Tag Archives: style blog

LINKAGE: Hidden Costs of Fashion Blogging

This is the work of Barbara Kruger, the American conceptual artist.

IFB recently republished a post titled, “Finance & the Fashion Blogger: Ignore-ance” that dovetails nicely with the amazing discussions about labor, new media, and capitalism that are happening in the comments sections of Threadbared. (See here and here. If you haven’t joined the conversation, it’s not too late!) In “Finance & the Fashion Blogger,” the blogger considers the personal financial cost of fashion blogging:

I think the rise of the fashion blogger has led to the rise of other things–increased need for consumption, a competitiveness to buy more and keep up with other bloggers. I remember reading about shopping addictions in magazines when I was younger, but I question if that’s on the rise too, with instant access to dozens of sale emails and posts popping up before our eyes every second.

What really struck me was a quote she gives by another blogger, Birdie (of Bonne Vie): “The act of buying is so integral to writing that sometimes I wonder how bloggers keep it up.”

Is capitalist consumption integral to creative production? Is the creative process inextricably bound up in capitalism? Is this new media only a technology for enlisting gender normative capitalist conduct from women bloggers, naturalizing further the myth that “women are born to shop”? I’m not so sure which is why I’ve been pushing myself (as well as asking readers) to imagine the value of digital content and digital labor outside of capitalism.

This isn’t easy. It’s especially daunting for fashion bloggers who are, by definition, engaging (albeit in very different ways) with the procedures and logics of consumerism, accumulation, and possessive individualism. Of course fashion consumption isn’t necessarily a constitutive element of fashion blogs. Maintaining Threadbared doesn’t require that Mimi and I replenish our closets because style posts aren’t a central feature of this blog. (When we shop, we do so for the sheer joy of it!) Strictly speaking, though, Threadbared isn’t a “fashion blog” – it’s a research blog about the politics, economies, and cultures of fashion, style, and beauty. Still, many other more traditional fashion bloggers don’t shop for their blogs either. I’m thinking of bloggers like Amy Odell of the The Cut or Cathy Horyn of the New York Times.

Sheena Matheiken isn’t a blogger, as such, but you can see in the video that she’s insanely adept at putting together outfit posts for The Uniform Project. Just so we’re clear, Matheiken produces these amazing daily outfit posts without shopping for new clothes. In fact, she wears the same dress (taken to dizzying heights of creativity and difference) 365 days per year! I especially love her “pants posts” which magically transforms her dress into a tunic or a jacket and doesn’t at all give that dress-over-pants look that I grew tired of almost immediately as it became popular (8 years or so ago). [I feel that I have to qualify that statement: the dress over pants look is entirely acceptable if one is wearing an ao dai (but technically, that’s a long shirt over pants) and if one is not doing so as costume.] But I digress . . .

[Vimeo 11113046]

If you don’t already know about this amazing project, definitely check out the link as well as this mini-interview with Matheiken. Oh, and if The Uniform Project sounds familiar to you, it may be that you read Mimi’s incisive post about the project and the way it puts into productive tension the desire for  individualization and imperatives of standardization. Now that The Uniform Project is embarking on Year Two, it’s a good time to revisit Mimi’s post!

Here’s how Matheiken describes the project:

Starting May 2009, I have pledged to wear one dress for one year as an exercise in sustainable fashion. Here’s how it works: There are 7 identical dresses, one for each day of the week. Every day I will reinvent the dress with layers, accessories and all kinds of accouterments, the majority of which will be vintage, hand-made, or hand-me-down goodies. Think of it as wearing a daily uniform with enough creative license to make it look like I just crawled out of the Marquis de Sade’s boudoir.

The Uniform Project is also a year-long fundraiser for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that is revolutionizing education in India. At the end of the year, all contributions will go toward Akanksha’s School Project to fund uniforms and other educational expenses for children living in Indian slums.

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Conferencing Fashion Blogs

This has been making the rounds of late, and it seems like a good moment to revisit Minh-Ha’s three-part series on the phenomenon of the fashion blog (which begins with this introduction). Presented at the PREMIUM Exhibitions panel on fashion blogs, the video features Suzy Menkes, Yvan Rodic (Facehunter), Jennie Tamm (The Coveted) and Julia Knolle and Jessi Weiss (LesMads) each providing their own perspectives on the rising influence of the fashion blogosphere.

