Photo by Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell
Fashion presents us with a living testimony of the times, an expression of individual identity in the spirit of (or sometimes direct opposition to) collectivism. You’re either cool or you’re anti-cool, and it all depends on where you bought your t-shirt. Trends reflect the whole as much as the part, thus personal image becomes a work of art, influenced by a range of societal factors including the omnipresent force of music.
Really though, cultural stimulus is cyclical; every strand is intrinsically tied to another, bound by uncertainties and dynamism. The politics that erupted from the war in Vietnam demanded a countercultural revolution in support of new ideology – free thinking, free spirit, free everything. Musicians were attuned to the demand, and along came Woodstock: a place where freedom reigned nearly anarchically, symbolized by the iconic tie-dye.
But what about now? Current trends seem anything but current, more a pastiche of decades past. Furthermore, the more fashionably bold don’t necessarily create a mold for the rest of us to abide by. Dresses made of meat may be outlandish, but they’re not in the slightest bit practical or prevalent.
“I often wonder if there’s actually a new look,” observes Rachel Aydt, Assistant Professor in fashion publishing at The New School, and blogger for New York Lost and Found. “Think about your own wardrobe. When you put something on in the morning, does it tend to echo a certain vibe that’s linked to another time? My husband called me an Earth Mother the other day, because I appeared in cut offs and a tie-dyed t-shirt. I hadn’t thought about it, but I might have been subconsciously influenced by the music that was heavily on rotation that week.”
Prime ruler of her playlist? “Early Joni Mitchell.”
Perhaps the lack of a distinctive look in the 21st century reflects a cultural ambivalence to embrace any one belief wholeheartedly. Ideas move in and out the door so quickly, nothing sticks. In music, our fondness for one breakthrough act quickly fades when another is hyped on Pitchfork or momentarily topping the Billboard charts. The only bands remaining forever etched in our hearts and music libraries – or “clouds” rather – are the oldies. The tried and trues. The ones we bought a long time ago at the record stores because that was the only option; the ones that still aren’t available digitally or only in reserve – everyone has to own the Beatles! Legends are the artists we own; the rest, we sample, we browse. It’s no surprise then that the decade’s blasé fashion statement is similarly vacillating.
“Everyone talks about Gaga, but every time I see her, I think about Madonna,” Aydt points out. “Musicians who become famous are somehow tapped into a collective zeitgeist around them. So for example, with the flappers, the musicians of that era understood that seismic shifts were taking place with the way women were wearing clothes. Poiret had loosened up the lines a lot and women who wanted to dance could move in them.”
With that it mind, it appears those who inspire style today do so on the fly. They mix the elements; they blend cultural divisions; they embrace everything all at once because nowadays, you have to if you want to be on your game. Think Kanye West, St. Vincent, Alicia Keys, Brandon Flowers, Bjork, and Jack White.
Adds Aydt, “Trendsetters at the root are creative people obviously, but I also think there’s an element of copy cat to them. If they have their eyes open to what’s going around them, they’ll naturally tap into something that becomes appealing to their fans… Certainly musicians would very often find themselves attached to counter-cultural movements. It’s a cycle. They do that, and then the mainstream picks up on them, and then the trends they’ve started in the first place become passe.”