December 14, 2011

Are styles stagnating?

In Vanity Fair, Kurt Andersen picks up a theme we've kicked around here lots of times over the years in "You Say You Want a Devolution:"
Here is what’s odd: during these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History. 
Think about it. Picture it. Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972—giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps—with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock ’n’ roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins—again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it and see that the characteristic surfaces and sounds of each historical moment are absolutely distinct from those of 20 years earlier or later: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the advertising—all of it. ... 
Now try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992.

In Taki's Magazine, I respond:
One of 2011’s hottest trends is middle-aged pundits announcing that compared to the good old days when they were spry, nothing much is changing anymore. Or at least nothing worth noticing.  
Economist Tyler Cowen kick-started this fad of bemoaning stasis by publishing one of those newfangled e-books, The Great Stagnation, in which he lamented today’s lack of technological change. Now, 57-year-old Kurt Andersen, co-founder of Spy magazine back in the 1980s, has announced in Vanity Fair that, so far as he can tell, styles are stuck. Practically everything—cars, movies, music, men’s clothes, and haircuts—seems about the same to him as when he was a stripling of 37. Like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, he’s still hip; it’s the times that have gotten square. 
As another one of these writers of a certain age who seldom gets out much anymore, I heartily agree. Well, except, of course, for that handful of fields where I actually know a little bit about what's going on. Those are clearly getting worse.

Read the whole thing there. I offer a theory for one major fashion phenomenon of recent decades that, while it may not be right, is at least fairly new.


Anonymous said...

1992?! Is he insane?

Dude needs to get out more. Wow.

agnostic said...

Only read the first page of the Vanity Fair thing, but did read yours.

He's reaching too much to talk about over-arching stagnation. Some areas are, some aren't. You already covered video games, although you see devolution there too -- no more arcades, as people have begun locking themselves indoors all day.

And while all music of the past 20 years stinks, it doesn't sound identical. It's trivial to tell "Creep" by Radiohead from "In the End" by Linkin Park, "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang" by Dr. Dre from "Boom Boom Pow" by the Black Eyed Peas, and so on.

Hairstyles are not the same either -- every guy now has very short hair, likes no longer than 2 inches, a good fraction even shaving it bald. Not to mention shaving body hair in general. Girls still had somewhat long and voluminous hair back in '92, whereas now it's shorter, straightened, and lies flat against the scalp.

In 1992 the majority of the top 10 movies at the box office were not children's movies, and none of the kids' movies had CGI. Wasn't Aladdin from '92? Looks nothing like the cheap junk from Pixar. The vampire movie from that year (by Coppola) treated vampires as supernatural and evil, not as metaphors for the loser outcast clique in high school.

So as you hinted, there's been plenty of change -- just all of it for the worse.

agnostic said...

The better way to think about continuity vs. change is to look at which direction something is moving during a time period, not necessarily how far apart the two end-points are.

He says that the Art Deco buildings of the early '30s look nothing like those from the 1910s, when Art Nouveau was giving way to Art Deco. They do look distinct, but they're both moving in the same direction -- toward more ornamentation, more mythology, more sublime effects, compared to Victorian styles before or the minimalist mid-century styles after.

Now, Art Deco vs. the International Style is not just two points that have different values, while moving in the same direction. They're moving in opposite directions. That's a truly fundamental change.

1992 to today is a coherent period because things have been moving gradually in the same direction, in contrast to where things had been heading in the '80s. But gradual change in one direction doesn't mean it has stayed constant throughout.

agnostic said...

Just read the rest of his article, and he seems really superficial and glib. He says jeans and sneakers are the uniform for young people, just like in '92 and '82 -- ignoring that they look totally different. But hey, made out of denim = same.

Applying that to the supposedly more dynamic times he talks about, there was the switch from breeches to trousers, and then nothing changed until jeans came along. Either stagnation is nothing new, or there was a lot more change in trouser styles.

Lady Gaga, Fergie, and electronic and dance music in general sounds nothing like the counterparts from the late '80s, let alone before. It was body-moving in the late '80s, lots of syncopated bass, and females singing about how powerless they were to try controlling their love for some guy. "Like a Prayer" by Madonna, "Two of Hearts" by Stacey Q, "Knocked Out" by Paula Abdul, and on and on.