Fashion Week in New York City is going to be puh-acked with events aimed at cultivating new contacts and nurturing existing collaborations between fashion bloggers and captains of industry. The Chictopia 10 Social Influence Summit suggests something of these efforts to woo the on-line set: “The Chictopia 10 Social Influence Summit is where global online taste makers meet executives from premium brands. This half day conference and cocktail party will feature CEO presentations and high level discussions on what forces are most influential in online brand image.”

Is everyone either looking for, or hoping to become, the next Fashion Toast or Sea of Shoes with their design collaborations with corporate sponsors, or the next designers’ muse, like Bryan Boy and Style Rookie? What should we make of the increasingly intimate and immediate address between consumer and corporation? I cannot wait to hear from Minh-Ha what she thinks. Meanwhile, Independent Fashion Bloggers is hosting its own fashion blogger conference, called “Evolving Influence.”

_______________________

I am saddened by the news that radical historian Howard Zinn (1922-2010) has passed away. A People’s History of the United States (1980) should be required reading for all high school students, and I take to heart his words on being a teacher: “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.” He will be missed terribly.

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Handbagging (from lipstickeater)

The daily routines that are inhabited easily by some bodies (choosing clothes, shoes, lip color) are for others acts of political and ideological significance, an archive of complicated feelings. Pulling on a pair of jeans or seamed stockings meant for another body, or that once belonged to someone else, might generate an emotional dissonance, or a sense of something out-of-joint or finally put-in-place, or an awareness of danger, or the thrill of forbidden pleasure, or the controlling embrace of that which offers comfort but at an unpredictable price, or new knowledge about the self, about one’s own flesh.

It is to these possibilities that the Lipstick Eater is addressed, also known as Joony Schecter (after the gloriously troublesome Jenny Schecter on The L Word), also known as Joon Oluchi Lee, an assistant professor of gender studies and English at the Rhode Island School of Design, self-described as “a Korea-born, Midwest-bred, Virginia-groomed, Bay Area-harvested faggotron who is above all a black feminist.”

On Lipstick Eater, Lee chronicles with care the magpie process of creating for himself a femme faggotry, often drawing from iconic figurations of femininity to spin out another, inevitably more complicated story about how to be, and feel, a girl. Lee ultimately describes the norms but also alternate forms of human intelligibility made possible through the instrumentalization of “boyfriend jeans,” a pair of Bettie Page heels, or ripped tights.

The following excerpt from a longer post on handbagging is particularly brilliant, theorizing the complications of seeming submission to the handbag’s alterations to the body’s movement.

Quite recently, I came to the really obvious realization that I’ve been handbagging it.I was standing in a Muni train, just moderately crowded enough to cozily find a leanspace that allowed me to pull out my book (Mary Gaitskill’s beautiful new anthology, Don’t Cry) and read during my ride. But getting out of the train, I was so rushed at by pre-commuters that I didn’t have a chance to put the book back. Instead, I had to awkwardly maneuver the just-closed book from my hands to one hand, then clasp one edge while pulling the pink block of papered stories to my left breast. As I stepped off the train, a sense memory: a flush of babyfaggot femininity.

There were a couple of reasons why I had this flush of faggoty feminine youth, the central one being that in those few clumsy seconds, I was carrying a handbag. Ah, the catcall of the teenage homophobe: “Nice handbag, faggot!” And please, let’s be clear about this: I was not carrying a man-purse or whatever. This was a straight-up lady handbag, and a roomy one that made me feel like a luxe grunger: a red plaid flannel tote from 3.1 Phillip Lim’s second fall collection. Here’s what defines a true handbag, which also produces its awkward bodily syntax: the handles look broad enough to sling over the shoulder, but is actually just narrow enough to prevent it, therefore forcing the gal to wear it on hanging from her fist or the crook of her arm. The over-the-shoulder model of the handbag is actually an innovation in androgyny, borrowing from the technology of army knapsacks. A true handbag, like most traditional accoutrements of world femininity, hobbles the woman wearer. Holding a bag’s straps in her hand, or immobilizing her arm in a right angle to provide branch for the bag, robs the handbagger of the use of one arm.

Of course, we have been taught that such a robbing is a handicap, when I prefer to think of it as a disability. That is: not being able to use one arm is a profound loss if you understand “ability” as defined by a sparkly healthy body. But the tenets of physical health are often tied to masculine notions of physical boorishness. The logic of which is something like, suppose a bully came after you: how are you supposed to properly defend yourself if one arm is locked in the deadly (but delicious) embrace of a designer handbag?

