Off-the-Runway

It was about a month into the new semester –right about the time you settle into a nice, mundane cycle that basically illustrates the entirety of the next three months of your life. Work, class, work, class. Eat, sleep, eat, sleep. You get the picture.

Oh, the thrill of a student in New York City.

You can understand my excitement when I was offered free tickets to the “Tokyo Runway Meets New York” fashion show courtesy of MTV (read: cousin who works there).

Yes, the perks of having a cousin work at Viacom.

So on the morning of the 19th, after my coffee and bagel, my cousins and I giddily made our way up to the iconic home of New York Fashion Week. Thirty-seven pictures in front of the Lincoln Center later, we walked in and awkwardly stated, “Hi, we’re here with MTV. Where do we do go?” Security pulled us to the front of the line (I must sadly admit that I momentarily enjoyed the pretensions and exclusivity so deliberately fostered in this culture), and two minutes later we were thrown into the hustle-and-bustle of 6-inch stilettos and over-accessorized attendees.

Everyone there had something going on…and lots of it. I was feeling particularly underdressed in my basic head-to-toe black outfit and chunky statement necklace. I mean I knew Japanese fashion could be a little over the top, but fishnet everything and neon hair were eye-catching to say the least.

Come on, even the dogs there were more photo-op ready than I was.

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It was about twenty minutes before the show was started, so all the attendees were lounging in the main area sipping on their green juice, signing up for their free styling at the TRESemme booth, and posing in every corner of the room for the perfect Instagram shot. I mentally thought to myself why every morning of my life couldn’t start like this; though, quickly realizing I have classes, a job and a long list of responsibilities that I can’t help but prioritize.

Because who actually has the time to frolic about a fashion show at 11 am on a Thursday morning, really?

This one woman who “left the children with the nanny” (I quickly overheard) had on a huge pair of (kinda obnoxious) red Prada sunglasses, a leather jacket under a fur coat, and black thigh-high Stuart Weitzman boots that were “oh my god…on sale for only $499”.

Oh, that’s who.

I suddenly felt very conscious of my $30 Zara Necklace and Lucky Brand Jeans that were on sale for a whopping $49.99. Fashion theorist, Fred Davis stated in an article, “In this age of heightened self-consciousness…that the clothes we wear make a statement is itself a statement” (1). He discusses how what we wear, or who we wear, is indicative to particular signs in society, such as economic wealth or social status. The people who are rich enough and have enough time to attend to their upkeep demonstrate this through things, such as, their distinguished mannerisms, expensive hobbies, or personal adornment.

The fact that some people have the time and money to attend and dress the part for a fashion show is demonstrative of what Thorstein Veblen calls “conspicuous leisure” –basically time to kill because you’re not spending it working or at class or attending to your other responsibilities. He writes that this leisure comes “from a sense of the unworthiness of productive work, and as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness” that can be better spent say shopping or as he likes to put it: “the vicarious consumption of goods” (28-29, 43). To be conspicuous whether that is with one’s time or one’s consumption is a leisure only afforded by the wealthy.

Once seated, I took the moment to scan my neighbors and fellow attendees. You could tell everyone took the extra minute to be fashionably conscious today. People look to separate themselves (whether that is subconsciously done or not) in how they dress, make a statement that they are different or even that they are of a particular social group. We take this “aesthetic act” of dress, and by comparison of others in a social context use it to express, define and evaluate. Mary Ellen Roach and Joanne Bubolz Eicher say that personal adornment can express or indicate mood, individualism, social role/worth, economic status, political stance, religious stance, values, etc. There was so much going on off the runway that the event setting itself served as a spectacle.

(To see what was actually going on the runway: http://tokyo-runway.com/ny/report/)
Next to me, in the third row, were the Michael Kors’ Jetsetters, Coach booties, staple Louis Vuitton totes, and cookie-cutter button-down and skinny jeans of the bunch. But in the front row, that is where the action was. There was everything from seven-piece herringbone suits to classic designer dresses to high-class street style. Clearly adept to the fashion scene, these front-rowers knew what they were wearing and they were wearing it to their liking, their personally developed taste. Pierre Bourdieu, French intellect, states that taste is something learned, refined and acquired. It is a conscious effort manifesting from knowledge of the art. He writes, “Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly…quality and quantity, [and] substance and form” (6). This thus classifies the classifiers as having the knowledge of good taste and representing that knowledge through their dress. It distinguishes themselves as the elite of the fashion world, if you will –those apart from who are subject to simply following the crowd.

