The Discipline of Power Dressing: What Being a Hillary VS Being a Kate Means in Terms of Political Style

It was only a couple of weeks ago that Hillary Clinton officially announced that she would be running for president in 2016. A media frenzy ensued as Hillary’s video was dissected for meaning and her launch through social media critiqued. However, it wasn’t simply Hillary’s message about getting things done and championing the American people that was up for discussion. E! Online quickly published an article titled “Let’s Take a Look Back At Self-Declared ‘Pantsuit Aficionado’ Hilary Clinton’s Colorful Style History.” Style.com demanded Diane Von Furstenberg’s opinion on Hillary’s style choices. And Harper’s Bazaar created an entire slideshow of various runway looks with Hillary’s face superimposed over those of the models. Sure, a bit of policy was discussed, perhaps overshadowed by the current scrutiny given to the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s email “scandal,” but somehow just as much focus seemed to be on what Hillary would be wearing during the race. Speculation has already arisen about who will become her stylist, how much they will be paid, and whether Hillary will go for a complete image makeover in 2016. Yet no one seems to be asking whether Jeb Bush will be getting a makeover. Where are the color-coded charts of Ted Cruz’s suits? Or the dissections of Bernie Sanders’ tie choices?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her PDA upon her departure in a military C-17 plane from Malta bound for Tripoli,  Libya

We all dress with a purpose, whether that purpose be something as simple as comfort or as complicated as being culturally appropriate on a diplomatic mission to a foreign country. The construction of outfits in more delicate situations requires a certain discipline. And for political leaders or persons of stature who are supposed to serve as examples, every situation is delicate. Discipline encompasses the ideas of training and control, and nowhere in fashion can that be seen better than in the carefully-curated dressing of the world’s most powerful. This is particularly the case in the wardrobes of female leaders, whose sartorial choices are often – though arguably unduly – scrutinized as much as their actions and policy proposals. Attention must be given to everything: the hair, the make-up, the accessories, not to mention the outfit itself. They all must be in place and, above all, appropriate. As Sandra Lee Bartky asserts, there is a “growing power of the image in a society increasingly oriented toward the visual media” (107), which means that everyone can now play Fashion Police with Hillary Clinton’s or Kate Middleton’s visual appearance. The digital, image-focused world that we live in indicates that we largely regard how these female leaders aesthetically present themselves as essential to their actual leadership skills. Yet we also have different expectations of women like Clinton or Angela Merkel and women like Middleton or Michelle Obama. With these expectations comes a different sort of power for each group of women, a power that they can greatly exercise through the discipline of their dress.

On one end of the spectrum we have Hillary Clinton, who many view as the generic definition of political “power dressing.” She is known for donning pantsuits of various colors, which have sparked Reddit’s famous “Hillary Clinton Pantsuit Rainbow” meme, but also a steady stream of criticism. Though always appropriate, Hillary’s pantsuits have been given flack for their apparent masculinity, matronliness, and lack of flattering cut (read: lack of feminine discipline). Part of Hillary’s more ‘masculine’ appearance may have to do with her work on Capitol Hill. As Laura Portwood-Stacer mentions in Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism, “Angela McRobbie asserts that the style that defines a subculture is often the style of its male members” (62). There is perhaps no place more aggressively male, other than maybe Wall Street, to work in than D.C.’s political subculture. Politics are notoriously known for being predominantly male-occupied and particularly challenging for women to infiltrate. As Portwood-Stacer says, “individual tastes are always conditioned by social structures, which are often inflected by relations of power, hierarchy, and domination” (59). Hillary may want to dress more masculine not only in hopes of shifting focus onto her policies, but also to gain more clout with her male political counterparts. If this is the case, it could be argued that Hillary in fact exercises serious amounts of discipline in her attire.  Michel Foucault defines discipline as “a relation of docility-utility” (137). Hillary may be seen as docile in her adherence to the classically masculine appearance of D.C. politics, but by being so, she also transforms her dress into something useful: the power to ‘play with the big boys,’ so to speak. She is not the only one to do so, either. If we look at the style of Angela Merkel, the current and first female Chancellor of Germany, we can see very similar, unassuming pantsuits. Like Clinton, Merkel harnesses the “utility” (Bartky) of her body by concealing it rather than emphasizing it through her clothing. This practice of discipline“turns [the body] into an ‘aptitude,’ a ‘capacity,’” as Foucault would say; this capacity lies in shifting focus away from the body and, hopefully, onto the female leaders’ governing.

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On the other side of the spectrum we have women like Kate Middleton. Kate is also a woman of significant social and political prestige. Though she may not be directly involved in government, she is the highest media-covered female face of Great Britain. Yet the way that Kate dresses differs decidedly from how Hillary or Angela dress. Kate, unlike the former Secretary of State and German Chancellor, is constantly present in fashion magazines. She fits Bartky’s description of the “current body of fashion” perfectly: “taut, small-breasted, narrow-hipped, and of a slimness bordering on emaciation” (95). She clearly exercises all of those “peculiarly feminine” disciplines that Bartky criticizes Foucault of ignoring in his work: proper posture, physical exercise to maintain a svelte physique, on-point hair and makeup, and general self-presentation that exhibits “not only constriction, but grace as well, and a certain eroticism restrained by modesty” (98 Bartky). Kate may wear figure-hugging skirts, for example, but these will always be knee-length or longer. If her décolletage is more exposed, the skirt or dress will be floor-length. Society dictates that a princess must be pretty, of course, but not sexy and definitely not provocative in any way. To maintain this perfect balance requires an impressive amount of discipline. Restraint in certain areas (ex. dress length) while cultivation in others (ex. perfect princess locks) is expected of someone in Kate’s position. The reward for such well-executed visual presentation? “Social acceptance, respect, and admiration from one’s peers” (60), says Portwood-Stacer. In short, cultural capital. Kate’s substantial fan base has a lot to do with the way she looks. Women see an influential, beautiful, and sophisticated example in her—characteristics that they celebrate and wish to emulate. Though an unavoidable discipline in dress is imposed on Kate by society, this “discipline can provide the individual upon whom it is imposed with a sense of mastery as well as a secure sense of identity” (Bartky 105). Indeed, Alice Marwick and Brooke Duffy would see Kate as “being self-promotional and turning oneself into a brand” (5). Her style of clothing, hair, and make-up are so associated with her public persona that they have become part of a whole ‘Kate Middleton look.’ Like with other individuals, Kate’s style can be “read and decoded” (Portwood-Stacer 53); as Portwood Stacer says, “one’s social position can be read off the tastes one has cultivated” (59). For example, by wearing Zara, Kate can project the message that she is simply ‘one’ with the British people, even if her title, residence, and obligations say otherwise. This similarly tasteful, feminine political way of dressing can be seen with other women of influence, like Michelle Obama or Queen Rania of Jordan. Both of these women are also frequently applauded for their fashion savvy and emulated for their hair and makeup.

                 

What is it, then, that makes these women of influence fall on opposite ends of the spectrum? Why is a Hillary different from a Kate? What sets apart an Angela from a Michelle? The answer for why these women dress in the disciplined, specific ways that they do lies, I think, in their exact professions. Hillary Clinton was the former Secretary of State under the 2008 Obama administration and now the likely presidential candidate for the 2016 Democratic ticket. Angela Merkel is the current Chancellor of Germany. Michelle Obama is FLOTUS at the moment. And Kate Middleton is the Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Britain’s second-in-line to the throne. What is most significant here? The women who are occupying positions usually reserved for men are the ones dressing more ‘businesslike’ and ‘masculine,’ while the women whose influence comes significantly from the fact that their husbands are powerful are the ones dressing more ‘fashionably’ and ‘feminine.’ There is a “complex narrative” being “perform[ed]” here (Ford 6). Each of these women is indeed dressing in the way that might be typically expected of her position. There is a clear code being adhered to for each of them, rules of conduct that to an extent dictate how these women should individually present themselves to the now always-watching world. So yes, as Bartky observes, “on the one hand, discipline is something imposed on a subject” (103). But, Bartky says, “discipline can be sought voluntarily as well” (103). Michelle and Kate dress the way they do because it is their job to connect with the people of their respective countries, and dressing fashionably is undoubtedly one way to seriously engage with at least the female population. Hillary and Angela dress the way they do because, at the end of the day, it is they who are making the critical political choices for their countries, not Michelle or Kate. Hence, they dress more conservatively to bring attention not just to their jobs, but to their abilities to do those jobs well (and just as well as men). This is not to say that either group of women is more or less powerful than the other. Their positions simply afford them different types of power, which, in this media-oriented day and age, can certainly be enhanced by the way they dress. And for their style to be truly effective, discipline is not only desirable, but indispensable.

   

-Andrea Cihlarova

Works Cited:

Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault, Femininity, and Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior. Ed. Weitz, Rose. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 93-111. Print.

Foucault, Michel. “Docile Bodies.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. 135-141. Print.

Ford, Tanisha C. “Selma Costumes Reveal Class and Consciousness of the Movement.” The Root. The Root, 7 January 2015. Web. <http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/01/_selma_costumes_reveal_class_and_consciousness_of_the_movement.html&gt;

Portwood-Stacer, Laura. “‘I’m not joining your world’: Performing political dissent through spectacular self-presentation.” Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.

Postigo, Hector. “Podcast and Dialogue: With Alice Marwick and Brooke Duffy.” Culture Digitally. National Science Foundation, 26 March 2013. Web. <http://culturedigitally.org/2013/03/podcast-and-dialogue-with-alice-marwick-and-brooke-duffy/&gt;

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When Fashion Meets Fitness: Representation and the Rise of Fitness Chic

As of late, a lifestyle of both fashion and fitness is en vogue. Designers such as Alexander Wang and Stella McCartney have activewear lines, and athletic brands focused on fashionable fitness gear are gaining popularity.  Models and celebrities don sporty ensembles while posting fitness and health related practices on Instagram.  Seemingly, athleticwear has made a comeback since the days of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” music video, minus the leg warmers. The CEO of Nike, Mark Parker, even went as far as to say that “leggings are the new denim,” as women’s activewear sales have soared (Friedman). However, as with most fashion trends, the significance lies beyond the actual physical objects and instead lies with what the clothing represents or communicates socially.  The recent phenomenon of fitness chic, fashionable fitness attire, which couples the meanings associated with both fashion and fitness, demonstrates how representation is an act of communicating to others the embodiment of particular qualities, lifestyles and forms of status.

