Aspirations



aspirational shopping is a great development for retailers and fashion houses. it's a guarantee to licensees that the $500 sunglasses will sell. it assures the credit card companies that the biased 2005 bankruptcy amendments will be put to good use. i haven't done research but i think it's an american invention. the US tossed the typical english class hierarchy out the window and essentially is a country built on the premise/promise that anyone can do or be anything (the wealth of inequality prevents this from being true, but the idea is firmly entrenched in immigrant hearts), and as capitalists, looking/living that desired identity is as good as being it, more so now than ever before.

but the very term "aspirational" suggests that ownership is not 9/10ths of the identity. there is an inherent classism going on in the vocabulary if owning X merely exposes that you aspire to be worthy of X, to be legitimately equal to your possessions (and if you are aspiring then presently you are not?). suddenly playing dress-up no longer sounds like the harmless, healthy game it once was. with fashion, if dressing is self-expression, is it deceptive/delusional to express your style/taste if that style/taste is generally associated/attributed to an income bracket well above your own? is it important to make sure that your interpretation of your personality/taste be rendered in fiscally responsible and honest fashions? and then, happily, leaving economics behind, what about dressing per your role/daily activities/position etc.? are we obligated to tailor our style to our labels?

do you dress for who you are or who you want to be? is it always clear?

8 comments:

martha said...

i was going to answer flippantly, of course i dress for myself, for who i am, but, hmmm, i'm going to have to think about this.

GenX Theorist said...

This is such an astute obervation...

I get really freaked out when I think someone is trying to sell me something based on aspirational psychology. The worst thing a retailer can say to me is, "Oh, Catherine Zeta Jones just ordered this!". (that happened at BCBG 4 years ago). I've never had much interest in the Hollywood Star Worship - and I grew up in SoCal (maybe that's why, actually). But I think the star reference is one of the most common retail tactics and it nauseates me.

Ok, well, after that I'm going to reference a TV character (Ms. all about contradictions here)....but anyway, I do think the character Carrie on Sex and the City was a great pop culture rep. of what you're talking about. She introduced Americans to the idea that someone can be "a struggling writer" and have this passion for fashion. Of course her fashion was related to being a New Yorker and all that. And it was interesting that many thought it was a very unrealistic portrayal. To me it was pretty accurate of people I've known. And I think it's exactly what you're asking about - does our fashion identity itself perhaps propel us into our aspirational world? If we keep at it long enough? And can it even become a point of idealism that we have to defend - aka the famous "silver manolo blahnik" SATC episode (my favorite of all time) where Carrie realizes her checks and balances in life (not forcing your friends to spend a zillion bucks on your bridal registry when you've done so for them) and is called upon to defend her fashion price tags.

Purely on a physical artistic level, I am pretty convinced that I dress for who I am now. Life is short, and I've always loved fashion, and I'm in my 30s which I think is the best time to start investing in personal style. The designers I love, from whom I only buy like, one piece a season, because that's what I can afford on my pittance lower-middle class working girl salary, speak to me on a level that is pretty detached from status symbol items. I've come to see my fashion thing as a hobby, much as my friends embrace restoring old cars or knitting and all the expenses entailed in those activites.

But I can see it the other way too. If this were not "the land of dreams and aspirations" perhaps I would relegate myself to the mindset that I see mostly around me - that clothing should be maybe 5% of my expenses instead of 30% - that I should gasp with sticker shock horror at the items pictured in Vogue (which I somehow have never been compelled to do). There is something about high fashion that seems anti-conformist. If it didn't exist how un beautiful the world would be. I suppose I've worked myself around to the beginning of the circle - because perhaps high end beauty is something I aspire to.

winternight said...

I've been thinking about this alot actually, especially because the CEO of Saks lately credited their recent sucess with "aspirational" shoppers. Sometimes I get a little disturbed when I see how much college girls are spending on purses, shoes, clothes, etc, or people who just don't make that much money spending a large percentage of their income on clothing - its consumable. Its a societal problem, easy credit, the idea that everything should come now, everyone should have some of the things movie stars do, $600 shoes become the 'norm' for a certain group even though that $600 might take a long time to earn. Part of my, if I'm honest, might be annoyed that I worked hard for years, went to law school, and now I see people who haven't put in the time and don't have the income have things I want because I make different financial choices.

