November 02, 2004

The tightening spiral of cool

A surprisingly good report on mesh trucker hats and the ever-shortening cycles of fashion that we've all experienced, from the decidedly unfashionable USA Today (a year ago!).

The cool continuum that twisty trajectory that traces pop culture from cultish to trendy to mainstream to so-over-it's-embarrassing to, finally, kitsch is being compressed.

And then there's this interesting paragraph:

Being cool means being the first to yank something out of context and layer on the contradictions. Having money, for instance, is OK if you cloak it in Salvation Army apparel and a shift waiting tables at the local (non-Starbucks) coffee shop. Desk jobs are verboten. The goal? A career in dilettantism.

In Amsterdam I'm going to be talking about how communication and transportation technologies have revealed the complexity of the world to a record number of people in the last 50 years. The understanding that the cycles of the world are really intricate has shifted how people react to the objects and roles (thus the dilletantism) in their world. The last 10 years of have pushed this new understanding--and people's reactions to it--to a new level, aided by cell phones, the Internet and deregulated airplane travel. I think that the decrease in fashion cycles is related to this, and is itself a product of both that understanding and the technologies that created it, so it's interesting to see mainstream (and how much more mainstream than USA Today?) recognition and analysis of the phenomenon.

Posted by mikek at November 2, 2004 02:52 PM | TrackBack

Reminds me of an Onion article from the late 90s:

U.S. Dept. Of Retro Warns: 'We May Be Running Out Of Past'

Great quote: "We are talking about a potentially devastating crisis situation in which our society will express nostalgia for events which have yet to occur."

But I think the tightening fashion cycle has as much to do with corporate co-opting of "street trends" as it does with consumer acceptance of technology. How long does it take to go from "kid wearing trucker hat in the mission" to "window full of trucker hats at urban outfitters in union square"? Like 20 minutes, right? We've gone from the New Fall Line to Just-In-Time inventory management at stores like this.

I'll stick with black.

Posted by: Veen at November 4, 2004 09:29 AM

Heh, I remember that story. I think that the public's acceptance of retro trends and corporate co-opting are related. As you said, just in time manufacturing allows companies to respond quickly. Zara, the Spanish discount fashion chain that's all over Europe, has--what--a SIX week cycle for their styles? What's important, I think, is that's just fine with the buying public. Being fashionable means having had some exposure to what's cool--whether that's seeing the punk lead singer with a trucker hat, the record clerk with the trucker hat or Ashton Kutcher with the trucker hat. There's some level, which we haven't reached yet but which I think exists, beneath which the majority of the mall-story fashion buying public won't have been exposed to the idea. At some point the just in time manufacturing will be able to make anything on a moment's notice, and a cool watcher in a Shanghai skatepark will snap a picture of a kid in some cool clothes and several hours later they'll be on the rack at the Wichita Wal-Mart, but will anyone there buy them?

Anyway, this is directly related to the spread of ideas and I'm getting dangerously close to the entire social networking space, so I'll stop, but my point is that the nature of fashion--art and politics--is a symptom of an underlying change in the expectations that people have for the world and the way they understand it. And mainstream recognition of the symptoms--even if not the causes--is itself interesting, since the system is built on feedback.

Posted by: Mike at November 5, 2004 05:21 PM
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