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.
I never knew when or what I was going to lift. The Time to Take was a calm, concrete feeling that would spread like room temperature butter on toast. Walking around the store, my body would casually scan for cameras, peruse the aisles, and when the time was right, I’d surrender to an emancipation pure and brief: a feeling much like leaving the stove on while attending to a phone call in the other room. And though I knew what I liked, it usually wasn’t what ended up mine: somewhere I think I knew that if I began to rely on this method to fuel my actual desires, I’d be losing my own game. This was not about the things themselves, of course. Every so often I had to remind myself that they had no value, and that like most shoplifters, I lost attraction to them soon after attainment. To take was to feel oneself justifiably tampering with a system to find that it is the system itself that is flawed — a bit like opening a lock with the wrong set of keys.
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.
In 2014, a woman posed a question to the 1.1 million members of a Reddit thread called Female Fashion Advice. The post was titled ‘Help, I need to wear an ID badge/key card at work!’and it was right in between ‘Help! Uniform for conference interns’ and ‘Enamel pin badges — how do you wear yours?’ How, she wanted to know, do you wear an ID without messing up your outfit?
Maternity and fashion have long been uneasy bedfellows. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that maternity clothing was even available for purchase within the commercial fashion system. Women have been expected to conceal their growing abdomens within their homes and, if they left the house at all (as so many working class women did), inside maternity corsets. As Jessica Friedmann writes, ‘Motherhood is a political category … we are told it is something we must cherish and excel at. Motherhood is janitorial work. It is health care. It is elder care. It is care for the environment, rapidly choking under industrialisation. It is working against the carceral system as it rips families apart … It is an exquisite pleasure and a wonder and a privilege. It is also, by every metric, just a fucking raw deal.’
Half-naked and with a silk sash supposedly around his neck, Tamás Király was found dead in his own apartment after what various media outlets called a night of rough, sado-masochistic romp with a male sex worker. In the socially conservative country that is Hungary, both the police and the press focused on the potentially shameful, reputation-ruining aspects of his death instead of the incredible legacy he left behind.
In the middle of my move, I pack boxes of things and throw other things away. So many things are thrown out. The opening up of closets, trunks, and boxes reminds me of the basement closet I hid in as a child, while my parents worked in the adjacent room painting cheap costume jewellery under fluorescent lights. The clothes smelled of mothballs and mildew, damp wool and old fur. Its rafters held my mother’s secret stash of cash and bills. The clothes in this closet — of dresses and jackets — were worn so long ago, pictured only in faded photos, worn on bodies before having children, when my mother was a different person, a young working woman in the city making money for only herself.
The examination of ‘the image of the homosexual as a sad young man,’ is in essence a critique of stereotypes and a contextualisation of the many novels, plays and films produced in the 1950s and 60s which condemned gay men to a nether-world of self-loathing, ennui and melancholy. But it also sketched out a lineage in which the image can be seen to have evolved through historical representations of masochistic religious martyrdom (Saint Sebastian), romantic lyricism (the death of Chatterton), medical pathology (the weak invert), psychoanalytic trauma (Freudian mother-love), and urban alienation (angsty existentialism). These are hardly conducive of the positive role-models that gay liberation validated in the late Sixties and Seventies, yet in a sense they offered a form of fulfillment and redemption.