Opinion: ‘Yes! We’re All Individuals!’ – Fashion’s Erosion Of Subculture
A recent advertising campaign from the online shopping site boohoo.com demanded urgent questions of its would-be clientèle. Written in annoying text-speak, the billboards asked ‘R U Glam Girl?’ or ‘R U Rock Chick?’ or (one of the more hilarious recent trends) ‘R U Geek Chic?’.
Behind all of these seemingly innocuous questions is the pressing request ‘Classify yourself, please!’. It wouldn’t do for people to express any truly individual tastes; how would corporations be able to create products and market for that? Instead the message is: go ahead, express your uniqueness, but stay within these set confines.
When I think back to my teenage years, I think of the various divisions between social groups. You had the rockers, the goths, the nerds, the jocks… or am I thinking of some American High School movie? Either way, this is how the battle lines were once drawn. While the way these groups dressed was distinctive, they were also much more than the sum of their sartorial choices. The goths listened to their angst-ridden music, hung around Central Bank on a Saturday and annoyed everybody else with their persecuted attitudes. The rockers had unwashed hair, went to scary, angry gigs and were generally to be avoided. And the nerds hung around with themselves, defined by their over-achieving grades, poor fashion sense and lack of social skills.
Fast forward to 2013, and the days of these old divisions seem dead and gone. Goths have been watered down into sexy TV vampires. The rockers have morphed into a slick, safe vintage style. You no longer need to go to the clubs, listen to the music or subscribe to the values to be part of one of these once subcultural groups. Now, with a few simple clicks of a mouse, you can choose your identity for a night and apply red lick stick/black eye liner accordingly in order to be transformed. For the price of these few items, you get to ride on to the coattails of a once edgy social group and make believe you are part of their ranks. ‘Ca-ching!’ rings the cash register, as corporations cash in and the wannabe hipsters sell-out.
The most hilarious group to have been absorbed into main-stream fashion in recent years is the nerd/geek. Whatever you felt about the rockers or goths of your teenage years, at least they had a certain distinctive style about them. But the geek? The very definition of geek was an absence of style. Geeks were the epitome of uncool. But you can now prescribe to this fleeting fad by buying a pair of oversized specks and wearing ill-fitting, mix-matching clothes. It’s come in as my second favourite ridiculous trend after Granny Chic.
But what is the need for this constant re-invention of new groups and styles to subscribe to? There are three simple answers – Sell Sell Sell! Human beings have a need to express themselves and want to feel in some way unique. But this would wreak havoc on the advertisement industry, because you cannot market to people who all want to be different. The idea of these social grouping and classifications is to appeal to people’s sense of individualism, while also keeping them within set confines.
The constant absorption of these side-line trends into the mainstream begs the question – what could be next? A terrorist trend? Jihad chic? If this turns out to be true, you heard it here first.
Deirdre Mc Mahon is an aspiring writer from Dublin. She hates it when people skip queues and enjoys dressing her dogs up as bees. She has the photos to prove it.