Now there's no funky beat, just marching-step monotony, and the women sing about how in-control of themselves they are, how superior they are, and therefore who require years more wearing-down to get with, compared to the days when girls were still boy-crazy.

But hey, it's a girl singing about dancing and there's a synthesizer, so it must be the same.

In general, that article only sees the surface -- material of clothing, instrumentation of music -- and not anything deep, like the shape of clothing or the composition of music.

Usually Lurking said...

Other than the baggy pants worn by the one character in the movie, check out Clueless from the mid 90's with Alicia Silverstone.

Almost any one of those characters, in the way that they dressed, could be dropped into the modern day with almost no problem.

Could you say that of almost any era before that? Taking a character from the late 70s and dropping them into a movie from the mid 90s?

Usually Lurking said...

My non-fleshed out theory goes something like this:

Various architectural, fashion and music styles seemed to stagnate at the same time the Culture Wars of the 90's stagnated.

Anonymous said...

I actually tend to think there hasn't been THAT much development since around the 1920s...

The answer is obvious, progress kills progress

Jeff W. said...

I'll bore you with my theory: Style changes are initiated by youngish middle-class and upper-class men who are trying to advance themselves socially be adopting new styles that they assert are superior to the old styles.

Now if you live in a totalitarian despotism, such as under the Pharaohs in Egypt or in Stalin's USSR, the styles won't change much. Middle-class men are disempowered there, along with everyone else except El Supremo.

If you live in a gerontocracy, styles won't change very much. It would be difficult to observe style changes among the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that rules the Mormon Church. Their average age is about 75.

In a society ruled by women, I doubt that you would see major style changes. I believe that style changes are initiated by men, and then sold to women. Lesbian styles do not seem to change much.

Because younger middle-class men are disempowered in today's corporatist America, and because in many cases they have stopped even trying to advance themselves, there is no longer any powerful social force to drive style changes.

The disempowerment of younger men may lead to a permanent style stasis where we will live perpetually in 1990 when style changes ground to a halt.

That is also about the year when the dominant baby boom generation entered middle age and began to lose interest in style changes.

Anonymous said...

With regard to women there's a ***HUGE*** fashion (so to speak) change from 20 years ago. It's just not something you can see in photos of crowded public streets.


Traveller said...

World is indeed changed.

I agree changes often are not so much important in front of the frontier breakings of the past.

But they are enough for change the world face. Internet, the mass PCs (of course tech was excluded...).

Big things are dead - space exploration etc. We will NEVER find a cure for cancer or AIDS. Too big interests at stake.

When the Berlin wall fell? 20 years ago there was still the Soviet Union? It seems a noticeable change.

But the point: I removed Taki from bookmarks when they changed and put that horrible interface. You never know if you are clicking an old or recent post, every microscopic article is split in two pages (doubling clicks for ads?) and there is that idiotic "most popular articles" - should I read a post just because many read it? What are we, sheeps? (if things are changed, please tell me, I do not want to go there!)

Henry Canaday said...

Credit cards? Never occurred to me, but makes some sense. Probably more of an enabler of continued slob-ification than an original cause. My recollection is that down-dressing started at colleges in the mid-1960s as a kind of rebellious snobbery. Wearing jeans under a tweedy sport coast and rep tie showed you were not a 50s conformist, but you could afford to be one. And it was by the mid-60s that very average college kids lost their parents’ Depression-bred fear of not getting into good office jobs. Probably some Jewish guys in New England started it in the late 1950s and it spread.

Father: Don’t you want to get ahead?
Son: But I already have a head, why would I want another one?

Anonymous said...

Are styles stagnating?

Pants certainly are, especially among black males.

Anonymous said...

The thing is styles, clothing, fashions, hair-styles etc HAVE changed since 1992, but this is always a gradual and inperceptible process - rather like watching a tree grow.
Put it this way in another 10 years the changes will be apparent.
The correspondent would probably agree that 1986 (mullets, Huey Lewis and the news, big hair, Dynasyty inspired fashions etc), does seem a lot different from 2011, and that's only 6 years earlier.

