Ashley’s Board: Accessible and Attainable Fashion

Ashley’s Pinterest board regarding “trickle down fashion” focuses on the idea of accessible and attainable fashion that does not tend to discriminate based on social class or wealth. These pins are relevant because in class this week, we discussed “second-hand style” and a new way of thinking about “conspicuous consumption.” While walking down the street in designer clothing and with designer accessories may connote a certain degree of wealth, walking down the street in a one-of-a-kind vintage outfit connotes a different message altogether. As we discussed in class, while Veblen sees “conspicuous consumption,” or the outward demonstration of the ability and means to consume, as a way of communicating wealth, Alice Marwick wishes to reshape the way we define the term in “Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption.” Shopping at thrift stores may not necessarily communicate the possession of a lot of money, but a person’s ability to put together an attractive outfit for less money communicates creative skill that may demonstrate a different type of status. After all, as Marwick suggests, “…we must decouple status from wealth” (14). Ashley’s pin about Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” is certainly relevant, considering that the singer comes off as extremely confident and proud in an outfit on which he theoretically only spent twenty dollars. The point is that you can “look good” for less money; you just have to know what to look for and what to do with what you find. It almost becomes a personal challenge to dress oneself for less and still manage to impress others. As Ashley says, “second-hand style […] allows clothing to re-enter consumption that differs from the mainstream.” Not looking like every other person on the street thus becomes a significant component of second-hand style.

The fashion bloggers that Marwick discusses seemingly aim to distinguish themselves in this way. Fashion bloggers use the web to publicize their ability to demonstrate distinct personal style at a low price. While a lot of what appears in the mass media seems unattainable, especially to students like us, Ashley points out that fashion blogs, such as the one she pinned, called “In Bug’s Drawers,” are more “accessible” and are used to demonstrate “personal identity,” rather than personal wealth. Instead of living in the idealistic dream world of high fashion magazines, many fashion blogs presumably give readers hope that style does not depend on wealth. The blogger who used to run “In Bug’s Drawers” actually started a new blog called “My Closet Garden,” and one of her posts involves “minimizing her wardrobe” and giving her clothes away to Goodwill. Not only does this demonstrate the ongoing cycle in which second-hand clothing partakes (considering that much of the clothing that she brought to Goodwill could have already been second-hand items), but it also shows that the amount of clothing people own does not necessarily determine how fashionable or stylish they can be; it is instead what they do with their clothes that could give them what Bourdieu would perhaps refer to as “cultural capital.”  Perhaps Ashley could have mentioned how the blog that she pinned and the bloggers’ ability to “utilize consumption to show personal identity and sense of style,” as she says, demonstrates a different kind of “conspicuous consumption” than the kind to which Veblen refers. As Marwick believed, instead of conspicuously demonstrating wealth, many fashion bloggers outwardly demonstrate their eye for what “looks good,” to put it simply. Ironically, as we mentioned in class, a lot of the time, what fashion bloggers deem fashionable and stylish could climb the fashion ladder and could very well end up on the runway, which demonstrates the potential control and influence that many fashion bloggers have on the fashion industry today. In “Second-Hand Dresses and the Role of the Ragmarket,” Angela McRobbie even suggests the “‘death of the designer,’” due to the power that second-hand style has developed (153).

As a side note, there is also another post on “My Closet Garden” that reminded me of our class discussion on “conspicuous waste,” or the act of over-consuming for no practical reason. One of the bloggers on the site, Lora, recently shared a post called “One is Enough,” where she discusses our tendency to buy a lot of one thing for no good reason. To combat this tendency, Lora decided to donate all of her purses except for one, because theoretically, as long as it is still intact, who needs more than one bag? It may seem crazy to us to not have more than one bag, but if we were to really stop and think about it, we may begin to wonder what caused us to believe that we ever needed more than one.

Furthermore, while the implementation of second-hand style may not necessarily demonstrate wealth, it does not mean that wealthy people cannot demonstrate second-hand style. As McRobbie notes, “the rich…can afford to play at looking poor” (151). In other words, while there are some people who have no choice but to develop second-hand style, there are rich people who choose to do so just because they can. While Ashley does not directly refer to this idea on her board, Joe alludes to it on his board with his pin of “the Beatles dress for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.” As demonstrated by this particular pin, even those with presumably enough money to spend on designer goods choose to create and demonstrate their own second-hand style. On the topic of the Beatles, like we mentioned in class, John Lennon did not have to wear wire frame glasses, but he chose to, seemingly as a sort of fashion statement that is divorced from any indication of wealth.

Ashley further conveys the message that there are certain types of fashion that break the boundaries of social hierarchy with her pins about jeans. For example, Ashley pinned a 1969 Premium Jeans Gap advertisement that features both men and women, and she makes the point that jeans can essentially be worn by anyone: from men to women, young to old, and rich to poor. John Fiske, author of “The Jeaning of America,” would call these Gap jeans “generic jeans,” which tend to be “classless,” “communal,” and “unisex,” to name a few characteristics (Fiske 7). Ashley even pinned an image of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 album cover, on which Springsteen is seen wearing jeans. Therefore, as Ashley says, jeans “are not distinctly associated with any social system,” thus making it completely normal for celebrities, like Springsteen, to wear them, as well.

With all of this said, though, the type of jeans that one wears can communicate high social status and wealth, which Ashley makes clear with her pin about Apple Bottom Jeans. In her caption for this pin, she says that jeans can be a form of “self-advertising,” or perhaps a form of self-representation, which I think is rather interesting. Basically, based on the type of jeans that we wear, especially if we wear jeans like these that have “Apple Bottom” written on the back pockets, we can make the conscious decision to communicate, or “advertise,” our social and economic status to those who see us wearing them. Fiske would call Apple Bottom Jeans “designer jeans,” which tend to be more “upscale” and “socially distinctive,” to name a few characteristics (Fiske 7). At the same time, though, owning one pair of Apple Bottom Jeans does not necessarily demonstrate great wealth. For instance, if I were to own a Gucci bag, it would not necessarily mean that I were wealthy. However, we would assume the wealth of a stranger if they were wearing designer clothing or accessories, considering that we theoretically would not know them well enough to infer anything different.

Furthermore, I think that it would have been interesting if the Apple Bottom Jeans pin were complemented by an image of designer jeans that are not as telling of their high-end status. This idea relates back to last week’s discussion of “patricians,” or high class, wealthy people who can recognize the subtle cues of designer brands. In “Consuming or Living with Things?” Tim Dant refers to these cues as “brand name indicators,” and he gives examples, such as “…stitching on the back pocket, ‘leather’ label on the outside of the waistband; tags inserted into seams” (381). For example, I do not think that I would know that these were Lucky Brand Jeans if I saw someone wearing them on the street, but perhaps “patricians” would recognize the stitching on the pockets or some other subtle cue of the like.

As Ashley demonstrates with her Pinterest board, there are certain areas of fashion that break the boundaries of hierarchy in the form of wealth and social class. Second-hand style allows the less wealthy–and the wealthy, if they choose–to demonstrate their personal, unique eye for style. The definition of “conspicuous consumption,” like Marwick suggests, thus should not only include the blatant indication of wealth, but also the indication of “cultural capital,” or the ability to know what looks good for less. Furthermore, jeans can be worn by anyone from the most wealthy to the least, leaving the jeans wearer in control of how “conspicuous” his or her economic status is based on the type of jeans he or she wears.

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