OOne of the strangest things about living in an age where consumption options are said to be limitless is the lack of genuine choice. There’s a lot going on, and it’s super easy to get to, but a lot of it is essentially the same thing sold by several different retailers – or a close copy of something that was popular over the past few decades, years or so. same month. . A landscape of consumption of blandness and endless repetition is sold to us as a world of infinite possibilities; and I’m never more aware of it than when I visit high street clothing stores.
This is nothing new. Thanks to the constant and unusually rapid copying of designer brands, the cross-pollination of trends between competitive and risk-averse outlets, and the tendency of umbrella companies to open sister stores that have a philosophy almost indistinguishable from the original selling point, the world -Street fashion has been derivative and uninteresting for years. But back in stores recently, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the purity of everything seemed more noticeable than before.
I’m not saying designer stores are better – I don’t frequent these outlets enough to comment. But the likes of Weekday, Monki, H&M and Uniqlo all have plain and sporty basics (T-shirts and jeans) that are basically interchangeable. Urban Outfitters is the same, but some items can be tie-dye or neon. Meanwhile, Zara, & Other Stories and Cos (too many of these brands are owned by H&M) are selling the workwear-focused version of it, with plain wrap dresses, shift dresses, cropped pants and blazers, almost always. in muted and very familiar tones. square shapes and cuts. I call this style of clothing “the Scandinavian workwear” – and I remember when it was new and fresh, and when people joked about wanting to be “the Cos woman”. That was over a decade ago now.
Fashion has always been repetitive: historical trends are recycled, but popular items are also replicated across brands (that’s basically what a trend is); but the speed at which things are copied has accelerated over the past few decades and, at the same time, things seem to have stopped moving forward. Black skinny jeans, which look bad on almost everyone (they make even very thin people look like puffy storks) have been in stock and worn widely for over 20 years. They never left and never returned, but rather lingered the entire time.
And it’s not just skinny jeans. Other items that seem to have been sold in every high street store continuously for years now include swishy pants (almost always in black, gray, pale peach, or taupe) with a high waist and wide fabric waistband. ; cropped pants in a material suitable for the office; cropped denim pants; straight leg denim pants; expandable rockets; Scoop neck T-shirts with cap sleeves (perhaps the least flattering item ever); wrap dresses in soft tones; long woolen dresses; see-through blouses (often black) typically worn with an opaque waistcoat underneath for modesty; round neck work shirts; long belted beige cardigans; stretch jeans with a wash effect; smocked dresses and tabard shirts.
What the high street stores are now offering is basically a lump sum average of the tastes and lifestyles of too many people. It is the result of a consumer culture in which everyone is taken care of at all times. And novelty (as in a constant stream of new products) is treated as innovation: no one is really taken care of and nothing is really new. Dean Kissick said it well in a recent Column Spike Art, saying: “There is too much of everything. There are too many different Oreos. 65 flavors in eight years is too much. “
A “fashion lover” in this landscape is not a person with a particular taste, but rather someone who constantly enjoys buying new things which are essentially the same as the old ones. Someone who thinks that buying items from the occasional, heavily marketed designer / department store collaborations is a mark of discernment or style, rather than extreme sensitivity. Is it any wonder that so many young women have turned to flea markets instead? Apparently a third of all millennials and millennials in the UK use flea market Depop. For the record, all the well-dressed people I know speak of the high street with a sense of dread, a place where “you have to go get black pants for work”.
There is a way of speaking of anti-consumerism as if it is tasteless and joyless. This ignores the fact that consumerism itself is now totally tasteless and joyless. The businesses that dominate our high streets are risk averse and pressured to do too much. And I think that says something about the world that we have organized for ourselves that an industry responsible for so much exploitation and destruction and trash is so terribly dull and boring.