Lucius said...

Watching some of George H. W. Bush's speeches a few years ago, I was astounded by the Bananarama hairstyles of the women (was Laura there too?) in attendance.

On the other hand, John Kerry, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and so many other familiars were in attendance so, at least by 2007 standards, there was a "the more they stay the same" feel too.

Speaking of Bananarama, maybe there's something for the idea that Schlock, Aimless, and Waterdown have made an enduring impact . . . .

Dahinda said...

I went to a mall with an older neighbor the other day and he made a point of commenting on a guy with the baggy pants look. The style where a guy's pants are half off and you can see half of his underwear. My neighbor acted like it was something new and I responded that this has been around for over a decade. That made me think that why is this style still around? And I also thought at that moment how the same styles and music still seem to be the same as a decade ago.

Mr. Anon said...

Nothing's changed since 1992? How about 25 year old women walking around in public with snakes tattooed on their necks? That's different. Certainly not better, but different.

Charlotte said...

In 1992 (Oct or Nov)there was an article in the New Yorker observing the "look" of material culture and the changes that occur. 1992 is important for it was just prior to PCs on every desk, but he did note word processors and thought they were the major change in the "look", but even they looked a lot like TVs.
The author's premise was that the "look" of daily life had changed much less between about 1950 and 1992, than it had changed between about 1910 (or even 1920), and 1950. In other words, 40 yrs had made an enormous sea-change in the stuff of daily life, whereas the 40 yrs between 1950 & 1990 had wrought less look of change. He sited examples about the look of offices, of kitchens, comparing the 90s to the 50s. I have to say, he was right at least comparing the changes of second half of the 20th c. to the changes of the first half. After all, we went from long skirts (ladies of course), horse drawn vehicles, wooden file cabinets and clunky typewriters, Model T Fords that looked as though they should be drawn by a horse, and many other the 50s, by which time a streamlined look had come to cars, trains and planes. In the Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn film, Woman of the Year, Hepburn founders about in gadget filled kitchen that doesn't look a million miles from today. Certainly it's more like today than it resembled a kitchen of 1910.
So there has been a difference in the changes that occur in different eras. I just don't know that 1992 to 2012 constitutes an era of stagnation in material culture. For one thing, there's the personal computer on every desk.

Anonymous said...

Another oint is that the older generations in 1975 - people 40 or above, say, still dressed formally in the old fashioned way.
Men had short well kempt hair.They wore shirts and ties, collars, hats, flat caps and long coats.Older women had formal, stiff hairdos and wore cardigans and tweed skirts.This age cohort probably formed the bulk of the adult population in Andersen's 1975 youth.
Except he never really noticed them.
They were background noise and invisible to a young man who always compares himself to his peers are those just a few years older than himself, the 'trendies' in other words.

Hail said...

Flash backwards to 1992:
We see a young Obama, sporting an MC-Hammer-haircut, toting a boombox, and pumping up his high-top sneakers. The vision fades away. We shudder.

Amy P said...

Yeah, he's really not that attentive to style if he thinks style is stagnating. Consider, for instance, how eager a lot of people are to de-90s homes. A bunch of my friends were turning up their noses at a perfectly presentable home built in 1991 because they figured it would need $40k in cosmetic fixes to bring it up to date.

We are also having (or just had) a brief 80s fashion revival, which confuses the issue.

Anonymous said...

Aren't there some objective reasons for stagnation as well? Two in particular: the 20th century was recorded, and the baby boom happened.

The proliferation of recorded music/movies/television is actually new: it has slightly frozen time for the masses, making music/fashion/style from the 20th century much more accessible to the 21st (and beyond). Also, the baby boom was a real phenomenon, a larger percent of products and advertising were aimed at the same people for several decades, following them as they aged. (and yes, that particular generation has continued to spend and vote, thus staying relevant; the US national debt is just some of the evidence)

Eugene said...

One fascinating fact about fashion in Japan is that the yukata and kimono have remained almost unchanged for 400 years. Young women still wear kimono on Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day) and yukata to the summer festivals.