Specifically, qualities and status of the wearer typically associated with wealth and leisure are communicated through or inferred from wearing fitness chic apparel, demonstrating the communicative nature and role of representation. In general, “adornment is a communicative symbol that serves crucial functions within human lives…(and) useful functions within society…it can be used to indicate social roles, to establish social worth (and) as a symbol of economic status…”(Roach, Eichler 120). Understanding how adornment can serve as a symbol through which various social and cultural qualities and statuses of individuals can be inferred, is the basis for the discussion of how representation is a key component of the trend of fitness chic. As parodied in the image from the fashion blogger Man Repeller, titled, “What Your Gym Clothes Say About You,” particular items of clothing, accessories, brands, and even the way an outfit is assembled, can serve to represent and communicate a host of meanings about the wearer, simply based on clothing worn at the gym.

What Your Gym Clothes Say About You
What Your Gym Clothes Say About You

For instance, wearing clothing from expensive fitness brands such as Lululemon, or high-end fitness boutiques such as Soul Cycle, can signal to observers that the wearer is wealthy and has a certain level of economic status, since that person can afford to go to expensive exercise classes and purchase the apparel. Additionally, clothing from those brands could indicate to observers that the person wearing a tank top from Soul Cycle or Lululemon leggings is aware of what is trendy and popular right now, both in terms of apparel and where to work out.  As a result, it becomes easy to link these brands with a particular brand user or status, since the designation of being trendy or wealthy is a form of status. The “tendency to purchase goods and services for the status or social prestige value that they confer on their owners” is the definition of consumption-related need of status, according to Han, Nunes and Dréze (Han et al. 16). Ultimately, since “consumers often choose brands as a result of their desire to associate with or resemble the typical brand user” (Han et al.16), the association with brands and certain qualities and types of status believed to be embodied by those brand users, is important for understanding representation.

workout-clothes-soul-cycle

Adidas StellaSport (new line from Adidas x Stella McCartney)
Adidas StellaSport

Fitness apparel communicates and represents the idea of leisure, which is a form of displaying wealth and status, and also demonstrates a form of lifestyle. According to Veblen, “in order to gain and hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient merely to posses wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence” (Veblen 24). The way to demonstrate one’s wealth and power and to receive the esteem and status guaranteed by such qualities is to demonstrate having a life of leisure. Veblen states, “a life of leisure is the readiest and most conclusive evidence of pecuniary strength; and therefore of superior force” (Veblen 25). A life of leisure includes having the time to exercise because one does not need to be working, and having the excess funds to be able to afford to do so. Therefore, dressing in ways that signify a life of leisure come to represent a host of meanings and statuses associated with wealth, social standing and lifestyle practice. Elizabeth Wilson references the street fashion of women in New York City, describing how fitness apparel is, “a new dress code…come into being to signify ‘leisure’” (Wilson 142). The overtone of communicating a life of leisure through fitness apparel and the positive meanings associated with that lifestyle is perhaps why brands want to associate with the fitness chic image and why individuals want to represent themselves as being a part of the lifestyle.

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Alexander Wang X H&M

Whether carefully cultivating an outfit to wear to the gym, or posting an Instagram photo of eating a salad post-workout, representing oneself as aligning with the trend of fitness chic both in apparel and through practice is becoming popular because of the lifestyle image it promotes. Fred Davis notes, “we know that through clothing people communicate some things about their persons, and at the collective level this results in locating them symbolically in some structured universe of status claims and life-style attachments” (Davis 149). In other words, the clothing one wears has the ability to communicate to others one’s participation in a particular lifestyle, such as the trendy lifestyle of being healthy and fit, as well as fashionable, and the status of being a part of that lifestyle. Additionally, by sporting an outfit from a designer activewear line such as, StellaSport by Stella McCartney and Adidas, or Alexander Wang’s collaboration with H&M, individuals can use “brand choice…(to) send meaningful social signals to other consumers about the type of person using that brand” (Han et al. 18). Thus, the brand choice of one’s fitness clothing can be a means of signaling to other consumers that one subscribes to the lifestyles of both fashion and fitness.

Hannah Bronfman showcasing her healthy lifestyle by featuring a salad from sweetgreen, and including her fitness apparel in the photograph.
Hannah Bronfman showcasing her healthy lifestyle by featuring a salad from sweet green.  She also includes her fitness apparel in the photograph.
Karlie Kloss
Karlie Kloss

In particular, fashion models and celebrities on Instagram represent and “model” the lifestyle of fitness chic. Even before the popularity of social media, Elizabeth Wilson described how “the correct costume of the fitness freak has its own obsessional details…it all mimics casual informality, but is minutely thought out” and “the bright uniform acts out as a lifestyle” (Wilson 142). Wilson’s observations demonstrate the thoughtfulness and work that goes into representing oneself as embodying the fitness chic lifestyle, which is now only enhanced by models on social media. Regarding models, Elizabeth Wissinger notes, “complying with the structured demands of the modeling world, they might be said to promote a host of things: aesthetic standards of dress, body and demeanor, a particular ‘lifestyle,’ and particular patterns of consumption” (Wissinger 284). Specifically, Victoria’s Secret models such as Karlie Kloss and Izabel Goulart are well known for having fitness inspirational Instagram accounts, and are therefore assumed to have fitness inspirational lives. Karlie Kloss was the face of Nike’s Fall 2014 advertising campaign, due to the fact that she, “smartly branded herself as an athlete, frequently posting well-composed shots of her workouts on Instagram” (Indvick). Her ability to represent herself as having the qualities and lifestyle of both an athlete and a model led Nike to want to hire her; but Nike is also using the lifestyle she represents as a model in order to present an image of the brand’s products as fashionable to consumers.

Izabel Goulart
Izabel Goulart
Carmen Hamilton (The Chronicles of Her)
Carmen Hamilton (The Chronicles of Her)

Overall, designer labels, athletic brands, models, and the public at large are infatuated with the idea of fitness chic because of the positive associations with fashion and leisure. Although it may be true that “leggings are the new denim” (Friedman) and a kale salad is this season’s best accessory, the popularity of the trend is not due to some superior intrinsic feature of the commodities themselves, but rather, is predicated on the qualities, status and lifestyle attachments that are communicated through these items and practices as a representation of being both fashionable and fit.


Works Cited:

Davis, Fred. “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 148-58. Print.

Friedman, Vanessa. “Nike Stakes Its Fashion Claim.” Web blog post. On the Runway. The New York Times, 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 May 2015. http://runway.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/nike-stakes-its-fashion-claim-on-activewear-for-women/

Han, Young Jee, Joseph C. Nunes, and Xavier Drèze. “Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence.” Journal of Marketing 74.4 (2010): 15-30. Print.

Indvik, Lauren. “Why Nike Is Working With Karlie Kloss.” Fashionista. Breaking Media, 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 May 2015. http://fashionista.com/2014/10/nike-karlie-kloss

Roach, Mary Ellen and Eicher, Joanne Bubolz. “The Language of Personal Adornment.” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Barnard, Malcolm. New York: Routledge, 2007. 109-21. Print.

Veblen, Thornstein. “The Theory of Leisure Class”. Ed. Dover Thrift. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1994. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Chapter 7: Fashion and City Life.” Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2003. 134-154. Print.

Wissinger, Elizabeth. “Modeling Consumption: Fashion Modeling Work in Contemporary Society.”  Journal of Consumer Culture 15 June 2009: pgs 273-296

Images:

1. Milrom, Sophie. “What Your Gym Clothes Say About You” Digital image. Man Repeller. N.p., 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.manrepeller.com/2014/10/gym-clothes-and-personality.html

2. Workout-Clothes-Soul-Cycle. Digital image. SADIERAE + CO. N.p., 21 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://sadieraeandco.com/2013/04/21/savvy-sunday-fitness-fashist/workout-clothes-soul-cycle/

3. Keiser, Amanda. Adidas StellaSport. Digital image. Teen Vogue. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2015. http://www.teenvogue.com/fashion/2015-01/stella-mccartney-adidas-launch-stellasport

4. Schwiegershausen, Erica. Alexander Wang X H&M. Digital image. The Cut. NYMAG, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2015. http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/10/here-is-alexander-wangs-full-hm-collection.html

5. 19 September, 2014. @hannahbronfman instagram https://instagram.com/p/tJG0EeSEF9/?taken-by=hannahbronfman

6. 2 January 2015. @karliekloss instagram https://instagram.com/p/xWzqSAkSuG/?taken-by=karliekloss

7. 31 March, 2015. @iza_goulart instagram https://instagram.com/p/05T3ciRPlC/?taken-by=iza_goulart

8. 29 April, 2015. @chroniclesofher_ instagram https://instagram.com/p/2DfRuaJXN_/?taken-by=chroniclesofher_

Hip Hop in K-pop: Appreciation or Appropriation?

With artists and groups like PSY, Girls Generation, BigBang, 2NE1, and Block B staking a piece of Billboard charts for themselves lately, there is no doubt that Korean pop is becoming more visible and popular than ever. Part of what makes K-pop “international” is its appropriation of some cultures, such as hip hop, into its marketing and image for various artists.

Appropriation is the act of taking something for one’s use, often without permission, but in fashion, it is when what is taken is and put into a new context which can give it a different meaning. Sometimes, this is done to the point where it no longer recognized for its original source and garish to the point of caricaturization.

