05 May 2009

sartor resartus

I didn't realize socks could be such a problem. Jeans I think are differently but equally problematic. There was a time when to wear jeans meant something, implied a kind of radicalism, a time when to wear jeans meant you read Kerouac, hitchhiked to Morocco, listened to folk, smoked kif etc etc . . . they carried a hint of blue-collar proletarian danger. But that was a long time ago. What happens next? The counterculture goes boom and as the dust settles, the commodification begins, the garden of forking consumer paths. As Zizek argues, late capital atomizes, consumer choice proliferating culture into a menu of increasingly fine distinctions.

Now that everyone wears jeans, what do they mean? When I'm on the tube, I sometimes do a quick tally of what people around me are wearing - 9 out of 10 times, if they're not in a suit, they're wearing jeans. The 'meaning' of jeans resides entirely in the subgenre - microgenre - of jeans you're wearing.

Bootcut, pre-distressed
- mainstream chain-pub Stella swilling 20s-30s male

- the emo, the art-student, the hipster

Stonewashed, straight leg, worn on the waist rather than the hips
- middle-aged man, Jeremy Clarkson

Selvedge raw denim, slim
- a kind of via media taken by those who don't want to look like they drink in Wetherspoons but do want some blood to reach their toes. And Japanese kids.

- twat

Bankers wear this stuff on their day off. Everyone wears this stuff. In that sense they have a restful anonymity. But wearing plain anonymous suits surely now carries more subversive potential. The business suit is ripe for detournement. Adopting suits as a sartorial rule can say, we have no illusions about an item of clothing whose semantic connotations have been emptied of all original meaning. Maybe it's time to dress not so that your clothes want to say 'I am not a straight, I am not a company man' but so that you threaten to blend in, invasion of the bodysnatchers-style. Maybe wearing suits says, we mean business too.


Anonymous said...

Denim's a weed, a queasy monoculture. I'm as tired as you of the endless acres of the stuff. You do have to be careful with a suit mind, a cheap one and you look like first day on the YTS, upmarket and you stray into poncification. Anonymity's tougher than it looks....

Sam Davies said...

Suitably Anon,
A weed, a monoculture - like it.
Re suits, I think relentless scouring of secondhand/charity is the best bet for avoiding those two dangers.
'Anonymity' is strictly notional here, you can't actually achieve it... I'd write more on this with reference to The Devil Wears Prada, Frank Stella, Barnett Newman, Derrida and William Gibson, but I think I should probably turn it into a post of its own instead.