Yukata remain de rigueur for men and woman at any hot springs resort or traditional Japanese inn.

One odd exception is the adoption of the English morning coat as formal male dress, especially favored by politicians. And western-style wedding gowns (along with faux Christian wedding ceremonies) have become very popular.

But the kimono is still the accepted standard. Even sumo refs and judges wear kimono and hakama. Sumo wrestlers must travel to competitions wearing kimono.

What has changed--for women and men--are hair styles. Nothing pins down the time period of a Japanese melodrama faster than the chonmage. Sumo wrestlers sport a version that doesn't involve shaving the pate.

Anonymous said...

At least men have the option of dignified adult formality still available to them. Women have nothing that doesn't look like a costume. We can look dowdy or tarty or childish; feminine elegance is not on offer.

Anonymous said...

As a 1980s STEM graduate, all I can say is

Anonymous said...

Fashion is probably not as good a way to impress women as it used to be, so therefore vastly less effort goes into it.

Anonymous said...

You touched on men's fashion, but women's fashion has also changed for the worse since 1992. For instance, I can't go to the supermarket in my upscale neighborhood without encountering some fiftish-looking grandmother tottering about the place in sky-high heels and black lycra leggings.

Anonymous said...

The tastemakers in menswear are pushing a return to formality and drawing heavily on British and Italian tailoring. This will eventually trickle down to the masses.

It's all being driven by the internet and to a large extent, tumblr (if you're unfamiliar, sort of a twitter for images). An interest in clothing has always been seen as the domain of women so men didn't talk about it too much, but the internet is fantastic at putting those with niche interests together, in this case (mostly) straight men who know what a ticket pocket and a goodyear welt is.

GQ just put up an article that interviews many of the big menswear bloggers:

sabril said...

I think the observation is wrong. Probably it's because for a middle-aged man, 1991 seems like yesterday so it's natural to assume styles haven't changed much.

Here's an experiment: Find a web site for a church or school which archives its graduation photos for the last 40 or 50 years. You will see, for example, that popular hair styles for girls have changed very noticeably in the last 20 years.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to make of it, but recall reading a book about the differences between generations. It mentioned that one generation tends to be trendsetting, as with the baby boomers, and the next group tends to improve upon the previous generation's inventions. Don't know if that is true! But recall before the baby boom generation there was the Henry Ford generation who were trendsetters. Then followed the Bob Hope group which was thought to mainly improve upon. The two former groups had their differences, but tended to be similar in style. Maybe that plays a part in what is going on today.

Coco Chanel said...

There are two kinds of stagnation in style.

1. Conservatism.
Egyptians had same style in art, dress, and architecture for 1000s of yrs. Western art also had long stretches of artistic styles. Gothicism during Middle Ages. And endless series of Jesus on Cross and Mary and Kid paintings.
And Greeks also had a style that stuck. Romans too. So, we can look at any Egyptian or Greek art and say 'Egyptian' or 'Greek'.
Even so, this kind of stagnation may not necessarily be boring because in pre-modern times, styles were associated with sanctity. Egyptian dress and art signified spiritual essence. Greek built statues of gods. Gothic church were holy 'eternal' places.

2. Liberalism.
Initially, liberation from conservative order unleashes explosion of new styles and expressions. But after awhile, people run out of new expressions. Or difference-for-difference sake can become unpleasant, like atonal music. Or new 'radical' schools can become intolerant and impose itself as the only correct school, like Le Corb architecture and serialism in music academies of latter half of 20th centuries, becoming the new conservatism.

Picasso and Matisse were exciting in the early part of 20th century. But that stuff and other 'new' styles have been done to death. Another Picasso isn't possible because possibilities in painting have been exhausted.
Maybe same is true of music. Movies were once an exciting new artform. But visual language has been pretty thorougly explored too, though new technology has expanded filmmaking potential. HUGO for instance.

So, if conservatism can lead to artistic/stylistic stasis, liberalism can lead to artistic/stylistic exhaustion(especially if style is associated with power to shock or astound; but even 'shock' is a just another brand name. Today, something 'shocking' is something created by the industry.)

