Monthly Archives: November 2010

More Evidence Fashion Has Run Out of Ideas

While the U.S. holiday widely known as Thanksgiving (November 25, this year) is not celebrated in France, the timing of this editorial of and by American designer Tom Ford in the current issue of French Vogue is ironic, to say the least. (Readers might recall that French Vogue handed over the December/January issue to Ford.)

We’ve written several posts as well as linked to many more at Native Appropriations, a l’allure garconniere, and Bitch magazine about the cultural and historical violence such acts of casual racism enact. Here’s one more link to Philip J. Deloria’s book Playing Indian. In it, he explains that the cooptation of Native objects and practices are at once “the bedrock for creative American identities, but . . . also one of the foundations (slavery and gender relations being two others) for imagining and performing domination and power in America.” Deloria’s book should be required reading for every American but also everyone in the fashion industry. (This means you too, TopShop.)



Filed under FASHIONING RACE The Scientization of Style and The Promise of Happiness

Yesterday, I created a virtual boutique on Google’s new website, The process begins with The Stylizer quiz which involves answering something like 40 – 50 questions about whether my style was more like Jennifer Garner’s or Beyonce’s, Rachel Weisz or Jennifer Biel, Kate Moss or Serena Williams, Courtney Cox or Kristen Stewart – [sigh] – Chloe Sevigny or Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Biel or Alexa Chung, M.I.A. or Rachel Bilson, a margarita or a tequila shot, Las Vegas or New York City, and on (and on) it goes. I’ve never really understood the appeal of personality surveys so this process felt really interminable to me. And while I do want to give Google credit for trying to think outside of the binary box by providing users the option to not choose either Courtney Cox’s style or Kristen Stewart’s, for example, there were times I would’ve liked the option to choose Style A and B.

Following the Stylizer quiz, there was another set of questions regarding the types of silhouettes, patterns, and colors I love or hate in dresses, tops, bottoms, and shoes. And still another set of questions about which designers I love and hate (organized in categories of Boho, Casual Chic, Classic, Edgy, Romantic, or Street). Note: my personal style category, The Softer Side of the Matrix Warrior, was not an available choice.

Having taken all my sartorial vitals, the website then generates a Personal Storefront filled with clothes that are scientifically determined to match my taste. In some ways, it was spot-on. I loved the Opening Ceremony black loopy poncho, the 3.1 Phillip Lim gray t-shirt dress, and the Alexander Wang Addison platform ankle boots (which have been a personal sartorial fantasy of mine for weeks now). But the bowler bag, the multitude of flat strappy sandals (think: suburban mom on vacation), and the 7 for All Mankind halter top (I definitely remember checking “halter” as a silhouette I hate) are inexplicable. In other words, after 20 or 25 minutes of testing, the system’s accuracy rate was about 50% – not unlike flipping a coin? Maybe I need to edit my answers . . . then again, maybe it’s not me. Cate Corcoran of WWD relates: “the number of inappropriate, random or unappealing suggestions it throws out is overwhelming.”

Longtime readers of Threadbared know my propensity for sample sale shopping but what I haven’t mentioned before is that I’m an avid and, if I do say so myself, expert online shopper. In the past few years, I’ve teased out a good number of small e-tail sites devoted to independent and emerging designers; keep abreast of about 20 fashion blogs from which I regularly poach shopping and style ideas, learned how to game sites with more e-coupons, promotional codes, and friends and family discounts than I (sometimes) know what to do with; and am a member of half a dozen or so members-only shopping sites. (A recent example of my e-shopping prowess: 60% off the price of a pair of this season’s Surface to Air ankle boots from an outlet e-tail site using two coupon codes. The boots are going back but the achievement remains.)  All of this is to say that I approached Boutiques more as a hopeful consumer than a skeptical critic. And while the website failed to impress, its appeal is real.

The defining feature of the site and one repeatedly highlighted in every review (see here, here, and here)  is its tacit claim to have scientifically “cracked” style. No longer elusive and mysterious, style is now a set of codified information in the form of “hundreds of style rules” – an algorithm implements these rules and separates friendly style pairings from bad pairings and then these scientific codes are inscribed onto the user’s body via the automatically generated style suggestions in my personal boutique. An example of a bad pairing, according to Google, is “heavily patterned handbags don’t tend to go with heavily patterned dresses.” Should a user attempt this pairing while building her outfit, (the site doesn’t yet include men’s clothing), the website will automatically suggest different options – and not just any ol’ option but, using “computer vision and machine learning technology” it “visually analyze[s] your taste and match[es] it to items you would like.” And voila! The scientization of style!