My answer: well, the handbag doesn’t rob you of the use of your legs, does it? Of course, running away is so un-manly, I guess. Which goes along pretty well with how the mechanics of transporting goods has been gendered: if it allows you free use of your arms, you are pretty able-bodied and more aligned with men. But running away is not the only recourse available to a poor defenseless handbagger. There is a great moment in Jennie Livingston’s film Paris is Burning in which an attitudinous emcee at a drag ball comments on the evening ensemble of a ball walker: “Everybody knows that an evening bag is a must. No lady is safe at night.” In this pretty natural conclusion, the handbag becomes a weapon—that old adage about carrying a brick in your handbag is no joke. The item that hobbles you into femininity is that which can re-arm you. In this way, I think of the handbag as a pretty rad piece of low-fi technology: it physically handicaps you, but simultaneously gives you the prosthetic by which you can transform that handicap into an empowering identity of “the disabled.” The handbag is the ultimate feminine prosthetic.

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Mind over Malls or, Does Academia Hate Fashion?

Once upon a time (in 1997), feminist literary critic and Princeton English Professor Elaine Showalter wrote an article for Vogue magazine disclosing “[her] love of shopping malls, lipstick colours, literary makeovers, and fashion catalogues.” The magazine editors gave it the cleverly alliterative title, “The Professor Wore Prada.” For this admission, Showalter was pilloried by grad students and colleagues alike on the Modern Language Association’s electronic discussion list. They contemptuously remarked that surely, she must have “‘better things to do’ than to write for these magazines”– all while insisting “that they had better things to do than read them, and would not have even read [her] article except in the line of feminist theoretical duty.” Ten years later, in a New York Times article about why people love to hate fashion, Showalter seemed to be alluding to the previous mind-over-malls dust-up when she tells fashion journalist Guy Trebay, “Particularly in academia, where bodies are just carts for hauling around brains, the thrill and social play and complex masquerade of fashion is ‘very much denigrated.'”

Does academia still hate fashion?

Today, there are national and international academic journals, monographs, essay collections, academic courses, and conferences devoted to the critical interrogation of diverse spheres and articles of fashion, their cultural and social politics, their histories, the psychology of fashion and adornment, as well as their many entangled circuits of consumption, exchange, and production. Along with these institutionalized sites of fashion and consumerism scholarship, there is an informal and smaller sphere of fashion discourse happening in style blogs by, for, and about academics. “Geek chic” style blogs comprise a tiny subset of a massive field of online fashion reportage that began around 2001 with Look Online’s Daily Fashion Report and She She Me (both remain active blogs).

Do a Google search for “fashion blog” (as I just did) and you’ll get 2.8 million hits; try “style blog” and the number is more modest–a mere 847,000 hits. Google “academic fashion blog” and you’ll get 3 hits.* In fact, there are many more than three academic fashion/style blogs. Among some of the blogs I recently discovered are Academic Chic (a how-to style blog with a range of style occasion topics including Research Casual, Lab Friendly, and Night without Grading); Fashion for Nerds (a personal style blog created by “a biologist and fashion lover”); The Glamorous Grad Student (a how-to blog on “balanc[ing] a grad school stipend with a desire for magic in my life and wardrobe”); and Clothed Much (another personal style blog by a self-identified LDS and “poor married college student”). And while threadbared is primarily a research blog (by “two clotheshorse academics who write and teach the politics of fashion and beauty”), every once in a blog post there are theory-free (but not thought-free!) style posts about our outright, barefaced, swoony love for, say, open-toe ankle wedge booties and red ’80s knee-high Wonder Woman boots.

And yet despite the breadth of fashion scholarship and the emergence of academic fashion and style blogs, I’m not so sure that academia has reformed its surly attitude towards the sartorial arts. The very serious discussions happening in fashion scholarship generally do not include the author’s love for fashion. Showalter’s mistake was that she admitted to loving fashion and lipstick not as objects of critique, but as objects of consumption. On the other hand, academic fashion and style bloggers explain that their interest in fashion and personal style do not get in the way of their academic pursuits. The Academic Chic bloggers affirm “this won’t be our dissertation.” Likewise, I’ve been guilty of feeling guilty about the few style posts that pop up on threadbared. Surely, these fun diversions take us away from the mini-essays and annotated lists of relevant links, books, films, and theories I think threadbared should be about.