Wu Tang Clan
Wu Tang Clan
BigBang
BigBang

There are countless articles out there about the rise of hip hop, the emergence of hip hop culture, and consequently the fashion that comes with it, so I will only provide the necessary basic summary.

In Adorned in Dreams, Elizabeth Wilson states that “…fashion is freed to become both an aesthetic vehicle for experiments in taste and a political means of expression for dissidence, rebellion, and social reform” (pg 8). This means while fashion is often a way to express oneself, it can also be the reaction to what is currently happening socially.

This is how hip hop was born. Hip hop music and culture emerged in the 1970s in the Bronx, and really made its mark in the 1980s by becoming a creative outlet for many black youths. It was a form of self-expression, and a way to provide commentary on the grief and hardships that the black community faced. By the 1990s, hip hop and rap were part of the dominant genres in American music industry, competing alongside pop. Following the fathers of hip hop such as The Furious Five and Grandmaster Flash, artists like Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., and the Wu-Tang Clan are examples of the leading frontmen for hip hop at this time. Their clothing style and accessories from baggy pants, to tank tops, beanies, and bandanas, became means of identifying those in involved in the culture.

Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur
Crown J
Crown J

Korean pop appropriation of hip hop takes the culture into a new context and gives it a different meaning. Hip hop is usually associated with being “cool”, “tough”, and “bad” due to its roots in surviving the hard times experienced by the black community in the 1980s.  Furthermore, K-pop idols are typically known to be especially flashy in their performances and outfits because this helps cultivate their image.

Combining the above results in extremely exaggerated outfits and costumes that are used to put on a show or performance.

In his discussion on drag, Esther Newton states, “By focusing on the outward appearance of role, drag implies that sex role, and by extension, role in general is something superficial, which can be manipulated, put on and off again at will. The drag concept implies distance between the actor and the role or ‘act.’ But drag also means ‘costume’….role playing is play: it is an act or show” (pg 109).

Similarly, by incorporating  the surface associations of hip hop into their performances and styles, these elements in combination with a Korean idol face and sweetheart personality are used to present the image or role of a “bad boy/girl with a heart of gold.” While the K-pop artists have the ability to present a lot of attitude and toughness, they can easily “take it off” or remove themselves from the culture, and refer to American music artists as their sources of inspiration and influence for that particular performance.

Aaliyah
Aaliyah
CL
CL

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While this is a brilliant strategic move for the Korean pop music industry, here is where appropriation causes hip hop to lose its meaning. Of course, I do not intend to condemn the K-pop industry, as this especially has been a problem in our own music industry with success of white rappers such as Macklemore and Iggy Azalea. However, I believe that light should be shed on the issues that come with appropriating another culture.

In the article “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance”, Bell Hooks discusses how by appropriating a culture can be compared to consuming food. The one that appropriates ingests the nutritional benefits while the one that is being appropriated is left as nothing more than the bare bones of what it used to be.

Likewise, when the features of hip hop are taken out of context, those who are not familiar with hip hop history have no background as to why these characteristics exist. As a result, all is left is a cardboard cut-out labeled “hip hop” in the form of a Korean pop star with no ties its political roots, thus undermining its power. Nothing but the meaning of being tough and cool are now associated with the fashion.

This also transforms the meaning of the style. Although seemingly harmless when observed individually, when viewed on an overall spectrum, the garish caricatures of hip hop culture in K-pop portray it in a very specific way: full of gang bangers, thugs, groupies, and violence.

By appropriating the culture, K-pop stars can reap the benefits of hip hop (being cool, have attitude, being “bad” etc.) without having to deal with the negative and stereotypical connotations that come with it.


will.i.am with K-pop group 2ne1
will.i.am with K-pop group 2ne1

At the end of the day, appropriation is not inherently “wrong,” however it is the after effects that can be deemed detrimental to the culture that was appropriated. If no context is given, history and knowledge of the fashion will be lost.

One thing to keep an eye out for, however, is the current rise of collaborations between Korean pop stars and the American music producers. As K-pop groups such as 2NE1 work to make music with American hip hop artists like will.i.am, what does this mean for the definition of appropriation? As K-pop continues to extend into other music genres and cultures thus merging them, will the use of their fashions still count as appropriation?

Works Citedt

Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2003. Print.

Newton, Esther. Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. “Role Models” University of Chicago Press, 1979

Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance.” South End Press, 1992

The Discipline of Street Style: Is It Really, Still “Street” and What Does That Even Mean?

When you think of “street style”, what do you think? In 2015, I would venture to say our minds drift to someone wearing an ironic graphic tee, black skinny jeans with rips at the knee, a red plaid flannel tied at the waist, Converse, and, maybe a fedora. Or maybe, a comfortable look dressed up with heels? Or a more dressed up look toned down with sneakers. Something like this:

There are a wide variety of images that fit under that umbrella of street style, and the variety we see is only subject to our generation. This could have been street style from the 70s:

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What I am trying to say it, is that it is largely interpretational in nature, so how did it get to a place where we can get a classroom of 20-something people to agree on a rather specific look that is “street style”?

Street style is a relatively recent phenomenon in the fashion world that has been slowly taking over the industry in various aspects. It has largely influenced content of fashion magazines, the “blogosphere”, and self-proclaimed fashionistas in major metropolitan areas all over the world. The concept of street style is, literally, style originating from the streets (not the catwalk or Vogue though it often ends up there). But more and more with the growth of its popularity, fashion blogs, and ideals of individual uniqueness, street style has become disciplined into something that is more “mainstream”, more identifiable. As there is no set definition of ‘street style’, let’s keep in mind its most literal interpretation and examine it as it evolves in this text. We will discuss the concept of discipline, as defined as a deliberated consciousness of one’s actions and being for the beneficial purposes of adhering to societal rules and expectations, as it relates to the fashion of street style*. This is not to be read as a criticism of street style but merely a confounding, controversial observation of the simultaneously conscious and unconscious nature demonstrated in fashion and society.

*Although in relation to something entirely different, Judith Butler mentions that certain things are a performance (so for the sake of this paper let us say that style is a performance), and that when people act out line with norms of this performance, it brings negative consequences thus persuading the performer to abide to the societal rules and expectations for beneficial purposes. This is how she helped me define “discipline”. 

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The mere creation of the term “street style” was the start to disciplining this particular type of fashion. Historically, street style was simply the observed styling and fashion of “real” individuals on the streets. It seemed to be a generalized description of the unique dress of youths and the subcultures they identified with. But as it is human nature to classify and allocate titles to all things ambiguous, this phenomenon was molded into a category of the fashion conversation by sociocultural influencers of the industry, such as, large magazines. The sole fact that there is now a specific way of addressing this suggests society’s conscious deliberation of an increasingly popularized act. But the problem with labeling anything is that it automatically sets it up for limitations of its interpretation. Foucault writes, “discipline sometimes requires enclosure, the specification of a place heterogeneous to all others and closed in upon itself. It is the protected place of disciplinary monotony…[a] ‘confinement’” (141). “Street Style” was now subject to deliberate and conscious social constructions by all those who took part in it –consequently, confining it to the active constructions of what is is and is not by public documentation. The construction of the term “street style” and its subsequent usages in the industry disciplined the connotations of the word from its literal definition to something entirely different: an eclectic genre of fashion that seemed to idealize this informal style of dress.

That is not to say that street style is now entirely confined to those specific type of outfits, but it was no longer that pure observation of style curated by individuals on the street. It became more of an unspoken, conscious performance by fashion people purposefully for the viewing and documentation by those in the fashion realm– whether that is street style photographers, magazine editors, or consumers. Even though street style fashion photographers do not make the outfits and rather simply snap “photographs of stylish people…on the street”, arguably making it one of the most authentic and least disciplined mediums through which street style can be presented, they still partake in a process of conscious deliberation (Marwick 6). They consciously or unconsciously filter all the outfits they see and photograph only the ones they think fit the street style image, are cool enough or worthy enough to document, and match the expectations and standards of the platform they intend to publish it on. Because, you see, even street style fashion photographers have a reputation to keep. French theorist, Pierre Bourdieu, discusses this concept as social or cultural capital, which basically is the resulting power or social influence one has because of their knowledge or expertise in a given cultural subject. Wikipedia more clearly defines the two as: “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition” and “forms of knowledge, skills, education, and advantages that a person has, which give them a higher status in society”, respectively.

Scott Schumann, who runs The Sartorialist, is one of the most prominent street style photographers in the industry. He is known for travelling the world and photographing street style, among other things, from all cultures and across all demographics. Schumann’s particular style of photography, I feel like should belong in The National Geographic if they had a fashion vertical.
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He is very good about capturing fashionable aspects in an organic setting that attracts so many people to his blog. Now when people do read his blog their concept of street style is influenced by his. And it is that readership, that social influence that results in the beneficial and necessary cultural capital to participate in the conscious curation of what is sartorial, what is fashionable, what is “street style”.

But this particular type of currency seems to work both ways in the photographer -subject relationship. The photographer needs that resulting reputation in order to display his works in a place that it will be seen by many (granted that is his goal), or there is the case in which the photographer has so much sociocultural backing that the opportunity to be photographed by him is the subject’s motivation of dress. For example, in a documentary of Bill Cunningham, basically the father of documented street style, Anna Wintour, Vogue magazine’s long-term editor-in-chief goes so far as to say that, “we all dress for Bill”. This is another way in which this relationship dynamic embodies “discipline” in that the subject makes the conscious effort to dress in a particular way that appeals to the photographer’s codes for the benefit of (1) being captured by the Bill Cunningham or (2) being featured in the style section of The New York Times.

