Shop window displays serve to crystallise, animate and narrate various meanings of fashion. They provide information on sartorial items, and demonstrate how to use them, all while training us to view fashion in relation to lifestyle. We learn to fantasise, and to aspire to certain ideals. Their presence asserts that fashion is life, and spectacle. As in the past, they instruct us on how to look, at fashion, and dressed bodies in the form of mannequins. Moreover, we project our own likenesses on to the spectacle, literally, via glass panes, merging our subjectivities with the images projected out to the street. Today, as protesters march the streets of New York’s SoHo, the upscale fashion boutiques housed within the area’s familiar nineteenth-century white cast-iron Italianate buildings, have boarded their windows. How does their newfound lack of glass, without the capacity for reflected imagery, affect our lines of vision? Does it give passers-by some space for internal reflection, without the distraction of mirrored and brand imagery? Or does the new matte streetscape in all its flatness rob of us of our sense of urban alertness, our alacrity? Something is missing, and it results in a feeling of disconnect. I remember my own stroll through the SoHo streets, and how I looked at myself in car windows when I could. I was not reflected in the shops, and so I searched for myself elsewhere.
It could be easy to dismiss digital clothing as a poor replication of physical clothing or, more strongly, as part of the alienating aspects of disgust. A future in which we must circulate primarily online, led principally by the caprices of corporate-owned platforms, would provoke a reaction of disgust in many of us. As our attention has already been commoditised on platforms, self-representation would too. If digital fashion is an industry predicated on technological determinism, alienation from voices who suggest an alternative outside the bounds of this world is nearly inevitable.
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.