It was during the time when tensions between conservatism and liberalism(and between West and non-West)was most acute that some of the most interesting arts, styles, and expressions were made.
When conservatism prevailed in the arts and styles, liberals could make a splash with something new. And when white/western styles dominated the West, non-white styles(Jewish, Negro, Asian, Muslim, Hindu, etc) could offer different styles/perspectives/expressions.
But cultural conservatism has long been dead. And new global order allows us to see and hear lots of stuff from all over. So, there is less tension that makes things interesting.

Anonymous said...

Everything can change or not... I just up the style of girls wearing skin tight clingy black leggings never goes away.

Anonymous said...

we're devolving - iqs going down, literacy declining... lots of stuff to worry about other than hairstyles, hemlines and tailfins

Ralph Lauren said...

Nothing is totally new, but nothing is totally old.
Take Oprah. She is partly a recycled mammy archetype, or an empowered mammy. She made billions and is admired by millions, BUT she must smile and act non-threatening-to-whites. She represents both the old negress style and new black power woman.
Obama is similar. He is both the Negro-as-credit-to-his-race and the post-black-rage-model-of-serious-and-responsible-black-guy(or at least he plays one).

Similarly, both STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK were, in one way, recycled Flash Gordon and saturday morning serials but, in another, a new kind of film style.
Neo- is not same thing as new, but it's not merely recycling of old stuff either. It's not mere
So, neo-classicism isn't old classicism even as it reworks classical themes.

In order for something to 'feel new' again, it must be lost and recovered. Classical art felt new to people in the Renaissance since so much of it had been lost. But if Roman civilization hadn't fallen and had continued, there would have been no need or excitement about a Renaissance.
Likewise, romanticism had its ups and downs. It comes and goes. When something becomes too pervasive, people get bored. And they dump it and find something else. But when they grow tired of the new stuff, the old forgotten stuff may be something 'new' to discover for the younger generation. Many young film buffs of the 50s and 60s saw old forgotten Hollywood movies with new fresh eyes.
So, forgetting is important in art. Forgetting allows future generations to rediscover something and find it fresh and 'new' again. Things were forgotten when media were controlled by few. Media elite decided what was hot, what was not.
But internet keeps everything alive, and so nothing is really lost and nothing is really re-discovered. We are in a perpetual state of preservaissance. Sure, most young people may not know much about John Ford or Francois Truffaut, but it's there if you wanna look it up. Same goes for travel and friendship. Before internet, traveling to another place meant doing something really new and different. Now, you can see millions of photos of any place through flickr or google earth. Also, after school, when friends went separate ways, friendship was special and reunions were special. But with kids being connected by facebook from cradle to grave in he future, friendship will be just a form of cyberbuzz.
Same with food. When food was more precious, the idea of breakfast, lunch, and (family)dinner meant something. Now, people just eat this or that all over, and so meals matter less. And family matters less too, and even in families, dinners are often eaten separately.

Christian Dior said...

Styles can be revived through creation of new forms of expression.

For example, serious painters no longer care for stuff like portraiture and landscapature.
And serious novelists generally don't write in the 19th century narrative style.
And serious musicians don't compose traditional symphonic music.
But cinema brought them all back. What serious people reject in literature, painting, music, and etc, they accept in movies. Look at the success of LOR. Or GODFATHER. Pauline Kael called the book 'trash' but loved the movie(though the movie sticks very closely to the book).

So, maybe new expressions will enliven and revitalize old styles.
Trance and rave in music offer something new. It's not my thing, but it's less music to appreciate or dance to but a kind of direct mind-flow-manipulation. It is to music what movies are to painting. The impact is far more direct and deep.

Rosanne Barr said...

One thing critics overlook is the revival of the neo-fascist style. In fact, they are too afraid to even call it that. So much of Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking is a form of neo-fascism. Sontag's essay 'fascinating fascism' is interesting stuff, but she was wrong in thinking fascism as an aesthetic was finished. It came back big with STAR WARS, though Lucas cleverly formulated it as anti-fascist fascism.

Anonymous said...

