Bricolage, a concept coined by Dick Hebdige, is the re-arrangement of mainstream fashions that are not generally advertised to be worn together, to in fact be worn together. As Hebdige discusses in his book, Subculture (The Meaning of Style,) bricolage has been utilized by subcultures throughout history as a means of protest against the mainstream apparel market itself. Subcultures such as “skinheads” and “mods,” were composed mostly of post World War II youth who used bricolage to to convey powerful, angry, and anti-mainstream messages (Hebdige 102.) The youth aimed to actively create a visual identity different from that of their parents and of higher class society members, due to their discontent in post war society. Hebdige labeled these subcultures, “spectacular subcultures,” since they were infiltrated with such rich meaning (Hebdige 101). However, with so much emphasis on the spectacular, it seems there lacks an acknowledgement on those non-subcultural consumers of mainstream apparel, who are equally entitle to both construct and project rich individualistic identities.
I argue that the creation of an individual’s identity does not necessarily require membership in a subculture, nor the desire to make strong point, like a “fuck you” against society. Instead, identity can be an expression of the self, of personality, of values, and of taste. In his book, Adorned in Dreams, Wilson actually mentions that society actually has a fear of losing the “autonomy of a self,” and becoming a “mass man” in the age of the masses (Wilson 12.) To combat that fear, perhaps bricolage can be used for the creation of a personalized identity. In other words, mainstream consumers can re-combine or re-arrange products to their own taste.
To properly explain the role of bricolage in the formation the individual self, it is first important to note the effects of mass production and the internet on the modern day fashion industry. Both mass production and the internet have lead to the democratization of fashion, as well as to the expansion of mainstream market into a realm of infinite garments (or infinite options.) We can only understand the magnitude of how personal a consumer’s choice is, once we can conceptualize the amount of options modern day buyers are faced with. Then can we discuss how consumers address such a large market with certain tactics, one of them being bricolage, to prove how personal each choice of garment actually is.
First, let’s pose the physical multitude of available products. The mass production of clothing has increased the rate of items being produced, which means, there are many more garments available than ever before. Also, during industrialization, more affordable materials such as polyester and wool were introduced into the market to emulate silk, “These fine Indian cottons, painted or pretend with delicate floral patterns, became fashionable because they resembled the French printed silk… and were fine enough to be pleated and draped in the same way (Wlison 68.)” Silk was and continues to be the finest material, but new materials have been created that are similarly lush color and most importantly, more affordable. Mass production and affordability are both factors that lead to the endless mainstream market, further broadening the options for consumers. Less expensive materials lead to imitations that are so close in quality, it is nearly impossible to distinguish (some) real from fake.
Next, we can address the wide access to knowledge on the industry. Physical access to thousands of garments in retail stores has little value without knowledge regarding the fashion industry. Fashion was once limited to both the hands and eyes of the elite. It is certain that many designer garments continue to be limited to the hands of the elite, for example couture fashions, which are only available in actual elite spaces such as boutiques. However, almost all fashions, couture or not, are available to the public eye. Today, anyone can have access to knowledge on the most expensive, most extravagant, elite fashions.
According to Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class, designer/high-end products were once limited to the sight/knowledge of the higher class who had enough time and recourses to shop at expensive boutique stores and buy pricy magazines as guidebooks. Contrary to Veblen’s concept of “leisure time,” (Veblen 28) as the unproductive use of time (usually concerned with the arts or consumption of food) by members of the higher class, the internet has granted people of all socioeconomic classes free and easy access to the mainstream clothing market. The time dedication to building the knowledge on the fashion industry has been greatly reduced. Now, designer fashions can be accessed instantly, via multiple platforms, such as designer’s websites and their social media pages (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) Fashion bloggers promote fashion awareness by reporting live from garment exhibition shows and posting pictures of newly released items onto the web- to keep people updated. Even reports on fashion related events such as Fashion Week, The Grammy’s etc. can be pulled up through search engines.
