Around the 2005/6 mark, the fashion corner of the innernetz (read:interwebs) exploded with proud declarations of allegiances to the minimal life. For a lot of fashion and lifestyle bloggers, this move meant a bid on their part to minimise mass consumption. Mass consumption (spurred along with social media) is not new though. We define the term mass consumption as 'the majority of families constantly expanding their range of consumer goods'.
(http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu accessed 22/07/15).
The term originally pushed forward by Edward Bernays, the unofficial ‘father’ of public relations and propaganda (Some say that this title belongs to Ivy Lee), had a massive hand in public spending and alluring people to spend unnecessarily beyond their means. This method of moulding the opinions of the public was called the “engineering of consent.”
Of course, it could be argued that the rise of pop stars like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Jean Harlow combined with the introduction of film and television meant that idealisms were spread globally, reaching audiences never before. So to put this all into perspective, what does this mean for the modern blogger? I suspect the answer is twofold. Firstly, fashion for the most part has always been both a thing of exclusivity but also completely personal. Fashion marks the ages, people’s mind-sets, religious and political structures and revolutions.
Now in the 21st century, in place of revolution, religion or politics, there is an uppity attitude and a notion of ‘you cannot sit at our table’. Somewhere along the line, fashion stopped being a voice of the people, and along with many other arts became a party just for the popular kids. If you’ve ever seen ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ or the American TV show; ‘Running in Heels’, you will understand that "respected" fashion has become exclusive to the privileged and hugely commercialised (duh!).
In the face of the gross commercialisation of fashion which, as I said before, used to mark politics, religion and revolutions, the online world had steadily been giving people a voice of their own. People owning blogs became super popular, because suddenly, you didn’t have to have published works to be a writer and you didn’t need to be in a fashion house to be seen as a style force. This meant that people could attach their own meaning to style, without fear of reprimand from the voice of authority, which is/was fashion. Under the guise of blogging, fashion had become a people’s voice again.
As bloggers began to reap the rewards of their fame, with many of them quitting their day jobs to become full-time bloggers, they became brands themselves. In a weird turn of events; fashion bloggers had become the fashion authority figures that they sought to distance themselves from initially.
Much like the explosion of television and the radio, the internet meant that people had access to lives and cultures they’d wouldn’t necessarily have encountered otherwise. Scandinavian fashion aesthetics flooded the online realm. For the Americas and the UK, where tweed, plaid and hounds tooth reigned, this ‘new’ aesthetic of stripping away unnecessary colours and patterns became the new tune to sing.
Fast forward to now, there are multitudes of fashion bloggers that have adopted this Scandinavian mantra of living on less, and surviving on the bare minimum. Tweed has been replaced with fine white silk camis, hounds tooth with cotton black slacks and plaid with beige knit jumpers. But are colours, or the lack of them true measures of minimal living? Ivania Carpio of Love Aesthetics blog says; ‘Detach yourself from your material things. Once you get yourself to unlink emotions from objects, you can objectively assess what you need and get rid of all the rest’. (Carpio, Ivania, love-aesthetics.nl/3-ways-to-minimize-finding-the-essentials accessed 07/07/15). In her blog-post where she addresses how to dress minimally, she never mentions colour anywhere. Instead, she instils her readers with values that denounce the mind-set of ‘I must have more now!’
This is my fundamental argument, that surely, a minimal lifestyle, must mean more than buying something just because it’s white, grey or black. Surely, someone who has 3 pairs of multi-coloured and patterned shoes is more minimal that someone that has 13 pairs of white shoes? The new minimal then becomes the new tweed, the new excessive. It’s one thing to refine or curate your wardrobe to things you actually use and wear, be that with or without colour, but it’s not quite minimal if you keep buying lots of things.
Whatever the quality, monochromatic or tweed, the fact is this, you are still buying new things and then arguably feeding into Bernays’ plan/propaganda of mass consumption. Minimalist blogging doesn’t necessarily curb shopping appetites–it just changes the style taste from one aesthetic to another. Carpio says she's never called herself a minimalist because she's 'still searching for [my own] bare essentials'.
She continues, 'When looking back I have always valued minimal aspects of life; never liked excessiveness, decadence, am obsessed with functionality and have always been concerned about the environment.’ Even Vera Wang, the fashion designer says this,
I have a uniform, and mine is a legging. And if it’s not
a legging, it’s a pant that’s like a legging [...] I work
very hard to look casual. It’s deliberate to look like
you didn’t try too hard.
—Vera Wang on her style uniform
Both Wang and Carpio have style ‘uniforms’ that almost restricts them buying anything unnecessary to their style. So could it be, that minimalist fashion has less to do with colour and more to do with a having a mind-set against the manipulation of the media? Against the propaganda of brands?
In view of all this, I will be the first to admit that I have been addicted to ‘stuff’ for as long as I can remember. My friends will testify that they never really see me wear the same clothes, and even a quick scroll through my blog will show all the different outfits I’ve worn only once or maybe twice. Sometimes I buy things just because they’re on sale, and I convince myself that they’re of sentimental value, or I’ll need it one day. This notion is nonsensical, and quite frankly very wasteful. As I begin to strip myself of all the unnecessary, I have found out that getting rid of the clothes and shoes I have is not the exactly answer, although it does help. This isn’t uprooting the problem, rather I need to analyse why I buy things, and deal with that first.
The way that I will approach this is in three ways that Carpio explains in her blog-post. Number one; I will try and detach myself from materials. Two, I need to realise that clothes can have more that one function, and I must be creative enough to realise that. Three, I must get rid of things that are forgotten. The last point is particularly poignant. I have so many things that I pull out of my closet and wonder where I got it from, only to shove it back for ‘another day’.
As a bonus, I must also recognise and define my personal style and be adamant about sticking to it. If there’s something that doesn’t go with me, then I have to think long and hard as to why I need it. The aim is not to have a specific number of items, but rather, programming my brain to want less and renouncing the materialism of the industry. This, is what I believe to be true minimalism in fashion.
What do you think? Does having a strategic approach to style take away from having fun in fashion?
I am not a fashion scholar or journalist but these are topics I'm deeply invested in. I believe that these are worldly matters that affect everybody no matter how irrelevant you think it is. Unfortunately, how you dress and how much you care (or similarly don't care) says a lot about you. Next to your race and sex (which are both a given), nothing will categorise you more than how you dress.