Steve the big change I see around me is people are spending much more of their time and money on things that are not physical - example would be buying ipad games that are downloaded wirelessly or buying songs on itunes

it used to be people would spend money and get something physical in return. It now seems obvious that over time physical objects will take up less and less money and electronic stuff will take up more.

Even cars cost much less per mile driven in real terms today than they used to

Remember when cars used to rust out after 50 thousand miles? Today the average honda or toyota can get 200 thousand miles before it has to be junked

And I don't personally understand why so many people in the HBD - o - sphere decry this trend as value transference or exploitation

I spend a lot of my time with my ipad. I go to the ap store and there are literally thousands of games for me to choose from - there is no winner take all phenom there - groups of programmers all over the world compete, with brutal competition - i get free sample versions of most games for free and just buy the full versions of the ones i like the most - so people get paid for having a game that i try out and decide i really like.

Same thing with songs. i subscribe to slacker and listen to hundreds of songs and then actually go to itunes and buy the ones that i like. no winner take all phenom there at all

So at least in the way i spend my entertainment dollars there is no winner take all - people get paid for the utility the bring to me and i am a pretty picky customer

Me as a consumer, shifting my spending from PHYSICAL objects to content for my ipad am actually helping the environment. no one is tricking me in to spending money on my ipad stuff, If i get more utility form spending my money on electronic stuff for my ipad than from physical objects, who is to say that value is being transferred

I guess you would claim that some evil CEO owns the video game company and transfers value from the hard working programmers that actually create the value, but I just don't see that - many of the games I buy are bought directly from a small group of programmers, not from some big company

seems to me that new distribution platforms mean LESS value transference. i used to go to borders to buy books and 5 cents of every dollar i spent went to author. now i go to amazon and buy kindle books and like 50 cents goes to the author. LESS value transference and more cash going to the value creator

similarly, many bands now sell music on itunes without paying a record label - in that case little value is transferred more goes to the artist

Again, someone needs to explain to me how me buying stuff for my ipad electronically with a lot of my money is so wrong. Yes it makes the world different today vs 1992 but how is this change a negative for society

Anonymous said...

I just up the style of girls wearing skin tight clingy black leggings never goes away.

I hope it goes away. Very few women can carry it off successfully, but they all insist on trying anyway.

Anonymous said...

At least men have the option of dignified adult formality still available to them. Women have nothing that doesn't look like a costume. We can look dowdy or tarty or childish; feminine elegance is not on offer.

Women can wear whatever they like. They have far more possibilities open to them than men. The choice of feminine elegance is available to them even if they opt not to take it.

Steve Sailer said...

Paul Johnson argues that Art Nouveau and Art Deco are just one big beautiful style from about 1890-1930, with the name change mostly because it had been around so long it wasn't Nouveau anymore. Art Deco is much less based on flowers, but stuff like the helmet of the Chrysler Building, the ultimate Art Deco design, is in the same spirit of making beautiful stuff that isn't a revival of old styles as those famous Paris Metro station entrances from decades before.

Brooke Shields said...

We need to distinguish between fashion and pashion.
Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly is about fashion. Woodstock was about pashion.

Though Golightly was from 'white trash' background and worked as a call girl, she aspired to be part of fancy crowd. Hierarchy was crucial to the world she moved around in. She wanted class or at least the appearance of class. Fashion, in this sense, requires hierarchy. There has to be an idea of higher beauty one aspires to. So, when stylish Hollywood stars dressed in a certain way, other women wanted to be like them too. Mildred Pierce wants good 'higher' things for her daughter. Fashion is hierarchical and heavy on artifice.

Woodstock was about passion or the style of pashion. It was about returning to nature, being true, touching Indians and the nature child within oneself. Given the stuffiness of old wasp culture, maybe this had some value and meaning. But if you don't shower for too long and shit all over(when portolets are overflowing), natural just turns grubby. So, that got tiresome too.

Fashion style has been rejected as too elitist and pashion style has been rejected as naive(and stinky). But people still want beautiful things and still wanna act natural. So, graballism(grab-all-ism)goes well with globalism. Graballism means you can grab a piece of fashion, a piece of pashion without devoting yourself fully to either.

