Incorporating Machines and Your Mom

If there’s one thing that captures vintage sellers on Instagram and Etsy, it’s wicker and especially these wicker peacock chairs. They really capture the boho vibe of the 1970s. The rise of the Silver Lake Shaman contributes to this hippie vintage aesthetic. I see them quite often now that I am selling vintage clothing through both social platforms, Etsy and Instagram. The chairs go for quite a bit, but can be found around thrift stores for a few dollars. I was pretty shocked to see them featured so predominately in the Celine Resort 2020 campaign. Once I looked at the collection, I realized that the Parisian luxury fashion house was going for the same aesthetic as the Insta/Etsy accounts I scroll through daily. In fact, I texted my partner, Tracy, and said–I think Celine is copying us! She declared, “we are obviously new Celine!”

In my fashion and digital media class we spend time discussing the ways the fashion industry works. One of the ideas we consider is whether fashion moves from the bottom up or the top down. Meaning, who drives fashion? Who sets the trends? There are different schools of thought, of course, and here I’ll consider the idea that fashion is driven from the bottom up, which basically means it comes from those with less social power than, say, Anna Wintour.

John Fiske argues that it’s the subordinate classes or populations that create pop culture, that only those with less social power “make do with what is available” and in the process create and contest culturally meaning. Because those with less social power do not have the capital to “produce” things (ie, they do not own the means of production), they have to “make do” with what’s been produced by the elite (the capitalists). Hip hop/rap music stands as the paradigmatic example of this: in the 19070/80s NYC, African Americans made new music out of what was available–records and turntables. This is called “excorporation” or using whatever is around to make new things, meanings, and symbols. Incorporation refers to the counter process, when the elite (the capitalists) try to reproduce and produce what’s been made by the subordinate. When everyone started ripping their jeans in the 1980s, designer labels soon after started selling jeans pre-ripped (Fiske). This argument and process stands in opposition to Simmel’s thesis that the elite use fashion (in the broadest sense) to separate themselves from the lower classes, who are only trying to mimic the elite. Both thinkers can be correct, it’s relatively easy to see both processes happening at once.

A look at the exploding vintage, thrift, second hand, consignment, and re-sale market offers a unique case to see both excorporation and incorporation in action. Digital media increases the pace of the back and forth, too. Here, we can see incorporation in action by way of the higher end designers–Gucci, Celine taking up the trends made by those outside of fashion, specifically: moms (and grandmas)! In fact, this image from Celine Resort 2020 incorporates that wicker, boho, found-at-Goodwill-Etsy-aesthetic:

A quick look at Gucci and Celine latest lines showcase a reliance on vintage looks, preppy, grandma chic styles. A longer look highlights how these fashion lines are recreating vintage and thrift looks, looks that are found from the throngs of online fashion bloggers, instagram accounts, and the hordes of women flipping a goodwill find for a significant markup. In fact, Cathy Horyn recently wrote that Celine offers an example of luxury fashion moving away from “the ‘esoteric’ and difficult fashion” because “we live in a world with less patience” and that is due in part to social media. The high end, the elite don’t have the grip on fashion in a social media world, it moves too fast and different looks, from different corners of the world rise to the surface. Let’s start first with excorporation, with the thrifters, the moms, the millennials creating online stores on platforms such as Etsy, Depop, and The Real Real.

Excorporation

In the Spring of 2018, my friend and I set up an online Etsy store specializing in vintage clothing. We’ve always followed fashion and we kept seeing women from various walks of life (more on this…) setting up ecommerce sites of their own, modeling their vintage finds, and possibly earning some cash. This felt like a fun and do-able way to participate in the fashion world, shop, hang out together, earn some money and, as one of our favorite online vintage/thrift influencer says “always play dress up” (@bjones). Essentially, we could go to the thrift store and “make do” with what was available there–put looks together, create a ‘collection’, and play around with styling. As two midlife moms, with two careers and graduate degrees, how hard could this be? It seemed like nothing but fun. It is of course, but the workload significant, and something for another post!

