arbitrary in their focus and the often patronising attitude of the authorities. We often assume that prison is an environment so infused with control and discipline that the inmates have no choice but to bow to the authorities. This is of course not the case. Prison life is full of upturned collars and resentful squints, as well as a myriad of other ways to subvert the rules, however slightly.
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.
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.
Fashion is often characterised as a representation of society, its ‘most precise reflection.’ Yet, specular reflections are optical illusions based on light and its energy. Standing in front of a mirror, we see not only a virtual image, but also a fundamentally distorted one. Underlying this metaphor seem to be two prevalent perceptions of fashion: that fashion communicates accurately and that what we wear is indicative of who we are. This reading of fashion implies that if fashion were a mirror of society and its members, the mirror can be read.
Concepts like competitiveness, egotism, status and obedience to authority lie at the heart of the current organisation of the fashion system. Fashion is often considered a game of winners and losers, of haves and have nots. Even at the concept-level fashion hinges on this power structure. Time plays a pivotal role in the conceptualisation of fashion, as fashion delineates who is advanced or ‘with the times’ and who is backward or old-fashioned. The superiority and inferiority of fashion also implies loneliness. The saying that ‘in fashion success is all about who you know’ points at our alienating understanding of the notion of (social) capital. The human connections you make in the race for different kind of resources or capital that put you ahead in the fashion game are connections to the social position of people, not to actual human beings.