The words algorithm, precision, hone, analyze, and vision technology that pepper every review and description of the website are suggestive of fashion’s recent turn to science. The “art of fashion” might be OK for the industrial age (new means of mass producing and mass distributing clothes meant that more women than ever before could aesthetically, sartorially express themselves) but in the digital age, it’s all about the “science of style” – the digital age being a time when scientific advancements in information technologies have dramatically increased the cultural and economic value of digital or nonmaterial fashionable goods (e.g., blogs, viral marketing campaigns, and web-hosted fashion films) and decreased the values of fashion’s traditional material objects (e.g., print magazines and brick and mortar shops).

The appeal of and desire for a scientifically rationalized method of consumption and self-fashioning are endemic to what scholars describe as a “risk society”. As a result of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (1965); social justice movements for women, gays, and racial minorities; the growing privatization of welfare services; and declining personal economic security (due to wage stagnation and increased work hours) throughout the latter half of the 20th century, traditional structures of U.S. society have been profoundly destabilized. Americans experienced these instabilities or risks most acutely in the changing structures of their neighborhoods, workplaces, and families. To alleviate their anxieties, Americans turned to an expanding and welcoming market of self-help literature, time-saving and self-empowering consumer goods, and life coaches.

An array of TV chefs, shopping experts, style gurus, and therapists promise time-poor and anxious Americans quicker meals, better sales, no-fail style tips, relationship strategies, career advice, more efficient workouts, and so on. Such lifestyle expertise gives us a sense of control (a feeling backed by the surety of science) in a changing post-traditional world. It also resonates with and reifies key principles of neoliberalism including self-responsibility and self-management that are now commonsense ethics in a post-welfare society. What were once concerns of the state and the rights to which citizens were entitled (jobs and health care, say) are now responsibilities of individuals who are tasked with making good choices among a wide range of products and services. Tanking economy? Shop for America! Feeling sick and under- or uninsured? Web MD! Un- or underemployed? Don’t just be a blogger! Diversify your skills by also being a photographer, a stylist, a social media expert, and a dogwalker!

Against the backdrop of this risk society, fashion’s new technologies (the Stylizer as well as mobile device apps, vlogs, blogs, and 3D imaging body and garment simulation technologies) emerge as “happy objects” – objects as Sara Ahmed has written, that are culturally and socially endowed with the capacity for happiness-making.  As happy objects, fashion’s new and “democratized” technologies (because, ostensibly, everyone has access to the Stylizer quiz) promise the ultimate kind of happiness in a risk society: risk free choice-making in one of the most important areas of our lives, our self-presentation.

Fashion, we are repeatedly reminded in the deluge of makeover TV shows, fashion magazines, blogs, and even our colleagues, is an external expression of an internal character. Unkempt look = low self-esteem and bad lifestyle choices. Polished appearance =  strong self-esteem and good lifestyle choices.  Evidence of good choices mark individuals as good workers, good citizens, good parents, etc. Thus the scientization of style that fashion’s latest technologies promise are nothing short of, to borrow the title of Ahmed’s book, a promise of happiness. And who doesn’t want that?



LINKAGE: E-Commerce

I found this nifty and useful infographic on Zippy Cart depicting the history of e-commerce. Meanwhile, I’m working on a paper that traces the history and terrain of fashion e-tail, specifically.
More on that later.

The History of E-commerce in a Nutshell

(Credit: Amy at Zippy Cart)

The history of e-commerce is filled with many ups and downs, with dot-com bubbles, dot-com busts, a variety of sales models, and more.  Understanding what has led the e-commerce industry to its current state can help merchants better prepare for the changes ahead, as e-commerce evolves into mobile commerce, social commerce, and so much more.  Above, you will see a detailed visualization of how e-commerce has evolved and shaped the way we do business online.  The data is also detailed below for those who wish to read all of the information rather than view it above.