Paul Mendez said...

The 1991 book, "Generations," by William Strauss and Neil Howe, predicted this, at least in the area of clothing & personal appearance.

To paraphrase Strauss and Howe, the Baby Boomers have always considered themselves to be the Ultimate Expression of Humanity. As such, everything they think/do is ideal, and thus there is no need for them to change.

20 years ago, Strauss and Howe predicted that old Baby Boomers would continue to wear the same clothes and hairstyles all their lives. Not dress more formally to "act their age" or stay on top of fashion to appear younger than they are.

"Generations" is the best non-fiction book I have ever read. Many of the predictions it makes have already come to pass. This is worrisome, since the major prediction of the book is that the US will experience a Revolution/Civil War/New Deal-level crisis between 2005 and 2025.

Anonymous said...

New Deal-level crisis between 2005 and 2025.
I think you can check that one off the list.

I just up the style of girls wearing skin tight clingy black leggings never goes away.

I hope it goes away. Very few women can carry it off successfully, but they all insist on trying anyway.

one nice rear end is worth a 100 bad.

Anonymous said...

But the kimono is still the accepted standard.
i remember seeing a national geogrpahic ( i think ) article showing Japanese women taking a picture of a woman with a kimno on the article implied it was a rare site (just like the 'fact' that most aussies have never seen a kanagaroo in the wild)

In India, the sari is fading out, which is a shame because it is elegant.. the 'in' think for women to do is wear jeans.. not exactly the most comfortable thing to wear in a tropical climate.

Spread Eagle said...

I disagree with the premise that fashions have always changed that much. Male and female fashions of the early 50s were not that different from the 30s. It was in the late 50s that fashions began changing. Another poster mentioned the baby boom generation. That's part of it. Another was the maturation of Madison Avenue in its ability to use media advertising to influence change. Maybe we've become inured to that as we've become more sophisticated consumers.

Chris Anderson said...

I agree with Mr. Anon (7:17 AM).

You could spot the difference between 1992 and 2012 in any crowd picture by looking for the tattoos.

I've said this before: Going back in time, there must be a year in which there were NO tattoos visible on ANY player in the entire NCAA basketball tournament field. One could presumably do this rather easily with access to archival footage. What year would that be? Don't know, but 1992 seems like a highly plausible guess.

Now, of course, it's hard to see a basketball player without a visible tattoo. (I use basketball because, of the four major spectator sports, basketball players have the most skin exposed by their uniforms.)

Anonymous said...

one nice rear end is worth a 100 bad.

No, it's not worth it.

agnostic said...

"Similarly, both STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK were, in one way, recycled Flash Gordon and saturday morning serials but, in another, a new kind of film style."

They weren't just new but better. The acting wasn't self-conscious and hokey, the cinematography transported you to an exotic land, and the storytelling took its mythic material seriously. Overall they absorb you into the world, or put you into a dream-state.

Andersen's comment that such movies were a mere re-invention of the cheesy b-movies from the '40s and '50s just highlights how superficially he's looking at culture, ignoring the huge differences in quality and originality. That's why no one still watches Flash Gordon, and why even by now the new Star Wars movies are forgotten.

It's like saying that the Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights who made revenge plays weren't very innovative since Seneca got there first, ignoring the obvious and huge differences in quality, which explains why Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Webster achieved undying glory for their revenge plays while Seneca has not.

Anonymous said...

i saw a guy in his early fifties, light hair, nordic looking.. wearing woven in dreads.. I HAD to laugh at him. I did not feel bad afterwards

eh said...

Perish the thought.

Charlotte said...

"In a society ruled by women, I doubt that you would see major style changes."

Please get newsflash out to the rest of the world so we won't keep having to start wars to save various third world females from their own societies, which normally ends in their own societies being more deadly than ever for all concerned. I'd like to know who really rules. The evil reptile Pindar probably.
Pindar doesn't have a gender and only wears scales and a high, red pointed headress.

Sewing and weaving (by hand of course) were arts as well as basic skills, taught to girls from the age of 3 on up. They determined their own clothes because they made them, even to growing the flax and spinning the wool. Distaff (as in "distaff side" in genealogy) and female were synonomous.

