The End of Fashion
Culture is now officially over.
At least, that’s the premise of a new think piece by Kurt Andersen in next month’s Vanity Fair, which claims our culture stopped producing new ideas sometime around 1991.
He’s got a point, especially on the men’s style front. Swap photos of low-key men on the street circa 2011 and 1991, and it might be hard to tell which was which. You could hardly say the same for 1971, or 1951. Even the cutting-edge style pics, like the above one from Wale Oyejide, are hardly distinctive. Give or take the banker’s collar and he could be walking out of a law firm on any day in the last 30 years.
It all points to a pretty sobering conclusion: fashion is over. We hope you like those longwings, because they’re going to be with you for a very long time...
The haze of nostalgia, built up by all those Impossibly Cool vintage photos, doesn’t help. Today’s icons aren’t Clooney and Pitt—they’re Newman and McQueen, Cooper and Agnelli. The names haven’t changed much in the past five years, and there’s no reason to think they’ll be any different come 2016.
Spurred on by classic style, we’ve seen a mass of guys grow obsessed with Milan or American style circa 1952, but that’s of a piece with Andersen’s argument, too. He says it like this:
It gets still stranger, because even as we’ve fallen into this period of stylistic paralysis and can’t get up, more people than ever before are devoting more of their time and energy to considering and managing matters of personal style...
Part of the explanation, as I’ve said, is that, in this thrilling but disconcerting time of technological and other disruptions, people are comforted by a world that at least still looks the way it did in the past. But the other part of the explanation is economic: like any lucrative capitalist sector, our massively scaled-up new style industry naturally seeks stability and predictability.
The last bit is referring to permanently just-cool-enough brands like Ikea or Target, but it applies pretty well to a certain crop of men’s style brands. If you’re in the business of making raw denim jeans or motorcycle jackets, you can sell the same models for years on end. People will come back for predictability—and they won’t feel like they’re going because a magazine told them to.
In other words, style is getting more personal and more tribal. If it’s hard to name the style of the day, it’s because there are too many to count.
As G. Bruce Boyer once said, “Fashion is the business of selling clothes” (emphasis on “business”), which explains why it’s in this spot. Unless you’re in the industry, there’s not much reason to care about it these days—especially when you can be swapping bespoke shots with the StyleForum trads, or vintage GMTs with the gearhead crowd. Even for people who love clothes, trends are an increasingly small part of the game, and not a terribly appealing one.
Which leads to an even more sobering question: now that fashion’s gone, does anyone miss it?