Fashion bloggers are yet another factor in the democratization of. Often, the role of fashion bloggers is to post images of garments and accessories they have personally combined together, usually available in mainstream stores (with some vintage & self made) to form individual outfits they create. The goal of fashion bloggers it to present an authentic style through consuming mainstream fashion and re-arranging the products. This is an example of bloggers using bricolage to personalize style. Fashion bloggers then reveal to their audience the brands, designers, and sometimes retailers of the individual garments they combined, to share their unique combination with the public.
By listing the designer or brand of individual garments, bloggers many times introduce products and names of high-end designer’s to a new audience. The exposition is not just to those of lower socio-economic classes, but also to many individuals who were simply unaware of certain names and fashions prior to blog exposure. Bloggers have exposed products that Han, Nunes, Dreze would consider “quiet signals,” pricy items that the highest class purchase to signal status within their own elite group, to lower economic groups. Raising of designer product awareness or “quiet signals” to members of different socio-economic status, and to previously unaware consumers, contradicts the consumption model posed by Han, Nunes, Dreze’s model from their article, “Signaling Status With Luxury Goods” (Han, Nunes, Dreze, 3,) because now all economic groups acquire knowledge of “quiet signal” goods. The goods are not so quiet anymore. This idea can be further explained with the image I have pinned, of Kim Kardashian reported wearing a black Balenciaga bag, a bag Han, Nunes, Dreze would surely consider a “quiet signal” since the bag sports no logo. The point here, that the bag is revealed, exposed, shared with the public, and not so quiet anymore, means that those who were unaware of Balenciaga’s existence beforehand, now have the option to purchase a bag by saving up, or by purchasing an imitation.
Perhaps the most outstanding impact of fashion bloggers on the fashion industry, is the way fashion bloggers value fashion as a mechanism to create “the authentic self.” In fact, bloggers enforce the bricolage, as they usually post images of themselves in their authentic outfit combination, “Creative consumptive practices that fashion bloggers engage with from “remixing” clothes (combining clothes already owns in new ways) … to swapping (often through mail), to making one’s own clothes, to thrift or discount shopping (Marwick 15.)” Bloggers often post images of themselves outfits they have put together, which reveals the value bloggers place on cultural wealth rather than monetary wealth. By combining high-end fashions with lower priced items, with the additional vintage or self made garment in the mix, bloggers make it clear that wearing is a statement of personality and identity rather than (solely) a statement of economic status. (Example: Pinterest post of fashion blogger Tuula Vintage. Blogger posts picture and tags the designers for the products which she wears, an example of mixing and matching expensive/non expensive designers to create personal, authentic style: acne, australia, celine, dress, supermuse, topshop)
Alice Marwick interviewed several fashion bloggers and recorded the interviews in her article, “Conspicuous and Authentic.” Marwick argues fashion bloggers have introduced the concept of the creation of authentic individualistic identities as opposed to showing off conspicuous consumption through fashion, “Fashion bloggers interviewed for this article are not trying to create an impression of wealth, but authenticity and a creative, personal style (Marwick 14.)” “Street Style” columns are popular reports devoted to random photographed city streetwalkers, that can be found in magazines such as Elle and in newspapers like the New York Times. Street style is exactly the concept of embracing different combinations from everyday street walkers for the way in which they styled their apparel, not for how much they can afford. The enforcement of bricolage challenges another one of Veblen’s theories, that of “conspicuous consumption,” the process in which the wealthy indicate their status through consuming desirable yet wasteful products, or as Veblen writes, “The vicarious consummation of goods (Veblen, 43.)” Although it challenges more traditional views on fashion, fashion blogs and fashion columns have received much positive feedback. The two become successful when they are applauded for their creativity and uniqueness by fans of their authentic personal style. Fan bases can be huge, as in, hundreds of thousands
Upon reviewing the multitude of options in the mainstream clothing market have been made available in the modern age of technology, perhaps there is a better understanding on the consumer’s personal choice serves as a marker of identity. In other words, many mainstream consumers have walked into a clothing store and were suddenly surrounded by clothing hanging from every angle. Sheers to the right, blues in the middle, prints upstairs. Shorts sleeves, long sleeves, no sleeves, tubes. Collared, peplum, V-neck, scalloped. Found the right style? Now choose color, shades, acid wash, endless! Let’s discuss how consumers exert choice on the infinite options.
