Tuesday, March 15, 2011

fashion and destroying calculating consciousness

From The Fashion System by Roland Barthes. A very skimmable book because most of it is, as he writes, "purely imminent description of a particular system" and, as such, is little more than a bunch of fashion magazine copy subjected to quasi-rigorous semiological analysis. (I.e. it investigates in painstaking detail how something like "Layering different tones of the same palette has a graphically modern appeal" -- to grab a random sample from Lucky -- might mean something to someone, how it connotes the abstract idea of Fashion.) One need only read the foreword, the conclusions and the appendices.

This is from the forward; seems relevant to fast fashion, and fast fashion's relation to post-Fordist subjectivity, the consumer as producer, etc. :
Why does Fashion utter clothing so abundantly? Why does it interpose, between the object and its user, such a luxury of words (not to mention images), such a network of meaning? The reason is, of course an economic one. Calculating, industrial society is obliged to form consumers who don't calculate; if clothing's producers and consumers had the same consciousness, clothing would be bought (and produced) only at the very slow rate of its dilapidation; Fashion, like all fashions, depends on a disparity of two consciousnesses, each foreign to the other. In order to blunt the buyer's calculating consciousness, a veil must be drawn around the object -- a veil of images, of reasons, of meanings; a mediate substance of aperitive order must be elaborated; in short, a simulacrum of the real object must be created, substituting for the slow time of wear a sovereign time free to destroy itself by an act of annual potlatch.
Only fast fashion has made the annual potlatch a biweekly one.

The idea that fashion works to make us suspend our calculating rationality is interesting -- but slightly wrong I think. I think it shifts the nature of our calculation away from material things and money and toward our self-construction. It allows us to be entrepreneurial in the medium of style (and, while that has cultural/social capital ramifications, only through a great deal of ambition and effort does that translate directly into real economic opportunity). We calculate not how to economize on material clothes but how to profit through using clothes to build our personal brand value. We now no longer need fashion magazines to affix meaning to clothes; we are part of the meaning-making process, helping destroy slow time and true economy.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is part of what appeals to me about the idea of playing around with makeup--if Zara and the like are able to turn around "fast fashion" within two weeks of the runways, then all the individual needs is a good makeup palette to create whatever look she (or he, for that matter) wishes. In that sense you don't need to make any purchase beyond the initial event to "keep up" (and yes, there are makeup trends, which I still don't understand, but they exist).

    Of course, that's me being idealistic--certainly I don't think that the majority of beauty dollars being spent are being spent out of a sense of play and subversion of fashion economics...