Real Street Style : Is Street Style a Big Fat Sell-Out?
Article by Melissa Ladd
Street style, we need to have a talk.
Fashion week has come and gone now, and the frenzy with it. Whew… But there is still a bone that I have to pick with fashion week… (hang in there, this is a long post).
I randomly listened to a song the other day that got my mind turning around certain notions in the world of fashion and street style that I have a hard time with. I blog about fashion and brands often here on this site, but I have never really spoken up about how I FEEL about fashion.I think it’s time to include some of that to my site. The song, from the musical Annie : You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile, sings a message of great value. In essence : Though you may be well dressed, without a smile, (aka kindness and a good disposition/a generous spirit) you don’t look good. This immediately implies the opposing concept : although you may not be able to “dress well”, if you put on a smile, you look fabulous darlings!
This got me thinking… I know quite well some people who actually believe that they are superior because they dress well (they were high street name brands, or luxury clothes), and they will flaunt it without qualm. Their worth is all tied up in those threads. Yes, ironic isn’t it. So, these people, if they believe they are so much better because of their wardrobe, then they must think less of others who do not dress like them. Am I wrong ? They are surely missing their inner smile most likely forgotten in their overstuffed dresser drawer.
I also know people who dress in luxury, but judge no one for what they wear…in other words they are fully dressed with a smile included.
And of course, there are many of us, who dress according to our budget, and who manage to find our own style often on a dime.
Fashion has not always been THAT important to me. As a child, we didn’t have the means in my (large) family to buy nice clothing. We bought things off the sale racks, IF we bought it at all. My mother is a very talented sewer and she made a lot of our clothes when we were children. More of our clothes would come as hand-me-downs from cousins or from the church our family attended. And my mother, who has always had an amazing sense of personal style ( as in, even when we lived in the back woods of Washington State, she went to church with a hat and gloves that complimented her homemade dresses, she was always chic even with so many little children trailing behind her in a behaved row of well combed heads…) she always managed to make sure we were all dressed well, (and with a smile!). Her frugality rubbed off on me and started in my late teens, I learned to scour the sales racks, rummage through the vintage stores and the Goodwill for the perfect find, or gasp a coveted high street brand item, and managed to always dress interestingly enough, even if my sense of style may have appeared bizarre at times. I tested out many different styles, and seem to finally find one that suited me upon arriving to Paris.
The concept of street style began to define itself in a large and prominent sense post world war II, where different groups or « tribes » as this fashion history article describes it would identity themselves and their group philosophy/identity through their style of dress. Times have changed though. « Such looks are now, typically, plucked off the shelf of the post-modern “supermarket of style,” tried out, promiscuously mixed with other looks, and then discarded, » states the article. And the 21st century has seen a decline in group fashion/identity. Individuality plays a huge role in what street style claims to be now. Personal style is a solid concept, and standing apart from the crowd is a lauded accomplishment. « As the supreme expression of modernism, fashion’s orderly, lineal production of new, “New Looks” and the consensus in the form of a singular, progressive “direction” that it demanded, is ill-suited to the complexity and pluralism of the postmodern age within which the possibility of progress, the value of uniformity, and the desirability of transience are increasingly questioned »
But what I would like to question, is a certain vein of this search for personal and individual style. While on one hand we have people who truly seek out a way to differentiate themselves, regardless of the price tag attached to their garments, and in spite of the brand name, their style is one they have created. On the other hand I see on the road to street style (pun most certainly intended) is a pure arrogance in one‘s ability to purchase high end clothing, brand name items and in great number. Social media venues such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter help propel this frenzied attempt to show one’s buying power off through fashion to eye-oggling heights. There are tens or hundreds of thousands of followers on accounts that display expensive brand name fashion. It’s eye-catching and a fantasy to many. I myself enjoy following some accounts like these. To me it’s entertainment as well as a place to pillage ideas to modify and mold to my own style. This seems to be a common practice in our current age of fashion.
But we need to all take a dose of reality, because it is not just entertainment to a lot of those who are on the « showing » end of the social platform. There is a concept that warps the minds of many who have the means to « dress well » (as in : they can afford the pricey stuff) : and psychologically we end up with people who believe they are better persons because they have the ability to buy nicer things.
What I have to say about that is precisely this : Being able to « dress well » (aka : expensively) is NOT a quality, it IS an ability or a perhaps even a talent, but it does NOT make you a better person by any means. « Though you may wear the best, you’re never fully dressed without a smile » Annie belts out. And she is right. And although I do believe in certain values of those luxury brands that remain conscientious (the ones that retain values of craftsmanship, well made products, of upholding an industry of artisans who use talent and technique that is hard-learned and passes from century to century etc.) I also commend brands like H&M and Zara and other mass market fashion brands because they also allow for that first vein of 21st century street stylists to achieve a personal style in spite of a handicapped wallet. (Those brands of course have other issues that need to be dealt with concerning their labor practices, but that is a different conversation.) And perhaps with the advancement of technology and 3D printers, we could end up with an extremely democratized ability to not only create ones own style, but ones own actual fashion items.
So back to street style… There is an interesting development that is happening within the concept of street style. It is transforming from a self-created personal style into an over mediated marketing tool for those high end brands, looking to manipulate yet another concept that came from the bottom of the social classes and sneaks its way up into popular culture only to be completely taken over by the ones at the top. And so we see stars of the fashion world parading (and probably paid for it) around the fashion week runways shows, wearing items gifted to them because they are have now become walking billboards. And this “street style” that is boasted all over the internet, is really just a marketing adventure, and not the personal style of many of those who we see plastered all over the blogs and magazines, under the very words “street style”. It’s a false sense of personal style, it’s a show, it’s bought and paid for. It’s not all real folks.
I see the real ones too, outside the runway shows. Often it is those who don’t have those precious invitations to get in the big shows, who stand long hours in crowds of indifferent and blasé fashion people, waiting and hoping to be noticed enough at the door to snag one of the last remaining empty seats that did not get filled. Those are the ones the dig through second hand stores, H&M and Zara and beyond, to come up with something different, to get their style noticed, a style that is their very own creation. No one is paying them. They are the ones with talent, and real personal look.
There is a third type of street style fashion victim that I haven’t yet mentioned. The hybrid. These are people with either a a smaller ability to buy high end items, or those with a great ability, but who mix and match from both ends of the fashion industry spectrum. An Hermès bag with a Zara jacket, and no qualms about faux pas. These people also march to the beat of their own fashion drum, and create a truly personal style with the best of both worlds.
So…. What 21st century street style path are you on?