Screenshot 2015-05-07 at 1.42.50 PMIn the case of the subject, he or she also has to have enough displayed cultural capital, or taste, for a photographer to want to photograph them. Taste as discussed by Bourdieu in “Distinction” (in the unobjective and socially constructed connotation of good taste type of way), is essentially the acquired competence and preference of understanding and appreciating “high art” developed by one’s social “upbringing and education” (1). We can see a lot of this happening during fashion-conscious seasons or events, such as Fashion Week.
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There are several things going on here that illustrate my definition of discipline: (1) the subject’s conscious choice of dress to adhere to the socially constructed image of “street style”, (2) the benefits of being photographed and thus portrayed as “tasteful” in society, (3) the cultural or social capital she is to earn from the fact that her picture was taken at a fashion event (Seoul Fashion Week) because people liked (read: socially approved of) the way she dressed.

The interesting thing is that now with the rise of mass, social media and the desire for more “authentic”, unbiased interpretations of fashion (similar to what street style originally embodied), there was a production of an entire profession surrounding just that. In a study titled, “Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption”, author Alice Marwick discusses the occupation and lifestyle of fashion bloggers. She writes, “Fashion blogging is an international subculture comprised primarily of young women who post pictures of themselves”, “their outfits”, “swap fashion tips…and review couture collections” (1-5). They are “real women” who “dress specifically to display their acts of consumption to a networked audience” who are drawn in by their “skill of styling”. They are simultaneously consumers and producers in that they must participate in consumption in order to produce the content for their blogs (5-11). And in a society where there is a build up of skepticism surrounding the Internet, fashion bloggers are commended for being more authentic, “transparent…[and] unbiased purveyors of informations and commentary” (Marwick + Duffy 1).

The ironic thing about this is that with their increased popularity in part due their authenticity, it creates a following for their “international subculture” and thus “inspires” consumers to dress like them. But when you have fashion bloggers with 2.1 million followers on Instagram, you’ve got a lot of people inspired by one person attempting to be authentic and accepted in their styles and dress. Thus the authentic, street style of that one fashion blogger is suddenly the “authentic, street style” of 2.1 million other fashion consumers, disciplining 2.1 million interpretations of “street style” to essentially one. So fashion bloggers, as incredible a source of individual fashion inspiration they are, also have a tendency to create popular trends in “street style” thus disciplining the free nature of styles on street.

As their desirability and sociocultural capital increased, some fashion bloggers gained large followings and became something of a “micro-celebrity” in which they often involved themselves in what Marwick and Duffy call “life-streaming” (5). If you follow any fashion blogger, you know that they don’t just post pictures of the #OOTD (outfit of the day) but of everything they do and eat throughout the day –making sure that whatever they capture is positioned in an appealing way, in good lighting, and edited to perfection for their Instagram accounts.

Clothes Encounters:
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Although known for two very different aesthetics, prominent fashion bloggers Jenn Im (Clothes Encounters) and Chiara Ferragni (The Blonde Salad) participate in that “life-streaming” aspect by posting pictures of their meals, their travels, the events they went to, their friends, that they went biking or went to Coachella, etc. From these snapshots of their Instagram accounts we can see that they post so much more than their outfits and that’s what makes them more interesting and relatable sources of fashion inspiration then magazines. But one cannot simply be a fashion blogger, you must work to embody the entire lifestyle of one. First off, one would need the financial and timely leisure to maintain a blog based on consumerism, as well as, the cultural knowledge and expertise of the written content. But as they become the image and face of their brand, they are expected to upkeep that aesthetic of their physical bodies; face and make up; style and dress; and the extravagant lifestyle demonstrated through the Sunday brunches, fancy dinners, exotic travels, frequent shopping trips and the hottest parties in an effortless manner. In “Modeling Consumption”, Elizabeth Wissinger describes a similar occurrence in the modeling profession because of how they commodify themselves as “forms of aesthetic, entrepreneurial, and immaterial labor” (273). The professions of both models and fashion bloggers make it that their entire lifestyles are a huge part of their labor because their presented lifestyles are a representation of themselves, their image and that reflects on the brand they are the face of (even if it that brand is themselves or their blogs). Thus the entire lifestyle of a blogger is a discipline. Their entire actions and the resulting creation of their being, their lifestyle, their brand is a constant effort that appeals to societal rules, expectations and standards. And despite the horrible work-life balance they must probably have, the benefits of doing this is their success as a brand (and the obvious cultural, economic, and social benefits that follow in that).

But to once again bring fashion bloggers back to street style, I would just quickly like to mention that they also partake in the same form of discipline as the aforementioned street style photographers in that they curate and publish outfits for the mass audience to see, interpret and digest. I think Foucault would say that both entities seem to enclose the representation of street style actually on the streets to an Instagram-worthy ideal this fashion genre. Although, they seem to do so to be in line with the workings of our capitalistic society.

Works Cited:
Bourdieu, Pierre. Introduction. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge. (1984): N. pag. Print.

Butler, Judith. “Chapter 20: Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. By Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina. Barale, and David M. Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993. 307-20

Foucault, Michel. “Docile Bodies.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.

Marwick, Alice. “Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption.” International Communication Association annual conference, Boston, MA, 2011. Print.

Marwick, Alice, and Brooke E. Duffy. “Podcast and Dialogue: With Alice Marwick and Brooke Duffy.” Culture Digitally RSS. N.p., 26 Mar. 2013. Web.

Wissinger, E. “Modeling Consumption: Fashion Modeling Work in Contemporary Society.” Journal of Consumer Culture 9.2 (2009): 273-96. Web.

A Butler’s Uniform: Representation & Cultural Capital Served On A Silver Platter

Representation, in relation to dress, is the idea that the wearer of the clothing is communicating the desired image they would like to portray. Occupations that require a uniform have certain messages that are “built” into the clothing. Colors, fabrics, and the construction of the uniform are signifiers of the worker’s position within the institution they are apart of and are also a representation of the knowledge an individual must have in order to complete the daily tasks of their job. For example, police officers, doctors and judges all have uniforms that represent their occupations, but also represent the knowledge that they have about their particular field. However, a butler’s uniform would have to be one of the most interesting occupational uniforms because of the common misconceptions associated with the job. More often than not, an individual who has the profession of a butler is associated with the lower social class. Therefore, it is assumed that people in lower social classes are not as “cultured” and do not know the customs of the affluent. However, a butler’s uniform represents the cultural capital a person of a lower social class must acquire in order to serve the wealthy and comprehend the values associated with the affluent lifestyle.

The infamous butler, Geoffrey, from the show
The infamous butler, Geoffrey, from the show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Colors of uniforms or professional clothing heavily depend on the occupation. The colors represent what that particular job stands for and how they would like that occupation to be represented. The butler’s suit usually, if not always, comes in the form of a black tailored jacket and matching pants with a white button up shirt, grey vest and a bow tie or traditional tie to complete the look of the uniform. The colors are bland and when added to a uniform, it allows that individual in the uniform to blend in with their surroundings. It displays the attitude that the wealthy want the help to be seen not heard. Metaphorically, the clothes are not speaking loudly or do not have a bright element to cause attention to the wearer.   “Refined tastes, manners and habits of life are a useful evidence of gentility.” (Veblen 31) Though the colors black, white or grey are not necessarily exciting, the colors do represent the classic and refined tastes that go along with the “cultured” lifestyle.

Modern day butler uniform.
Modern day butler uniform.

“Dress is the extension of oneself and what you wear will express your beliefs” (Wilson 12). How others perceive us through clothing has become a common trend. It is mostly because everyone wants to be represented in a way they deem fit. However, occupational uniforms represent our work identity, not our personal identity. The uniforms may not necessarily represent our personal beliefs or lifestyle, but the uniforms represent the beliefs of a corporation, company or whomever a person is employed for at that time. Most forms of occupations allow dress to represent a worker’s position among that specific working community or society. A butler’s uniform represents that he is the servant. If that is taken at face value then a butler is at the bottom of the totem pole. “What is worn lends itself easily to a symbolic upholding of class and status boundaries in society” (Davis 152). However, if we dig a little deeper it is evident that this uniform represents way more than just social standing. It represents what a butler must know in order to serve the affluent community in the proper way. Some may wonder what would be the difference between a butler and a typical waiter at a restaurant.

Cecil Gaines played by Forest Whitaker waiting to serve in Lee Daniels' The Butler.
Cecil Gaines played by Forest Whitaker waiting to serve in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

If the uniforms are analyzed, Roach and Eichler claim, “dress will immediately represent an individual’s occupation” (114). The standard waiter at a restaurant wears the typical white shirt and black pants. However, a butler has a full three-piece suit that is tailored and is expected to be clean. The simple fact that a butler is expected to wear a three piece suit everyday that he is working speaks about how he is suppose to represent the family he may be serving and represent himself as well. Now, focusing on the difference between what the waiter at a restaurant must know and what knowledge a butler has to acquire is what separates the two occupations in the working community.  A waiter may have to know how utensils are set up on a table, but a butler understands why they are set up this particular way. The difference is slight, but it is present. A butler not only understands what to do, but knows why it is done in a particular fashion. In essence, a butler’s suit represents his knowledge and acquired cultural capital. “Cultural consumption (or capital) is predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimizing social differences” (Bourdieu 7). Though cultural capital is normally put on display to separate the classes, a butler is required to learn these values because of the representation on behalf of the employer. Therefore, a butler having cultural capital is vital because it separates him from a waiter or even other butlers.

Butler in proper serving stance and waiting for a command.
Butler in proper serving stance and waiting for a command.

Cultural capital is expressed through many ways of a professional butler. One of the clearest examples would be in the 2012 movie, Django Unchained. In this movie, dated in the 1800’s, there was one scene where a slave plantation was shown and all of the slaves who kept the plantation in order were introduced. The one and only butler, played by Samuel L. Jackson, showcased the cultural capital he acquired by his close dealings with the slave owner through certain actions. For example, African American slaves did not know how to properly smoke a cigar or have access to particular types of alcohol for consumption. However, Jackson played a butler that understood how to consume certain types of cognac, where in the house to consume an alcoholic beverage and how to cut a cigar in order to get the flavor when smoking. A typical African American slave would not have this kind of cultural capital. Jackson wearing the butler uniform represented that he was always in close proximity with the slave owner and also knew, and sometimes took on, the values of the slave owner as well.

