The sorority girls in my fashion course are incredibly articulate when discussing the paradox of fashion as an individuating –but standardizing— cultural formation. (Something I discuss in Uniform vs. Detail.) From them I learned that during rush, the houses ask the women “auditioning” (I actually have no idea what the actual word for this is) to wear a kind of uniform of tee-shirts and jeans and give them all the same bags to carry their things — because their own handbags are ruled too distinctive, too much of an indicator of economic status, in an effort to “be fair.”
This brings up all sorts of questions about what, exactly, can be measured about a person by the bag she carries. And of course, they noted, girls still make an effort to demonstrate their cultural (and economic) capital in other ways — their accessories, their shoes– in order to better differentiate themselves from the other girls. Still, I find the effort to try to receive each girl as an individual because she is in a uniform a great example of the ongoing struggle between particularity and abstraction, individuation and standardization, that defines liberal humanism but also modern capitalism — and how both these regimes underwrite the discourse and practice of fashion.