That fashion scholarship and fashion/style blogging seem to be mostly circling each other rather than interfacing is not so much the failure of academics as it is the evidence of the persistence of the beauty/brains division in academia in particular and society at large. It is this tired Cartesian divorce of mind from body that produces “the academic uniform” which, as Showalter explains, “basically is intended to make you look like you’re not paying attention to fashion, and not vain, and not interested in it, God forbid.” For women academics, especially, the uniform is at once more confining and more roomy. Consider the fashion advice the Chronicle of Higher Education’s columnist Ms. Mentor offers to junior scholars: “In academe, jackets and loose-fitting clothes convey authority, tight-fitting duds do not.” Ms. Mentor’s Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia (U of Pennsylvania Press, 1997) has this recommendation for junior female scholars attending a conference:

Presentation of self is vital in academia, and it is still possible to dress for success—or for failure. [She then cites Susan Faludi’s meditation on the “dress for success” ideology before continuing.] The best clothes for a professional woman to wear to a big-time academic conference are dresses or skirts that no one will notice or remember: not too tight, not too short, not too colorful. Ms. Mentor sympathizes with a not-uncommon urge to be acutely fashionable or flamboyant, but she advises young women in particular to resist that urge. It is difficult for many academic men, who do the hiring and judging, to take young women seriously. It is impossible if the young women are not dressed in a mature, even slightly frumpy manner.

Such decidedly Reagan-Bush I era advice assumes first, that “junior” scholar means “young” scholar; second, that all female-born or -identifying scholars are feminine-presenting; and third, that authority is a masculine quality that women might acquire if they present themselves as “frumpy” (the sartorial code for conveying one’s disinterest in adornment).** If you doubt the gendered and sexist configuration of Cartesian dualism, consider the unfortunate joke about “putting Descartes before de whores.”

Before threadbared, Mimi and I enjoyed fashion and shopping (we’ve already written and will no doubt write more about the problems and possibilities of our favored modes of consumption). Since threadbared, there have been more real and virtual shopping trips, closet swapping, and private fashion shows. It was during our recent self-imposed writing boot camp that Mimi showed off to me the most glamorous diaphanous pale green vintage gown (a thrift store find that she’ll wear this Fall to opening night at the Opera of Chicago with her girlfriend, who will cut an equally dashing figure in her black tuxedo). But my very favorite academic fashion memory is still the shopping excursion of Summer 2008—which began as a hugely productive meeting with surely the most well-dressed academic book editor in the business and ended with us rambling through the shops in Soho talking about (and trying on) clothes and book projects. The blog and the joint (and future) book projects are fed by our love for fashion, shopping, and self-adornment — and vice-versa.

Academics who blog about fashion and style can help lead a Social Media Revolution in fashion reportage as well as in academia by making cultural discourse a public, quotidian, and near-instantaneous activity. Rather than online lectures about fashion and style, academic fashion/style blogs are “social listening” tools (I love that term!) that collect and publicize an array of ideas about one of the most influential arms of the global culture industry, that help to transform the archaic ideas we have about “legitimate” modes of publishing and scholarly publications that “count” for tenure and promotions, and in so doing, help to reconceptualize pleasure as an active and productive element of one’s labor rather than a retreat from it. As Walter Benjamin writes, the decay of the aura of traditional (handmade) art brought on by the technologies of mechanical reproduction is not such a bad thing: “What is lost in the withering of semblance [Schein], or decay of the aura, in works of art is matched by a huge gain in room-for-play [Spiel-Raum].”

* One of these hits is for a Scotland-based blog called Oranges and Apples in which the blogger cites threadbared as her “favourite academic fashion blog”!

** In the updated 2008 edition of the book, Ms. Mentor’s previous position about sartorial academic respectability is noticeably more mellow though she still advocates “geeky glasses and frumpy clothes to appear older and more serious.”

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Footpath Zeitgeist on Street Style

In considering further the discourses and practices of style blogs, mull over this archival nugget (from 2007!) from Footpath Zeitgeist, whose ruthlessly smart fashion commentary is often aimed squarely at the cosmopolitan circulation of the hipster-as-avant-garde figure.

But in many other ‘street style’ publications, the two ideas of hipsterism and lived fashion collapse together so that what we see covered in street style photography is a documentation of hipster culture…. We see only the most outlandish outfits; the ones that are strikingly different from ‘ordinary’ people’s clothes and are deliberately put together to attract attention. They are meant to serve as ‘inspiration’ for us ordinary people, as well as to designers and marketers who adapt these looks for profit. We can also see that in turn, this creates a culture of exhibitionism in which people actively solicit the photographer’s attention and then look for themselves in online galleries.