Samuel L. Jackson playing head butler in Django Unchained. He is speaking with his slave owner, played by Leonardo Dicaprio.
Samuel L. Jackson playing head butler in Django Unchained. He is speaking with his slave owner, played by Leonardo Dicaprio.

It is also important to note that Jackson played a butler that had this particular occupational role for five decades. “Good breeding requires time, application and expense and therefore cannot be compassed by those whose time and energy are taken up with work” (Veblen 31). Though cultural capital requires free time to acquire, a butler’s job is to be around those who have a privileged life that allows their free time to be filled with things that add on to their cultural capital worth. The butler’s uniform is a clear representation of how cultural capital can be instilled in someone through working not just being born into a life of privilege.

By: Jessica Brooks

Readings/Images Cited:

  1. “The Theory of the Leisure Class.” Thorstein Veblen. Dover Publications, INC. New York.
  2. “Adorned in Dreams.” Elizabeth Wilson. Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, New Jersey.
  3. “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste.” Pierre Bourdieu. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  4. “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fred Davis. Routledge. London & New York.
  5. “The Language of Personal Adornment.” Mary Ellen Roach & Joanne Bubolz Eicher. Routledge. London & New York.
  6. “Modern day butler uniform” Image: http://www.butlerschool.com/en_US/the-extras/interesting-facts/
  7. Django Unchained Image: http://carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/visualizing-django-unchained/?_r=0
  8. Lee Daniels’ The Butler Image: http://time.com/2219/what-the-butler-really-saw/
  9. “Butler In Proper Serving Stance” Image: http://blog.ram.rachum.com/post/1388741380/thinking-of-your-software-as-a-butler-is-difficult

In Good Times and in Bad: The Royal Wedding Dress as a Representation of British Culture

Throughout history, royal wedding dresses have played a crucial role in representing nations, political alliances, the mood of the era and changing attitudes towards the institution of marriage. Rather than being timeless, royal wedding dresses are like time capsules, communicating messages that are important and unique to their era. The choice of embroidery, the physical material of the garment and the styling all are working to communicate a message. As pieces of fashion, royal wedding gowns both mirror and set the trends of the day. Royal wedding dresses have always been message givers and by looking specifically at the history of British royal wedding gowns, we can see different messages communicated through different eras. In the 18th century, ornate royal wedding dresses made of gold and silver metal thread communicated the vast wealth of the family and their superior social standing. The relaxing of strict laws and liberation of women throughout the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in more individualized styles of wedding dresses. As recent examples have shown, the dresses have had to literally grow as the media attention has grown. The dresses now have to live up to the venue and be able to bear infinite scrutiny. Wedding dresses in general represent a pivotal moment in a woman’s life, but the royal wedding dress in particular is charged with political and national significance, making them important documents in cultural history. Royal wedding dresses act as visual messages layered with meaning, representing the hopes, realities and attitudes of a nation at a particular point in history through the dress’s ornamentation, size and color.

The Wedding Dress as Symbol of Royal Wealth and Splendor

Reaching back to medieval times, royal marriages were of great political importance and symbolized the sealing of alliances between two countries. Thus, it was necessary for the young bride’s dress to look spectacular and uphold the prestige of her country. Her dress had to convey the message that she, and by extension her entire country, was wealthy. Medieval dresses were strategic exhibitions of awe-inspiring splendor, dynastic power and state allegiances. They did this with sumptuous and costly fabrics fabrics like damask, silk, satin and fur, rich detailing and especially extravagant jewels. Dresses were not white, they were produced by the rarest dyes in dark jewel tones of true black, red and purple, which symbolized the ability of the family to afford the costliest colors.

From 1700-90, aristocratic and royal brides chose to wear silver and white dresses as clothes made of white silk were difficult to keep clean and had limited usefulness, making them a luxury item. Middle class women would often re-wear their wedding dresses so the royal bride wearing a white dress represented her ability to afford to wear a dress only once. In their essay on The Language of Personal Adornment, Mary Ellem Roach and Joanne Bubolz Eicher contend that “all aesthetic acts are acts of speaking” (109) and that acquiring the most expensive clothing is often a way of achieving differentiation through rarity, which usually commands social admiration” (111). Royal wedding dresses in all their splendor, reinforce social roles, distinguish the powerful from the weak and the rich from the poor. In the 1761 marriage of George III to Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, etiquette demanded that the foreign-born bride discard the clothes of her homeland and wear wedding clothes made in London and in the London style. This act of discarding the style of her homeland and assuming the style of her new nation represented her commitment and the unity of the couple. For her wedding, she wore a stiff-bodied gown of silver tissue embroidered and trimmed with silver. The stiff bodied style, an example of which can be seen in the below portrait of Lady Fanny Montagu, was an archaic form of dress only worn by female members of the royal family on ceremonial occasions. Lady Fanny’s dress also illustrates the kind of elaborate lacework that would have been worn at royal weddings, further indicating the vast wealth of the bride.

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Portrait of Lady Fanny Montagu by Charles Jervas, c. 1734. She was a bridesmaid at the marriage of Anne, Princess Royal and William IV, Prince of Orange in 1734.

In 1816 George III’s granddaughter, Princess Charlotte married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in an elaborate ₤10,000 cloth-of-silver empire line dresses embroidered with flowers and trimmed with Brussels lace, pictured below. Clad in sparkling lamé and dripping in jewels, she would have been the height of fashion and the picture of royal extravagance and opulence. Hers is also one of the last of such opulent royal wedding dresses as they began to represent more than just the wealth of the monarchy.

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Princess Charlotte’s silver wedding dress, May 2, 1816.

The Wedding Dress as a Celebration of National Craftsmanship and Pride

Queen Victoria is credited with singlehandedly ushering in the tradition of the white wedding dress. While she was not the first to wear the color to wed, her widely publicized 1840 wedding to Prince Albert Saxe-Coburg was radically different from proceeding royal wedding gowns in its simplicity. Since she was marrying as a Queen, and not just a princess, her advisors urged her to wear grand, traditional robes of red velvet and ermine. She chose simple ivory satin instead, pictured below, because she wanted her dress to represent that the marriage was a special personal event, not a political one. She recognized that the wedding dress was historically used as a political tool and she wanted none of that clouding her wedding day. This represents an important change in mentality towards royal matches, they were no longer political unions, but special, intimate and personal. In her book, Adorned in Dreams, Elizabeth Wilson notes that one of the key features of fashion is the “rapid and continual changing of styles” (3) saying “a new fashion starts from rejection of the old and often an eager embracing of what was previously considered ugly” (9), or in this case what was previously considered middle class. Queen Victoria’s decision to wear a white wedding dress made it desirable at all levels of society and a symbol of romantic love and purity. Wilson says that “fashion is a kind of connective tissue of our cultural organism” (12). For the first time, there became a dominant idea of what a traditional wedding dress looked like: white and incorporating orange blossoms.

Queen Victoria, knowing she had the world’s attention, also used the opportunity to promote British industry. Her dress was made with Spitalfields silk from London and embellished with Honition lace made in Devon. Every facet of her dress was made in Britain. Her thoroughly British dress conveyed the Queen’s message that her duty was to her kingdom, rather than her wealth. Since her wedding photos were widely circulated, brides throughout the world and for the rest of history were influenced by her choice of dress.

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Queen Victoria on her wedding day, February 10, 1840.

Following Queen Victoria’s revolutionary way of dressing for a royal marriage, Princess Alexandra of Denmark wed Queen Victoria’s eldest son Edward, Prince of Wales in 1863 wearing a very similar, relatively simple dress made of Honition lace and trimmed with orange blossom. The lace featured a design of roses, thistles and shamrocks representing England, Scotland and Ireland. At the time of the marriage, Germany (the nation of Queen Victoria’s relatives) and Denmark (the bride’s nation) were engaged in a dispute over the territories of Schleswig and Holstein. Thus, her wedding dress was especially symbolic, echoing long traditions of wedding attire and was of entirely English manufacture. Together, her dress conveyed her loyalty to her new nation even in times of turbulence.

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Princess Alexandra of Denmark on her wedding day, March 10, 1863.

In 1893, Princess Mary of Teck married Prince George, Queen Victoria’s grandson, wearing a dress decorated with a pattern of British and Irish flowers, tied together with a lovers knot.  When creating her dress, the Princess sat down with manufacturers from across the British Isles, making a conscious, careful and diplomatic selection. Over 100 years later, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge chose a wedding dress designed by British designer Sarah Burton for British fashion house Alexander McQueen for her 2011 wedding to William, Duke of Cambridge. The bodice and lace appliqué, featuring thistles, roses, shamrocks and daffodils,  was handmade by the Royal School of Needlework. Just like the British brides before her, her dress was representing pride in British craftsmanship and promoting national pride.

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Princess Mary of Teck and Prince George on their wedding day, July 6, 1893.

By choosing to wear simpler wedding dresses made entirely in Britain, Queen Victoria, Princess Alexandra, and Princess Mary of Teck were consciously conveying their loyalty to the nation they served. Instead of simply displaying royal opulence, the wedding dress was now a representation of the royal’s dedication to the nation. Since 19th century royal wedding dresses were seen more widely by the general public, they also helped to reinforce the idea of the “ideal woman” and the cult of womanhood as discussed by Jennifer Ladd Nelson in her essay, Dress Reform and the Bloomer. She describes that “the popular view of women held that they were delicate, submissive, of inferior intellect and prone to nervousness and hysteria” (22). This can be seen manifested in women’s clothes that were decorative, delicate and accentuating tiny waists. All of these features can be seen in these three 19th century royal wedding dresses: they are exceedingly ornamented with flowers and delicate lace, the off the shoulder necklines are in the favored style to create sloping shoulders and tiny waists are prominently defined.  In comparison to Princess Charlotte’s slim 1816 wedding dress, these dresses later in the century are much more cumbersome in their volume, restricting the wearer’s movement.