Interestingly enough, at the fashion show, where one is used to seeing these front-rowers wearing looks way too expensive for normal people to afford right of the runway, I was surprised to see the musical duo Nervo in quintessential “street style”.

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It almost looked cooler that they didn’t just throw on a pretty, pink designer dress and expensive heels. Sorry Che’nelle. Instead of sticking to the unwritten semi-formal rule that these events tend to entail, they broke the boundaries with an oddly acceptable casual look. But this could not have been done with a merely casual look off the street. Your combat boots and plain white tee weren’t going to do it. Their aesthetic from their hair to their makeup to their printed leggings and mid-drift bearing outfits was deliberate and stylishly appropriate to the concept of the “Tokyo Runway”. It was a dressed-up enough dressed-down look to be considered acceptable and fitting to the event.

But, once again, I do not believe this breaking of “such conscious use of dress” as the rule to evoke a particular mood as is done in “particular social event[s] or occasion[s]” could have been done by just anyone (Roach and Eicher, 111). Being a celebrated musical sister duo known for their eccentric subcultural tendencies in both their music and fashion styles, they have attained enough cultural capital to make this subtle power play. Cultural capital, as explained by Bourdieu, is a non-financial wealth and respect gained by one’s personal expertise, knowledge or involvement. Though not solely based on the politics, I believe it was more easily digested coming from celebrities who have already garnered a following and traction in the media.

Although this dressed-up dressed-down look is not completely unheard of in fashion scenes with the growing love of street-style, society still does not consider it the norm. Nervo’s style embodied a look that was much more retro and “street” than Song of Style’s camel Max Mara coat over her biker jacket and suede over-the-knee Stuart Weitzman boots. Sound familiar? (Check out Song of Style’s outfit on her blog: http://www.songofstyle.com/2015/02/camel-coat-suede-knee-boots-nyfw.html) Liv and Miriam Nervo are relatively “early-adopters” of this trend, perhaps making them (and I say this in the least offensive way possible because evidently it’s connotations have deemed it offensive) what Heidi Khaled, author of “The Enduring, Insufferable Hipster”, calls “hipsters”. Khaled writes that “hipsterdom is the first ‘counterculture’ to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope…[it] is about stuff…a natural byproduct of a consumption-obsessed culture” (4). The hipster culture, or even the current youth generation as a whole, chooses to express their identities through aesthetic presentation and particular, adopted lifestyles. They “represent critiques of the blind pursuit of consumer trends, of overwhelming homogeneity, and of the inauthenticity that is thought to characterize contemporary life” (6). In simpler terms, hipsters actively work against the norms in society and mainstream culture. Considering this, we can call the Nervo sisters in relation to the normal social scene at fashion shows “hipsters”.

In her article, Khaled references Mark Grief, author of The New York Times article “The Hipster in the Mirror”, in which he mentions that it was Pierre Bourdieu’s “life work to debunk the powerful classes’ pretensions that they were more deserving of authority or wealth than those below” as expressed in his 1979 masterpiece “Distinction”. So perhaps these hipsters are more than their superficial image of “first adopters of novelties [whose] pride comes from knowing, and deciding, what’s cool in advance of the rest of the world”. Maybe, they are little Bourdieu-ians embodying his efforts to break these societal distinctions and feelings of elitism amidst their collective efforts “to generate a superior body of cultural ‘cool’” (Grief 2-3). (To read more on hipsters by Mark Grief, check out his NYTimes article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/books/review/Greif-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).

Could society have been wrong in calling hipsters a superficial group of Millennials unattached to any sociopolitical drive and only concerned with rebelling for the sake of rebelling? Are hipsters more than their awkwardly cut beards and Pabst beers? Could hipsterdom have been the ultimate social movement that slipped right underneath the world’s nose –now too saturated into society to rewind?

Wait a minute, if hipsters have now become saturated to the point of a subculture of mainstream-esque quality…is hipsterdom, in essence, still hipster?

Works Cited:
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.

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

Greif, Mark. “The Hipster in the Mirror.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Nov. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Khaled, Heidi. The Enduring, Insufferable Hipster: Popular Critiques of Art, Commerce and Authenticity Through the Ages. N.p.: n.p., 2012. Print.

Roach, Mary E., and Joanne B. Eicher. The Language of Personal Adornment. Fashion Theory: A Reader. By Malcolm Barnard. London: Routledge, 2007. N. pag. Print.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Dover Publications, n.d. Print.

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