Taking a birds eye view, fashion is coming from people like us, moms all over the country, setting up a vintage/thrift account to “play dress up” too. Is this making a dent in the fashion system? Looking at recent runway shows, maybe it is. Celine’s 2020 spring offers one example of affirmation.

The Celine 2020 collection is described by Vogue as “circa 1974, when Celine was a destination store for the discreet French bourgeoisie” (https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2020-ready-to-wear/celine). The collection captures the move out of hippie, flowerchild into disco with hints of what’s to come in the 1980s. Aviators, patchwork denim skirts, embroidered denim culottes, and sheer vaguely peasant style dresses nod to the time after the summer of love. Slim fitting suits and blazers with narrow collared blouses look like Bianca Jagger. And the flowy dresses with collars are 70s working girl. It’s a snapshot of a few distinct moments that end up working seamlessly together. It has an Americana Ralph Lauren vibe and also a sexy Tom Ford 1990s Gucci feel too. All of this is to say, check your Etsy feed because these items and looks have been thriving there for at least the past 5 years.

Gucci has been blowing up Instagram and global markets thanks to Alessandro Michele reign. He takes a maximalist approach and layers everything from jewelry to socks, head to toe. Gucci often looks like a a Florida grandma. I’m not as up on Gucci but safe to say it’s making beautiful future vintage. Vogue describes him and the Spring 2020 show

He’s made maximalists of former minimalists and turned the world on to vintage of all eras, cacophonic color and print, logos, glitter, and gender fluidity most of all.

Both Celine and Gucci’s nod to, and reliance on vintage are examples of incorporation, of the elite/capitalist class copying, what the pleebs are doing. Excorporation and incorporation do not necessarily have to be conscious, and social media blurs the lines between subordinate classes and the elite beyond recognition. Nonetheless, instagram is a platform to sell yourself, whoever and whatever you are, so it is fertile ground to see how and with what the people are ‘making do.’

The use of social media itself challenges the excorporation/incorporation dichotomy. In fact, if we consider social media platforms and the devices we use to access them as the ‘thing’ made by the elite/capitalists, then it seems as if they’ve finally made a commodity that automatically incorporates any and all excorporation. Instagram, as an example, is an empty commodity, meaning it requires users to upload their content and make social connections themselves. From there, Instagram makes lots of things: money from advertising, algorithms to capture data and keep users engaged, even unintended affordances are useful to instagram. However and whatever we make and/or do, if uploaded to a social media platform, is automatically incorporated. Where is the outside, what can the subordinate do with these types of commodities? How can we change their meaning, use them to resist when the commodities themselves are incorporating machines?

All this is to say, the lines are blurred and we need new ways to see and think about fashion, popular culture and making do. The mom moment in fashion has been brewing for quite some time as seen through designers who are not considered high end, but are thriving nonetheless. Rachel Comey, a mom, designs for all types of women who make, do, and care. In fact, much of the so-called “it” girl, downtown scene is made by middle aged women, often moms, who are designing for style, comfort, and distinction. These lines rely on word of mouth, instagram influencers (micro ones at least), and certain celebrities to advertise.

The higher end lines need to keep their global empires growing, expanding, and staying relevant in a market with moms, teens, and everyone else. In the case of Celine and Gucci, they are really looking to vintage to stand out. Vintage, as of now, remains something in fashion that by its nature–it’s out of circulation and was most likely not mass produced for global populations–remains somewhat democratic and up for grabs. Anyone who can get to a thrift store could potentially score an item that is more Gucci than anything being mass produced by Gucci. Vintage, by nature of its scarcity, therefore resists incorporation. Celine is clearly trying to incorporate the “look” of vintage by pulling together a collection that draws from the best of the decades. But even this new Celine can’t fully incorporate the look. Vintage Levi’s will always be cooler than any new, mass produced denim. If we want to think about excorporation, the most radical place to look may be what the middle aged moms are up to on instagram. Celine certainly is.

More writings, since publishing this!, on the vintage influence:

Cathy Horyn here.

Another, similar take, on Celine here.


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