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their wedding day, April 29, 2011.

The Wedding Dress as an Embodiment of an Era

With the passage of women’s suffrage at the beginning of the 1920’s came an entirely new style of dress that reflected their more active lives and newfound freedom. Clothes were neat, practical and loose fitting. The royal wedding dress of Princess Mary helped solidify this new, fashionable style of wedding dress. For her 1922 wedding to Viscount Lascelles, she wore a dress made of silk gauze embroidered with pearl and crystal beads mounted over silk lamé with a train of silver and ivory satin embroidered in silver with the emblems of the Empire. Her dress represented a blending of traditions in royal wedding dress, the opulence of the silver royal wedding dress with symbolic national embroidery. The loose fitting, delicate dress helped propagate the style of the flat-chested, slim hipped, athletic bride. Her wedding was also one of the first to be filmed and widely distributed, meaning that her dress was seen around the world and had great influence on defining style of the era.

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Princess Mary in her wedding dress, February 28, 1922.

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s (she would eventually become the Queen Mother) wedding dress further defined the style of the era. For her 1923 wedding to Albert, Duke of York she wore an off-the-rack medieval inspired, loose fitting dress of ivory chiffon moire with a square neckline and short sleeves made by London’s Madame Handley-Seymour. Her dress similarly featured silver lamé along with gold embroidery and pearls. Her Flanders lace veil was held in place with a circlet of myrtle decorated with knots of white roses and heather, representing her Scottish ancestry. The use of silver in both her and Princess Mary’s dresses are a far cry from the ostentatious showing of wealth of Princess Charlotte’s dress worn 100 years earlier. The simple, slim silhouettes of these 1920’s royal wedding dresses renders the use of ornate silver and gold delicate, youthful and representative of the flashy tastes of the booming time period.

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Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and Prince Albert, Duke of York on their wedding day, April 26, 1923.

For her 1947 wedding, Princess Elizabeth enlisted royal dressmaker Norman Hartnell to create her satin dress embroidered with garlands of spring flowers for her wedding to Lieutenant Philip Mountbaatten.  Inspired by Botticelli’s 1482 painting of Primavera, Hartnell strove to create a design that would convey a message of national rebirth in the face of rationing post World War II. In light of fabric still being rationed after the war, her dress is not overly voluminous like the “New Look” dresses shown by Dior in Paris were. The fact that even the Princess had to fund her wedding dress with clothing ration coupons proved her solidarity with the British people. Hartnell chose traditional floral motifs to decorate the dress and 15 foot veil, including roses, orange blossoms and corn, which are emblematic of love and fertility. The garlands of embroidered spring flowers represented the hope and promise of the future and a renewing spring for the British economy. The sensible yet aspirational dress sparked hope among the British people. Her dress perfectly illustrates Fred Davis’ idea that “what some combination of clothes means will vary tremendously depending upon the identity of the wearer, the occasion, the place, the company and the mood” (151). Her dress in a different era, say the 1970’s, would not have any of the hopeful messaging of rebirth or the same resonance with the British people. The importance of her choice of embroidery, volume of the skirts and styling are entirely context dependent and can only exist in that austere, post-war moment.

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Queen Elizabeth on her wedding day, November 20, 1947.

By 1957 Europe’s economy had recovered and when Queen Elizabeth’s sister Princess Margaret got married in 1960, it was a very different affair. The younger sister married photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones in a fashionably sleek gown. Since she would not be queen, her dress didn’t have to have political messaging or weight. The simple, streamlined silhouettes helped usher in the sleek styles of the early 1960’s. Her wedding was the first to be broadcast live on TV. Her dress is noticeably more voluminous than its predecessors, most likely in response to the television broadcast and the eyes of the world on her. For the first time, the dress needed to hold up under the scrutiny of cameras and mass audiences. Following her wedding, designers of the 1960’s showed a new concern – they wanted to design bridal gowns that acknowledged the solemnity of the occasion while still remaining youthful.

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Princess Margaret on her wedding day, May 6, 1960.

As television began to dominate the social landscape, the spectacle of the royal wedding became even more extravagant, with the pinnacle being Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding to Charles, Prince of Wales in 1981. Economically, the 1980’s were boom years and clothes were brash and exaggerated. For her wedding dress, designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel created a gown that was based more in fantasy than fashion. The world was captivated by the young princess and the Emanuel’s played up the image of the idyllic fairy tale princess with 275 yards of pearl-studded taffeta, tulle and netting, voluminous sleeves and a dramatic 25 foot train. Her dress represented the royal wedding truly becoming a global spectacle, watched by millions and every element under scrutiny.

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Lady Diana Spencer on her wedding day, July 29, 1981.

Each of these dresses are products of their times and are entirely dependent upon “environmental resources, technical developments and cultural standards for judging what is fine or beautiful” (Roach & EIcher, 109). By looking at the dresses, the history of the British monarchy can be chronicled from World War I through the booming 1920’s and flashy 1980’s. “Fashion is an aesthetic medium for the expression of ideas, desires and beliefs circulating in society” (Wilson, 9), and royal wedding dresses in particular are the symbols of the mood and ideals coursing throughout British culture and society.

– Hilary Presley

Works Cited:

Davis, Fred. “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. By Malcolm Barnard. London: Routledge, 2007. 148-56. Print.

Ehrman, Edwina. The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashions. London: V&A Pub., 2011. Print.
Nelson, Jennifer Ladd. “Dress Reform and the Bloomer.” The Journal of American Culture 23.1 (2000): 21-25. Web.
Roach, Mary Ellen, and Joanne Bubolz B. Eicher. “The Language of Personal Adornment.” Fashion Theory: A Reader. By
Malcolm Barnard. London: Routledge, 2007. 109-21. Print.
Wilson, Elizabeth. “Introduction.” Introduction. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. London: Virago, 1985. 1-15. Print.

Tom (boy)… did you mean to represent girl?

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If you were asked to describe a tomboy in terms of whom they represent what would you say?

Would you say they represent a subcultural act of style?

Are they representing someone who is going against the standardized gender norms? Would you say they represent the style of the lesbian community? Would you consider them a representation of feminism? Have you ever thought about asking them what they believe they represent?

Although rhetorical, the questions above help ground representation within the world of fashion, and its function in comprehensively understanding how crucial the value and role we assign to representations is in the modern world of fashion. Depending on how you look at it, representation can take on one of two roles when thinking about its definition and the functions it serves. The first has to do with the interaction between the person wearing a certain style and the way an observer is going to interpret what that style represents. The second involves the validation of the style based on a set of standards and stereotypes circulating mainstream ideologies that we have been taught to blindly follow. Neither is independent of the other however, and the representation of an individuals style is ultimately determined by those who they surround themselves with, and their perceptions based on the standards set by society.

One of the most powerful roles the creation of representations has in fashion is the ability to redefine and manipulate the meaning of a style that is attempting to challenge mainstream ideologies.

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For the purpose of this post, emphasis is placed on the creation of a commercially accepted forms of representation that are products of mainstream ideologies, and, many times, manipulations of subcultural styles that challenge the norms. Placing significant amounts of importance on the interaction between the wearer of a style and their observer in the formation of a particular representation, we can come to understand how and why styles take on particular representations.

In order to ground this dense and complicated concept, tomboy style will act as an example of a style whose representation has been standardized by its observers, arguably as an attempt to control and weaken the power the subcultural style may have had in redefining the gender and sexuality standards governing male and female way of dress within the world of fashion.

Throughout this course we have come to establish the meaning of fashion and style within a framework of fluctuating ideologies and standards that govern what people choose to wear in order to fit in. A choice that is only validated upon interaction with others around us, i.e. observers, who interpret what we wear and give meaning to who we represent in the greater scheme of our society. Within this society there exist two realms of fashion and acceptance: on one end we have mainstream fashion, or the commercialized, ideologically acceptable and reinforced practices of style; on the other we have subcultural styles, or as John Fiske in The Jeaning of America refers to them “symbolic challenge(s) to a symbolic order” (Fiske 154). The set of question at the top are there to help you think about how representation functions within the power structure we know to be the fashion industry, no longer soley placing an emphasis on an individuals creation of meaning in how they choose to dress, but giving equal, or arguably more, importance to the observers interpretation of what the style represents.

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As Elizabeth Wilson mentions in Adorned in Dreams “Dress is the frontier between the self and the not self” (Wilson 3), proving that what we wear is no longer just a way to communicate something about ourselves, but an invitation for others to create their own meanings of who we are according to what our style represents to them. In other words, you may wear a shirt because you think you are telling something about yourself to others, but the meaning it comes to have is dependent on the way the observer see the shirt, and what THEY think its represents about your style.

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Tomboy style and its introduction into mainstream forms of fashion just how crucial a role the observer plays when validating a representation, or manipulating it to their liking. Originally considered a subcultural style, tomboy was created with the intention of challenging the mainstreams creation of men’s wear as being strictly confined to men. However, tomboy style has now recently come to take its place in an ever-growing gender-neutral world of fashion where commercialization has left the assignment of the styles representation to the main stream, middle class consumer; a process also referred to as “co-optation by Heidi Khaled (Davis 151 / Khaled 5). A mechanism of introducing a subcultural way of conceptualizing style, and incorporating it into the world of consumerism, which according to Khaled in The Enduring, Insufferable Hipster: Popular Critiques of Art, Commerce, and Authenticity Through the Ages, “has seemingly prompted a ‘moral panic’ of its own, with the contemporary fashion industry being seen as a major threat to a thriving subcultural identity” (Khaled 5).