So there’s a triple audience: subcultural tourists getting a frisson from observing a scene in which they themselves don’t participate; insiders of this scene hoping to see themselves documented; and outsiders hoping to make money from those in the scene. There is even a fourth audience of outsiders who visit to ridicule the photographs: a rich vein of comedy mined by Gawker’s Blue States Lose and Mess+Noise’s ShakeSomeCaptions.

In this same piece, Footpath next turns her attention to some specific style blogs and, in particular, the uncurious sensibility that informed the following comments by two bloggers in response to critics: “We are NOT social commentators and we do not owe anyone a fuckin explanation of where a certain trend started or what was going through someone’s head when they put their outfit on… to tell you the truth we don’t really give a shit. […] We didn’t start this blog with any intentions. All we wanted to do was document for ourselves all this crazy shit that people were wearing, and share it with people we knew.” In response, Footpath observes:

It depresses me that we are creating generations of designers and commentators who are unable to articulate why they like particular clothes, and who are unwilling to be curious about the sartorial behaviour of those outside their comfort zone…. It promotes a depressing stylistic conformity that is ironic because it appears so individual.

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Charting Style (Uniform vs. Detail, Con’t.)


Refinery 29 has created a brilliantly cheeky flow chart mapping the predominant “sartorial patterns” for those fashionable city-walkers who might hope to be photographed by The Sartorialist’s Scott Schuman. (Click through to see the full chart.) It’s spot-on, not just in its gently teasing dissection of Schuman’s parameters for choosing stylish subjects, but also in its documentation of just those tensions I discuss here between individualization and standardization in the “daily outfit” photograph, which could be replicated I imagine for any given style blog. (The familiar critiques about the narrow strictures for the right “look” that will earn you sartorial love on lookbook.nu, for instance, could easily lend themselves to this exercise.) The chart both names the “uniform” that qualifies a person for a Sartorialist photograph (with all the implicit gender and sexual norms), but also the distinctive “detail” that stands in as a signifier for what we recognize as “a unique personal touch” — the “quirky hat,” the scarf, the “pop of color.”

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Uniform Vs. Detail

Rob Walker’s “Consumed” column in the New York Times Magazine addresses the latest experiment in sustainable fashion, Sheena Matheiken’s Uniform Project, in which she wears the same custom-made black dress (she has seven for laundering purposes) every day for a year, and models just how creatively she can accessorize this single item. Sheena herself is inspired by her own history in uniform as a schoolgirl:

I was raised and schooled in India where uniforms were a mandate in most public schools. Despite the imposed conformity, kids always found a way to bend the rules and flaunt a little personality. Boys rolled up their sleeves, wore over-sized swatches, and hiked up their pants to show off their high-tops. Girls obsessed over bangles, bindis and bad hairdos. Peaking through the sea of uniforms were the idiosyncrasies of teen style and individual flare. I now want to put the same rules to test again, only this time I’m trading in the catholic school fervor for an eBay addiction and relocating the school walls to this wonderful place called the internet.

As Walker notes, the Uniform Project is unique among other similar efforts to explore the concept of the daily uniform. Neither artist Alex Martin’s 2006 Little Brown Dress (her thoughtful notes on how she changed as she moved through the world in this one dress are here) nor sculptor and performance artist Andrea Zittel’s on-going A-Z Uniforms, which include variations on a self-designed garment worn for six months at a time, involved daily documentation for public view. I would add to his list the 2004 Gray Sweatsuit Revolution, which dared its adherents to wear a uniform of the generic grey sweatsuit in a half-humorous, semi-serious send-up of the rapid pace of the fashion cycle and its drive toward distinction.

Against these other experiments which often defined themselves as solitary contemplations “against fashion,” what is most noticeable about the Uniform Project is first, its interactive nature –readers to the daily blog often send Sheena their secondhand or handcrafted items (available on Etsy!) to wear– and second, the enormous treasure trove of accessories she’s already accumulated and photographed for this project, only on its third month (she began in May). The photographs of her daily outfits are sometimes so laden with eye-catching accessories that it takes a moment to discern the black dress –her blank canvas– beneath them. This leads Warner to conclude:

There’s an obvious tension here: what sounds at first like an exercise in neo-Puritan making-do in a time of austerity is in reality a celebration of the very thirst for inventive novelty that has defined consumer culture for years — or at least that has defined the many online fashion entities that have glommed onto the project. However you might characterize the Uniform Project, it’s definitely not antifashion. “If anything,” she says, “it’s quite the opposite.” Which is what makes it so much fun to follow along.