Then again I have to spend some money because - as they say - dress as the job you want - not the job you have.

editor said...

winternight - most definitely aspirations appear to be driving retail business strong and steady (and the very term alone implies there will be chapter 13 fees to pay). companies are exploiting it, realizing that beyond quality and brand loyalty, customers will pay for "the stuff dreams are made of" (name that movie!).
but then it's interesting to pay attention to when we ourselves are falling for that.

genx theorist - i grew up in your neck of the woods, and am similarly unimpressed with the plasticity of the role models we're presented. similarly the idea of association would have the opposite of the desired effect. i like very much the way you shop, by the way. i was taught, buy the best you can afford, because it's well worth your money in the long run (not to buy a load of the stuff mind you, lol, but when given a choice, if you can swing it, get the best you can). it was just a value i was taught, along with don't steal, lie, swear, etc. lol, anyway i do still try to buy the best. ;)
as for dressing with aspirations... i wonder if we showed pictures of ourselves, could strangers guess what we do just from the image. i wonder if we accurately represent ourselves or no...

Iheartfashion said...

Editor and Genx theorist: I'm with you; the worst thing a store clerk can say to me is: "that's our most popular ________" If a prominant Hollywood personality or everyone else is buying something, I don't want it. Individual style is so much more interesting than trying to look like a celebrity clone!
Also, I'd never tell most of my friends what I paid for certain items because they'd think it insane, but I think quality is worth paying for, particularly if I'm going to use that bag or shoes for years and years. I'd rather have a small closet with a few well-chosen designer pieces than a huge wardrobe of Old Navy, American Apparel and H&M that will fall apart after a few washings.
I guess it's just a matter of priorities...some people are willing to spend big money on their lawn or car or boat. I'd rather spend on fashion.

GenX Theorist said...

Ooo, it's so fun that there are others like me out there...Editor and iheartfashion - same thing here!

That's a good question about the pictures thing... I don't think most folks could guess what I do from my pictures - but then again I haven't the foggiest idea what they would guess at all!?

Funny to be talking about this because just today I was discussing with my career coach the discrepancy between what I look like and my brain/skills. I'm an INTX myers briggs personality - which basically means I'm an extreme logic thinker. Female INTPs or Js are pretty rare and often go through life feeling like square pegs because everything we are is not what 'women' are supposed to be (yup, even in today's world). Nerds, basically. Absentminded professors. Opinionated aggressives.

However, I don't look the part at all. And lately I've realized that adds an interesting twist to my job searches in terms of how interviewers perceive me. Like, my resume is right in front of them touting my knowledge of choice modeling and contextual inquiry...and yet I walk away feeling that they read me as blond fashion-chick.

But, I refuse to give up something I feel is part of me!

GenX Theorist said...

Oh, and winternight - I also have concern over the overt marketing spend-y pressure thing. That gets into one of my favorite subjects...consumer behavior and how marketers target generations. As is pretty obvious, Gen Y is really pressured to buy...they have spending power...etc etc., but it's not very responsible to take advantage of that. Blatent marketing exploitation is just...ick. I do wonder what it's like to have grown up without the "GenX stage"...that brief period of time in the early 90s when grunge and thrifting was the hip thing to do and no one 'spent money' on their clothes (yet there was a very counter culture look going on). I really appreciate having gone through that because I think it informs me a lot these days, whereas if I had always had a fab designer wardrobe since day one I might be much more trend prone!?

editor said...

genx theorist - interesting that you bring up grunge and gen x vs. gen y (and of course you would, lol ;)). it occured to me that marc jacobs is credited with trying to bring grunge very mainstream through perry ellis, and then he went on to be heavily embraced by gen y nearly a decade later under his own label (when he went in a decidedly different direction, i should add). gen x bought it too, but definitely gen y as well. i don't know what it means, surely more about him than the generations, lol. but i wonder if he will design for generation z next or if his designs will begin to speak more clearly to x or y or what.

iheartfashion - yup! to resisting disposable fashion. and yup! to keeping mum on the $ spent. lol. oh, and yup! to your good priorities. :D

oh, and genx - you must rock their world when you come into an interview and then open your mouth!