By attempting to weaken the subcultural style, mainstream fashion appropriates tomboy style, by simplifying and reducing it to a consumable style for the mainstream fashion market. Attempting to weaken the subcultures potential power to expose difference and change, while at the same time making the style appealing and consumable within the framework of fashion. According to Judith Butler in Imitation and Gender Insubordination, the idea of taking a subcultural style and introducing it into the mainstream world of fashion renders it unable to produce any form source of controversy it may have potentially been aiming to do. Referring specifically to sexuality and the effects mainstream ideologies play in its representation Butler question whether “sexuality (can) even remain sexuality once it submits to a criterion of transparency and disclosure, or does it perhaps cease to be sexuality precisely when the semblance of full explicitness is achieved?” (Butler 310).

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If we refer to the Merriam Webster dictionary, which defines tomboy as “a girl who enjoys things that people think are more suited for boys // a girl who behaves in a manner usually considered boyish”, we can see that this definition, or “representation” of tomboy, is nothing more than a construction of meaning based on the perception of the other. The inclusion of the words “people think” and usually considered” not only point to the importance of the observer in the creation of meaning, but also successfully prove a de-contextualization of sexuality, which is based upon nothing more than ideas of sexuality and how it should be interpreted through style. What tomboy is thought to represent within a mainstream and commercialized framework is nothing more than a girl who tries, but does not necessarily succeed, in breaking the gender binaries by dressing like a boy. Answering Butlers aforementioned question about the loss of meaning that occurs when representation is interpreted within the framework of mainstream, stereotyped fashion ideologies.

The idea of representation, as a product of the observer’s interpretation of a person’s style, arguably negates any sense of individuality one can consider to exist in the world of fashion. The scope of what is an “acceptable representation” in fashion is extremely limited, based on the circulating ideologies that exist because of the power structures that keep it in order. To think of representations as components that comprise an individual’s character simply no longer suffices as a suitable understanding of representations as being primarily self conscious, individualistic acts. All representations of style, whether subcultural or not, will eventually become products of manipulation by mainstream ideologies, in order to keep standards from being challenged.

Today tomboy style is considered anything but a subcultural form of dress. The idea of dressing in men’s clothes is no longer a taboo to women, but a chic way to further show off their femininity. Through the female representation of what it means to dress like a man, women have been able to appropriate male form of dress into their own closets, while still remaining “true” to the ideology, which governs female sexuality. As Marilyn Frye mentions in The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory, “The mastery of the feminine is not feminine. It is masculine. It is not a manifestation… Someone with such mastery may have the first claim to manhood” (Frye 138). However, the representation of tomboy and the meaning it has taken on in the world of fashion today is far from the original representation for which it was made. Although women have been able to incorporate themselves into the realm of male fashion, the expectation is that they do so through a feminine aesthetic. Today, tomboy is not the original subcultural style created for women who wanted to challenge the dress codes set by men, but instead is a style that women have “borrowed from men”. When we think of tomboys today, we think of women in “boyfriend jeans”, “boyfriend tees”, “trousers” etc. all signifiers of a continual male presence, and a reminder that although wearing their styles, women must always in some way show their feminity in order to avoid representing themselves as anything else than a feminized woman. Borrowing clothes from her male counterpart, the female does nothing more than further push the representation of female dress into a different, yet at the same time mainstreamed, realm of style.

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When google-ing images of tomboy the majority that come up are of women in male-like clothing, yet still evoking a feeling of feminity and feminine appearance and in the eye of the beholder, in this case myself and my readers. If seen on the street, a woman dressed similar to those seen below, may be considered a tomboy by some, but may not be regarded by others. No longer having the ability to shock their observer’s ideological beliefs, in order to push the boundaries of gender confines within fashion, the purpose and representation of the style begins to lack any form of substance. Further complicating the idea of how we view a style and the representation it is trying to evoke, as Butler argues, maybe it is the very acceptance or surfacing of a style into the mainstream realm of fashion that renders it incapable of accurately “representing” anything other than an observer’s misguided interpretation.

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Work Cited

Butler, Judith. “Chapter 20: Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. By Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina. Barale, and David M. Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993. 307-20

Davis, Fred. “Chapter 13: Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. London: Routledge, 2007. 147-58.

Fiske, John. “Chapter 1 The Jeaning of America.” Understanding Popular Culture. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989. 1-21.

Frye, Marilyn. “Lesbian Feminism and Gay Rights.” The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing, 1983. 136-41

Khaled, Heidi. “The Enduring, Insufferable Hipster: Popular Critiques of Art, Commerce, and Authenticity Through the Ages.” 1-16.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Introduction.” Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: U of California, 1987. 1-15.

Light or Dark: We Got Our Skin Sayin’

Chompoo Araya Hargate, a Thai super star, at Cannes Film Festival 2014.
Kim Kardashian on red carpet at the 2015’s Grammys

One of the prominent themes of fashion is its constant change in meaning and value. Skin tone, like style of clothing, is also subjected to the idea of change. The desirable skin tone for women has changed historically as well as geographically. In Black Hair/Style Politics, Kobena Mercer discusses how hair “is merely a raw material, constantly processed by cultural practices which thus invest it with meanings and value” (Mercer 34). Similar to hair, human’s skin tone is subjected to social “cultivation”, which is the transformation of raw material into social use and value (Mercer 38). Since skin is considered as something organic and natural, the disciplining of skin is sometimes invisible and absent from the social discourse. Still, social constructed codes of different skin tones remain prevalent, resulting females to discipline their skin as means of communication and social mobilization. By comparing practices in disciplining skin tone in the USA and Thailand, it is evident that societal force plays a vital role in disciplining people’s appearance. I argue that the different ideal skin tone of women in Thailand and USA explains how individual disciplines body by managing oneself in relation to societal norms to achieve reward or avoid punishment.

Kate Middleton in her bikinis on her private yacht

Skin tone and texture can be used to portray luxurious lifestyle due its organic trait. Mercer further discusses that “social mobility are therefore determined by one’s ranking on the ethnic scale and involve the negotiation not only of socio-economic factors … but also of less easily changeable elements of status symbolism” (Mercer 36). One of these less easily changeable elements is skin; American and Thai cultures essentially associate the desirable skin tone with luxury and leisure. In Theory of Leisure Class, Thornstein Veblen stated, leisure connotes the “nonproductive consumption of time…as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of adleness” (Veblen 28). In Thailand, agricultural work is historically tied to heavy labor and poor income. These outdoor agricultural jobs often darkens women’s skin tone. Hence, those who have lighter skin tone are thought to have the luxury to stay inside to consume time nonproductively. However, American women who have tanned skin are associated with their ability to go on vacation and expose themselves to sunlight. The media often feature snaps of celebrities sunbathing in their bikinis during vacation, creating a role model for women. Therefore, different connotations of bright and dark skin tone in two countries are results of how women consume nonproductive time differently, substantiating Veblen’s theory of conspicuous leisure.

More importantly, social discourse of disciplining one’s skin tone plays a significant role in the internalization of the ideal skin tone. In Conspicuous and Authentic, Alice Marwick mentions, consumption also “includes thinking about goods, talking about purchases, collecting objects, imagining fantasy purchases, and a diverse array of other activities, ideas and engagement with objects” (Marwick 2). These discussions disciplines individuals to desire the right skin tone by indoctrinating rewards and punishments. One of the most significant institutions that inform and reinforce the rewarding and punishing messages is the media. By comparing fashion magazines, such as Vogue, in Thailand and America, it is apparent that the magazine from different countries features models and celebrities with different skin tones. As a consequence of ubiquitous representation of one skin tone, men and women learned to aspire for one shade of skin.

Kate Upton on the cover of US Vogue in June 2013.
Yaya Urassaya Sperbund, Thailand's famous actress, was featured in Vogue Thailand in June 2014. Her lightened skin tone exemplifies Thai culture's obsession with light skin tone. (Source: http://women.kapook.com/view100464.html)
Yaya Urassaya Sperbund, Thailand’s famous actress, was featured in Vogue Thailand in June 2014. Her lightened skin tone exemplifies Thai culture’s obsession with light skin tone. (Source: http://women.kapook.com/view100464.html)

Moreover, compliments and criticisms are introduced to reinforce rewards and punishments in the society. Phrases are introduced in both cultures to associate specific types of skin tone with positive or negative attributes. In Thailand, there is a phrase “ee-dum-tub-ped”,which literally translates to “black like duck liver”. The phrase is often used to condemn females who have darker skin tone. For instance, Maeya Nonthawan Thongleng, 2014’s Miss Thailand World, was the first dark-skin Thai woman to receive the crown. In one talk show, she explained how she was hurt by comments from her friends and even tried to use detergent to wash off the darkness on her skin. On the other hand, tanned skin tone is often associated to positivity in America. An example of this is the phrase “summer glow”, which is used to describe a tan skin that result from exposure to the sun. This summer glow is associated with beauty as well as financial resources that allow an individual to go on vacation.

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Maeya Nonthawan Thongleng during “Wooody Talk Show” talks about being bullied because of her dark skin tone , and how she had grown to love her skin tone. (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xhRsuiCqZ4)

After internalizing the ideal skin tone, American and Thai women discipline their skin tone in various ways. First is the consumption of skin products and cosmetics. While skin whitening lotions flood shelves of Thai drug stores, skin-tanning lotions gain their place in the United States. In Becoming Women to the Backbone, Christian Jantzen discusses, “inter- and intra-psychological identity can be experienced and managed by buying and using products generally not visible in public” (Jantzen 182). This indicates that the discipline of women skin tone is not always for the sake of public display. Although skin products do not provide significant results in altering individual’s skin tone, the very act of consumption privately disciplines a woman’s skin tone and identity. In contrast, the consumption of cosmetics to discipline skin tone substantiates the idea of conspicuous consumption. The ability to use cosmetics to naturally modify skin tone reflects individual’s financial capital because this requires an individual to consume multiple products. Furthermore, Thai women sometimes consume whitening pills that consist of “gluta” or glutathione to lighten their skin tone while American women visit tanning salons to darken their skin.