Although it may sound overwhelming, being surrounded by so many garments is not that difficult, but instead personal. Bricolage is only one of many tactics consumers adopt in their attempt to create a personalized style. Most people have their own taste, their own habits, and their own level of confidence. For example, there is the idea of minimalism vs. extravagance. Some individuals stick to the style of minimalism, in which they bear with simplicity and basics, maybe stick to black and white. On the other hand, their are consumers believe “more is better,” more color, more print, and they go straight for those types of garments. The choice of garment heavily relies on personal values of the consumer as well, for example more conservative buyers may consume less revealing garments whereas other’s can choose to expose their bodies to the their point of comfort. Whether it be choice of color or level of exposure, both are choices a consumer makes that represents who they are as a person.
It is important to note that people are not limited to wearing products that are currently on the market at any given time, rather they have a closet filled with a compilation of garments from previous years. There are consumers who have adhered to a personal taste or style for several years, and their are those who refuse to wear garments from previous seasons. Those too are valid personal choices. Consumers are also not confined to shopping in store, but also online shopping, where many times garments from previous seasons remain available, perhaps at a lower price.
In regards to price, there now exists an highly competitive market, which leads to sales. The ability to increase product quality for a more affordable price is tied to competition between retailers, which leads to price matching and sales. All the former have lead to an expansive market where original garments are accessible to multiple socioeconomic classes, especially in large urban cities like NY. Sites like the Outnet as well as store’s like Loehmann’s sell designer products for a lower price all year round. Designers and boutique stores many times host sales themselves, for example end of season sales, sample sales, or promotion sales (Friends and Family etc.) These sales allow those on a tighter budget to purchase items that may have previously been limited to the elite.
Over time, closets inevitably become the home of a bricolage collection; a collection of garments over the years, from different sites, different stores, different designers, once in a lifetime sales, etc. “When the bri-coleur re-locates the significant object in a different position within that discourse, using the same overall repertoire of signs, or when that object is placed within a different total ensemble, a new discourse is constituted, a different message conveyed (Clarke, 1796, Hebdige 102.)” This collection simply does not mathematically allow consumers to be dress the same head to toe. It would be nearly impossible.
We have discussed several factors that have expanded the amount of products available on the fashion market, such as the internet (fashion bloggers, fashion columns,) and mass production (amount of clothing, competition, sales.) Now consumers of all socio-economic groups have a wide array of garment selection, which can be used as tools to create authentic identities. They also have the fashion bloggers, fashion columns, and other media enforcing authentic style. Perhaps now we have a better idea of how meaningful it is to choose one item from so many, to finally say, “I choose this top, with this bottom,” and can have a better understanding of how personalized each choice of garment and combination is. The creation of individualistic identities may not be considered “spectacular” relative to subcultures, but it does should signify that all mainstream consumers are a certainly not alike. Individuality is about sending a message to society that one is different and rich in a cultural value. That too, in a sense, should be considered “spectacular.”
Works Cited: (In progress)
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture, the Meaning of Style. London: Methuen &, 1979. Print
Veblen, T. 1899. The theory of the leisure class: An economic study of institutions. 1st ed. New York: The Macmillan Company.
Marwick, A. (2011) Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption. Presented at the International Communication Association annual conference, Boston, MA. [PDF]
Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California, 1987. Print.
Han, Nunez, & Dreze. “Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence.” Journal of Marketing (2010): 15-30. Web.
Tuula Vintage. “Bandana.” Web log post. Tuulavintage.com. N.p., 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
Anderson, Emily. “Kim Kardashian Flies in All Black Everything, Including Balenciaga.” Web log post. PurseBlog. N.p., 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
Ali Candib. Yours Creatively by Bill Cunningham. Digital image. Yours Creatively RSS. N.p., 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
Thomas, Jeff. Topshop / Topman Soho NYC Store [Full Look] | Nitrolicious.com. Digital image. Nitrolicious. N.p., 1 Apr. 2009. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
“Equipment Mina Printed Washed-Silk Top” THE OUTNET. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.