The blog sits at is never far from the beating heart of popular culture. Today, we look at costume on the hit television series Housewives.
Cate Adair [costume designer for the show] borrows from both haute couture and thrift shops, mixing and matching high- with low-end, cutting edge with vintageall with wild abandon.
“Ill take a fabulous designer skirt and pair it with a pair of pumps I found direct cheap and someones grandmas vintage jewelry, she says. “I think thats the way realwomen shop. Theyll splurge on something they really love but also find deals at Target or at the local flea market. Thats how real women express personality in an extraordinary way.
We know that this is art imitating life. I was sitting in a NYC bar last week and Cheryl Swanson (Toniq) exclaimed that she had been at a NYC dinner party in which everyone was evidencing the high-low strategy in their wardrobe, men and women both.
A new book by Silverstein called Trading Up explains the mixing phenomenon pretty much the way that Adair does. Consumers buy low in order to buy high. That vintage and Target shopping is really about freeing up budget to buy a few things that are extravagance and or indulgence and or status laden.
No doubt, this is part of the story. But it begs a question: why is it suddenly ok to wear things that were purchased on the cheap? (We know some of the factors here: better quality at the low end, and better design as well.)
There may be a deeper motive. I wonder if people are not mixing for cultural reasons as well as economic ones. Its possible that we are looking at a new strategy of message construction and self presentation.
We know, thanks to Diderot, that there was a Western convention that says that everything in a consumers choice set (syntagmatic chain) must come from the same place in the paradigmatic category. Everything, coat, shirt, pants, must be of roughly equal quality, cost, formality and style. You couldnt mix without looking odd.
But something happened. I think highly redundant cultural creations are not precisely that. When we wear an outfit all from Ralph Lauren, its a little like we are telling the same joke over and over again. Its as if we are repeating ourselves in the most tedious way.
Jonathan Miller has a wonderful little essay in which he talks about the importance of creating characters for the stage that play against type. He says that if you create an “old man for the stage and you make everything about him, clothing, voice, body posture, read “old, your character seems almost to vanish from the stage. The secret of successful direction is to add to every character something in their presentation of self that runs against type. This, Miller says, has the effect of a key light (my metaphor, not his). The character now leaps into view.
I wonder if this is not the cultural motive that inspires us to create the mixed message outfit. We are now pretty good readers of the codes of a consumer culture. We dont need lots of repetition to get it. The use of “genre to construct looks can let up a little. We have permission to move away from highly redundant codes. But there is another motive. When we mix the message, we become more interesting to look upon. We become more vivid. We become actual. We might even say that this is the sartorial equivalent of the “mash up that combines two songs, making them both more interesting than either would be alone.
There is lots more to say here. Not least: this is the introduction of post modernism into the life of the consumer. But the lobby of the Sutton Hotel is now deafening. Gotta go!
I am stuck in a Toronto hotel that has no broad band access except for wireless in the lobby. And its really noisy here. (“For the love of God will you please pipe down. Cant you see that I am trying to blog.) All references here and above are approximate.
Diderot. Xxxx. Thoughts on a new dressing gown. [will supply reference when I get back to CT end of the week]
Finlay, Liza. 2005. Desperate fashion. Rogers TV Guide. January 22-28, pp. 14-15, p. 15.
Miller, Jonathan. [will supply reference when I get back to CT end of the week}
Silverstein. Trading Up.