These cosmetics were featured on Elle’s article, “How to Get that Perfect Summer Glow”

Nevertheless, women’s skin tone is not the only factor that connotes their social standing. To make sense of an individual’s social standing, skin tone has to be read with other cultural cues. According to Veblen, “as wealth accumulates, the leisure class develops further in function and structure, and there arises a differentiation within the class” (Veblen 48). The differentiation within the class of skin tone can be made through engaging in activities that demonstrates individual’s cultural capital. In Thai culture, females with smooth dark skin tone can be seen as a member of the upper class. Still, these women communicate their high social standing with luxurious activities such as eating at high-end restaurants and carrying brand-named handbags. In the United States, these cultural cues also include ethnicity due to the distinction between tanned and brown skin tone. While Caucasian females who have darker skin tone are often associated with high social status, African-American females who have darker skin tone are not. This conveys that connotations of skin tone are tied to individual’s ethnicity in America. Thus, an individual’s skin tone has to be read with other cultural contexts such as expensive fashion items and social activities to identify social status.

An Instagram post of a tanned-skin upper class Thai female in her party outfit.
An Instagram post of a tanned-skin upper class Thai female in her party outfit. (Source: https://instagram.com/p/17wi14m0k-/?taken-by=janetira)

To conclude, the comparison of American and Thai women’s ideal skin tone demonstrates how individuals discipline themselves according to social expectations. More importantly, disciplining women’s skin tone is a mechanism to keep women socially inferior. In Dress Reform and the Bloomer, Jennifer Lad Nelson claimed, “by assigning women characteristics and roles that precluded their participation in men’s activities, society ensured that women would not pose any challenge to men’s position or authority.” (Nelson 22). If women are still continuously pressured to look and act certain ways even in different cultures, they are restricted from the freedom to be an individual. Media and other social institutions need to realize the significant influence that they have upon how men and women make sense of themselves.

Work Cited:

Bourdieu, Pierre. Introduction. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge. (1984): N. pag. Print.

Jantzen, Christian. “Becoming a Woman to the Backbone”. Journal of Consumer Culture. n.d, (2006): 177-202. Print.

Marwick, Alice. “Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption.” International Communication Association annual conference, Boston, MA, 2011. Print.

Mercer, Kobena. “Black hair/style politics.” New Formations, No. 3. Winter. 33-54. Print.

Nelson, Jennifer Lad. “Dress Reform and the Bloomer”. Journal of American & Comparative Culture 23,1. (2000): 21-25. Print.

Veblen, Thorstein. “Conspicuous Leisure.” The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Dover Publications, n.d. 23-42. Print.

That Hypebeast: Identifying Hypebeasts

Eugene Kan, the Managing Editor at Hypebeast

A young man wearing a Supreme shirt, raw denims (raw denims are different from regular jeans this Buzzfeed article helps differentiate), SnapBack, and limited edition Nike sneakers walks down the street and someone comments, “what a hypebeast.” But what is a hypebeast? The term has proliferated in recent years and while many can tell who is a hypebeast and who is not, what exactly is a hypebeast or who? Hypebeast are a rising identity within society. On Instagram there are 1.9 million photographs with the hashtag “hypebeast” and 1.3 million photographs with the hashtag “hype.” Instagram allows hypebeast to curate their image of themselves to the public. They often post about sneakers, hype clothing, and their outfits along with photos of their lifestyle. These images are taken from the Instagram user justinnnlo who would be identified as a hypebeast. He’s wearing a Supreme hat, Stussy shirt, and Nike Roshe sneakers. The nature of his Instagram also depicts the hypebeast lifestyle.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 12.06.23 AM justinnnlo‘s Instagram

One’s conception and expression of who they are and who society perceives them to be is one’s identity. Hypebeasts are affluent youths (primarily men) that utlize a streetwear style inspired by urban life closely aligned with hype brands such as, but not limited to Huf, Undefeated, Supreme, Stüssy, Bape, and Billionaire Boys Club that correlate to pop culture fashion trends. Also, they are often known as sneakerheads–a term used to identify people who are obsessed with getting new popular expensive sneakers and will wait on long lines for hours or even a day to get them. While the brands they associate themselves with helps make their identity apparent. The lifestyle and demeanor is important as well. Hypebeasts construct their identity to the public through meticulous curation of aesthetics, adornment, and demeanor, which signifies their investment in pop culture and urban life.

Clothes communicate to others one’s self-perception of their own identity. “…The body is ‘dressed,’ and everywhere dress and adornment play symbolic, communicative, and aesthetic roles” (Wilson 3). A individual dressed hypebeast style will be identified as a hypebeast whether he internalizes that identity for himself or not. The identity of the hypebeast is created through the clothes they wear and in achieving this style it dictates a particular lifestyle invested on the hype trends of pop culture and culture of hypebeasts. Bourdieu notes that in order to understand the style one must have the cultural capital to comprehend it; he writes, “A work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possess the cultural competence, that is, the code, into which it is encoded” (2). In order for hypebeasts to properly represent themselves as hypebeasts, they need to have the knowledge about what items is hype. They must have the cultural capital to distinguish what is hype and what is not (Bourdieu). To gain this knowledge they are actively following social trends. By following theses trends and selectively picking out what items are representative of hypebeasts, a hypebeast identity is actively being created and maintained. “Taste classfies, and it classifies the classifer. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make..” (Bourdieu 6). Websites such as Sneaker News help facilitate news about sneakers such sneaker release dates and limited edition designs. Hypebeast.com, originally a simple blog, has tuned into the hypebeast style and capitalized by curating a online store and print magazine catered to hypebeasts.

Screenshot of Hypebeast.com
Screenshot of Hypebeast.com

Hypebeast.com shows that hypebeast identity is not just about the style but also the hypebeast lifestyle. The online publication curates hypebeast focused entertainment, music, lifestyle , arts, and other news. Hypebeast.com also has a section for footwear, which show the importance of sneaker styles in hypbeast style. Davis too agrees that “…through clothing people communicate some things about their persons, and at the collective level this results typically in locating them symbolically in some structures universe of status claims and life-style attachments” (149). In order to curate their identity, hypebeasts needs to actively follow trends. Even if they know the trends they still need to make the time and effort to attain the items. Clothing styles of hypbeasts signal knowledge, but also monetary capital. Hypebeasts need to line up and wait for limited edition items in order to be able to purchase them. Thorstein Veblen notes that “…a life of leisure is the readiest and most conclusive evidence of pecuniary strength…” (25). In order to have the leisure time to get the expensive branded items they purchase they need to have the time and money to not need to work.

Footwear fanatics waiting online for hours and even sleeping overnight for Kanye West’s sneakers, the Yeezy II.

Brands play a big role in defining a hypebeast. Society also labels people who are hypebeasts by the brands they wear. Brand prominence traditionally have played a big role in signifying socioeconomic status (Han, Nunes, and Drèze). But hypebeasts use the brands they wear to signify style or cultural capital (Bourdieu). Brands that are often worn by hypebeasts typically have large prominently displayed logos and identifiable trademarks or logos on most of their clothing items. For example, the clothing worn by justinnnlo in the pictures above have clearly identifiable logos. They do signify a certain affluence in wealth because the brands are not inexpensive, but the knowledge of and achievement in attaining the items are more significant. Furthermore, many clothing articles commonly have distinct and prominently display brand logos. Stussy, BAPE, and Undefeated are a few examples of hypebeast clothing.

Stussy 1980 Stripe L/S Tee
Stussy 1980 Stripe L/S Tee

Undefeated 2015 Spring/Summer Collection

Hypebeasts is a youthful social group with economic strength using brands in a conspicuous fashion to show not specifically wealth, but cultural knowledge about pop culture. Their clothes follow trends of pop culture celebrities and their dress signifies their knowledge on pop culture trends. The brands are associated with pop culture which associates the wearer to pop culture. Pharrell Williams was featured in the advertisement for adidas Superstar sneakers.

Pharrell Williams  x Adidas Advertisement
Pharrell Williams x adidas Superstar Advertisement

Furthermore, Pharrell Williams also collaborated with BBC to create a new line. Trendy items such as William’s line in hypebeast fashion are in demand and they often become sold out. Many of the items in the collaboration line are already sold out. With brands that identify with pop culture celebrities such as Williams, hypebeasts then can be identified with pop culture as well.

adidas Originals Seoul Flagship Store Features Crowd-Sourced Art in the Supercolor Studio
adidas Originals Seoul Flagship Store Features Crowd-Sourced Art in the Supercolor Studio

Hypebeast fashion also identifies with street art and urban life such as graffiti. The crowd-sourced art in the adidas Original store highly resembles urban graffiti. The typography of the Stussy logo name is often written in a way similar to graffiti handwriting which can be seen in justinnnlo’s instagram photo (also shown above).

The brands that hypebeast wear help signal their identity to society, but also their socioeconomic status and cultural capital about hype trends. It also identifies the individual as someone who rejects regular or traditional clothing. The style shows their investment in urban life and pop culture trends. Hypebeast style identifies an individual who emphasize the spontaneity of pop culture and urban life rather than conforming to mainstream fashion (Practical dress, business wear, and other styles and trends). Hypebeast trends allow the youth to be bold and different in contrast to traditional styles, which relate to a generation immersed pop culture and urban lifestyle culture.


Word Cited:

Bourdieu, Pierre. Introduction. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. N. pag. Print.

Davis, Fred. “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes Them Fashion?” Fashion Theory: A Reader. London: Routledge, 2007. 148-58. Print.

Han, Young Jee, Joseph C. Nunes, and Xavier Drèze. “Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence.” Journal of Marketing 74.4 (2010): 15-30. Web.

Veblen, Thorstein. “Conspicuous Leisure.” The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Dover Publications, n.d. 23-42. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Introduction.” Introduction. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: U of California, 1987. 1-15. Print.