  • 1979 – Michale Aldrich invents online shopping: Aldrich was a British inventor who created a number of things including the Teleputer, which was a computer-based entertainment center. In 1979 he developed a predecessor of online shopping to enable online transaction processing for B2C and B2B needs.
  • 1981 – Thomson Holidays submitted the first ever B2B electronic transaction using online technology.  Thomson Holidays was a UK based travel operator that used online technology to help users book travel and pay.
  • 1982 – France Telecom invents Minitel – Considered the world’s most successful pre-World Wide Web online services.  Users could make online purchases, train reservations, and more through the Videotex online service, accessible through telephone lines.
  • 1984 – Jane Snowball, age 72, was the first ever online home shopper.  She used the Gateshead SIS/Tesco System to buy online.
  • 1987 – The first electronic merchant account was created by Swreg.  It was created so that software developers could sell their solutions online.
  • 1990 – Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first web browser using a NeXT computer, thus creating the World Wide Web.
  • 1991 – The National Science Foundation (NSF) lifted restrictions on the commercial use of the NET, which cleared the way for e-commerce.
  • 1992 – J.H. Snider and Terra Siporyn published Future Shop: How New Technologies Will Change the Way We Shop and What We Buy.  This book was an amazing predictor of the future of e-commerce.
  • 1994 – This was a big year of firsts for e-commerce.  Netscape Navigator released their browser, SSL encryption became a reality (ensuring secure online sales), Pizza Hut had the first recorded Internet sale (a peperoni & mushroom pizza with extra cheese), the 1st online bank opened, the first e-commerce solutions are built for merchants to sell online, and the first ever email spam occurred (known as the Green Card Spam)
  • 1995 – The dot-com bubble began with the IPO of Netscape.  Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos sat in a garage in Bellevue, WA to start  South of Bezos in California, eBay began as “AuctionWeb.”  Craigslist launched and VeriSign launched as a way to verify merchants online.
  • 1997 – became the first company to make $1,000,000 in online sales
  • 1998 – The US Postal Service entered the e-commerce space by selling stamps electronically through e-stamp.  At the same time, two Stanford students began their plans for world domination by launching Google.
  • 1999 – The US Supreme Court ruled that domain names are property.
  • 2000 – The dot-com bust
  • 2002 – Ebay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion.  Meanwhile, niche retail start ups CSN stores and NetShops created the concept of selling products through several target domains rather than a central portal.
  • 2003 – Facebook began as a college website called Facemash, which let students rate whether or not other students on campus were good looking.  At the same time, Amazon posted its first ever profitable year.  Finally, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 changed email marketing forever by ruling that marketers “can spam” as long as they follow certain standards.
  • 2006 – Google bought YouTube.  In the same year, sold for $14,000,000 which was the highest recorded sales price for a domain name.  Finally, iTunes became the largest digital music retailer with over 1 billion downloads.
  • 2007 – US Broadband users reached 200 million, which aided in e-commerce success for small and large companies.  Google Adwords surpassed $21 billion in revenue.
  • 2009 – Yahoo and Bing teamed up to better compete with Google.  While the full merger is still taking place, soon Yahoo will adopt the Bing algorithm, making search results almost the same across the two search engines.  Near the end of 2009, Facebook made headway in traffic by becoming the site with more traffic than Google.
  • 2010 – 2010 is expected to reach $173 billion in e-commerce sales, an increase of 7 percent over 2009.  This is due to an improvement in the economy mixed with new e-commerce trends like mobile commerce, social commerce, group buying, and private sample sale sites.

The future of e-commerce remains to be seen, but it is clear that the industry will continue to grow and opportunities are there for the taking.


Filed under FASHION 2.0

F Bombs

Wonder Woman is a feminist fashion icon if there ever was one: the bustier, the hot pants (or is this a romper?), and of course her best accessory, her Golden Lasso of Truth.

“Is fashion feminist?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear when someone finds out that I write about fashion.  And I have to admit that I find the question tedious – not because it’s not important but because it’s the wrong question. It may be why we’ve never directly answered this question – though all our posts are informed by a critical feminist perspective.  A better question to ask is: How is fashion an instrument of gender oppression and how is it a means to feminist liberation? I’ve compiled a short list of mostly popular, mostly online texts that address this question – some, more successfully than others. It should go without saying – but in case it doesn’t – this is hardly an exhaustive list of texts. Note, for example, that I haven’t included any full book-length studies on the topic and only a few scholarly texts. It’s meant to be a quick reference list, a pocket-sized digital guide to beginning a conversation about this topic.


And finally, here are a few posts we’ve written on the subject of fashion and feminism in relation to, among other things, queerness, popular culture discourse,  and academia:

Feel free to add on to this list in the comments!



Small Janelle (For Minh-Ha)

A very young black girl dressed up as Janelle Monae for Halloween.

(via The Incoherent Mumblings of a Mexican Genderqueer)

I wish this little girl had come to trick-or-treat at my door. I would have given her all my candy.