Style blogs focusing on the daily sartorial statements of their authors are odd creatures — creating heightened processes of deliberative self-presentation (taking and posing for good photographs is an art), sometimes purporting to instruct others in the ephemeral pursuit of style, often inviting commentary and, more rarely, critique. But the Uniform Project is fascinating inasmuch as it illuminates some of the distinct features of style blogging (especially the daily outfit photograph) as the most recent innovation on fashion’s seemingly only constant since its industrialization — that is, the ongoing tension between individualization and standardization.

(In an aside about the rise of some style blogs to the top of the heap, I think that my favorite intellectual fashion blogger –whose own obsession seems to be theorizing hipsterism and its aesthetics– Footpath Zeitgeist is onto something when she writes, “I guess for me the question right now is: ‘How do we make clothing our own?’ Too often, fashion writing answers that question through a logic I could call ‘stylism.’ Stylism is the belief that having a coherent and identifiable ‘personal style’ is the yardstick of chic…. [S]ome people are held up as possessors of an ineffable logic of creativity and bricolage that enables them to render old ideas new, either through recombination or by recontextualisation. The rest of us can learn to attain that logic ourselves through observation (especially in ‘street style’ discourse) and copying.”)

What’s most relevant here are the parameters of the most-praised photographs on the most trafficked blogs, which as an informal rule must detail where or how each item worn was bought or collected, and as an informal observation seem to include a mix of mass-produced items (Forever 21 or H&M), thrifted or vintage pieces, and in some cases, more high-end purchases. The production of a unique “style” deliberately treads on this tension between individualization and standardization, between Forever 21 layering tank tops and Chloe leather sandals and thrifted Palmetto acid-wash denim skirts, which in combination renders the wearer distinct in her styling of these items. (As someone whose closet is crammed overfull of thrifted garments –including more than one ’80s beaded-and-feathered sweater dresses– and a few pieces from a wide range of retailers, I want to note that I am hardly exempt from this magpie strategy.) The key to this bricolage, as Footpath notes, is in the detail that enables distinction. She cites Roland Barthes on the figure of the “dandy,” and the same quote is useful here:

The dandy is condemned to invent continually distinctive traits that are ever novel: sometimes he relies on wealth to distance himself from the poor, other times he wants his clothes to look worn out to distance himself from the rich – this is precisely the job of the “detail”, which is to allow the dandy to escape the masses and never to be engulfed by them; his singularity is absolute in essence, but limited in substance, as he must never fall into eccentricity, for that is an eminently copyable form.

But as Footpath notes, the detail is performed not for oneself but for an audience. She observes, “And it is in the (at least theoretical) infinity of singularity that dandies can identify each other. They are recognising each other’s thoughtful originality: the precision and subtlety of each other’s sartorial signatures. They are not identifying with the other’s stylistic similarities, but with the other’s stylistic differences.” While Footpath extends and modifies this line of thought to the phenomenon of boy hipsters to hilarious effect (comparing photographs of sullen boys in unkempt haircuts, low v-neck graphic t-shirts, and chain necklaces, taken at the same MisShapes party), and could be applied to any number of subcultural groups (I remember this attention to “sartorial signatures” when I was one of the punks), this is a useful way to begin to understand the exchange that occurs in the most popular style blogs, between the posted outfit and the comments that follow, that produce what can be understood as an informal, semi-exclusive community based on shared aesthetics and cultural capital. That is, such style blogs are exercises in self-presentation put together for the purposes of rendering transparent the not-intuitive process of becoming an expert in evaluating as well as cultivating an “individual style” under the watchful eye of hundreds, even thousands, of other stylish persons striving for the same. None of this is “bad,” of course. But for me, it does highlight the paradoxical coincidence of standardization and individualization, or the uniform and the detail, in any one outfit — a coincidence purposefully illuminated by the daily photographs on the Uniform Project.

The Uniform Project takes this exchange in another direction, in which the viewer can participate in Sheena’s quest for individuality in spite of the spirit of the uniform by sending her an accessory or item of clothing that she will recognize in response as a suitably singular detail, chosen by you as an also distinctive personality, and subsequently might wear on her daily blog for others to also admire as such. You can become a participant, as long as you are stylistically literate in her sartorial semiotics, which are specific to the magpie aesthetics and what Footpath might call a “calculated insouciance” circulating also on other style blogs. And if you are not now literate, you can become so. New technologies up the ante on numerous levels then, increasing the audience for one’s aesthetic individuality as well as the stakes for continuous self-reinvention and the sorts of exchanges that affirm, amend or even police the daily expression of a public self.

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