Prior to the 20th century, fashion dolls were sent around, from Paris to London to Burr, Iowa. I don't know who owned the dolls, come to think of it. Maybe men owned some. Maybe they owned fashion-doll companies. But it's hard to imagine a man spending too much time on the niceties of ladies' corsets.
Women made and constructed their own clothes. The coming of the designer Worth in the late 19th century and the advent of fashion magazines (the publishing industry) changed things. Before that, usually women decided what they and their children would wear. Certainly the desire to attract the opposite sex was part of it all, so they may have taken some cues so to speak.

Who styled the mens' clothes, I don't know. But women made most of them.

Indeed, exasperated men have long poured curses and deprecations upon weirdly coiffed female heads. So I think everyone knew women were to blame for their own attire.

There is a whole genre of Jeremiads, dating from the early Church fathers (and way earlier) to 18th century editorialists and preachers, on the extremes and absurdities of fashion. It was women who were expected to mend their ways along with their clothes. Actually, I think men must have copied womens' fashions. Get a load of the lacey petticoats they were sporting circa 1640. It was one of the reasons the Pilgrims left England. They didn't want their sons to grow up wearing stuff like that.

Anonymous said...

In the last twenty years women's fashion has become much more overtly sexualized. Regardless of whether an individual woman is sexy or not, her clothes today most likely proclaim to the world, "Look at me, I'm sexy!"

It's interesting and peculiar that over the same period men's clothing styles have gone in the opposite direction. As womens pants have become sausage-skin tight, mens pants have become ever more shapeless and baggy. Men's "shorts" now come down to a point a couple of inches above the ankle. Men's clothing seems to be purpose built to make men look terrible. If these trends continue for another two decades I predict that American women will go out in public in a g-string and American men will go out in public in burqas.

Anonymous said...

"One thing critics overlook is the revival of the neo-fascist style. In fact, they are too afraid to even call it that. So much of Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking is a form of neo-fascism. Sontag's essay 'fascinating fascism' is interesting stuff, but she was wrong in thinking fascism as an aesthetic was finished. It came back big with STAR WARS, though Lucas cleverly formulated it as anti-fascist fascism."

One of most popular new video games, Skyrim, definitely fits into the neo-fascist aesthetic. Also why do people think movies like 300 or even Lord of the Rings become so wildly popular? Or HBO/Starz series like Spartacus or Game of Thrones? I mean, the message is obviously never fascist, but the way the material is presented and stylized certainly is, and its very appealing to most.

Ray Sawhill said...

Fun, smart piece and a good read.

One huge way the texture/style of life in NYC has changed in the last few decades has to do with cellphones, er, "mobile devices." It's changed life at the office, life over lunch and dinner, and life on the sidewalk in big ways. It often seems like 2 out of 3 people walking on the sidewalk are staring into a smartphone screen, for instance.

Also: young women and girls are much more assertive and feisty than they used to be, and young men (at least of the educated and white sort) are much more sheepish and recessive.

Lucille said...

Now try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992.

Well, ubiquitous cell phone use for starters.

none of the kids' movies had CGI. Wasn't Aladdin from '92?

Aladdin used some CGI. (the exterior of the Cave of Wonders) So did "The Lion King" a couple years later (the stampede sequence).

Carol said...

"Women can wear whatever they like. "

I have to agree with the original comment. Men of any age, size and shape can look passable with a decent suit. In less formal settings, the ol' shirt and tie make a guy look professional.

There is no equivalent for women. A woman has to be in good shape to wear the office equivalent, whereas a man can hide the big gut fairly well under a jacket and short stature with elevator shoes.

All the rest, as mentioned, is costuming.

Harry Baldwin said...

one nice rear end is worth a 100 bad.

It's worth maybe 25 bad ones, tops.

Chris said...

Previous changes are maybe exaggerated, but I agree that style is stagnating. On my blog I consider some possible contributors:

consumer electronics,
the fitness industry,
racial integration,
rise of construction marts,
death of Art,
death of Romance,
death of Heirloom,
proliferating styles

"On the up side, reason #8 has allowed the developement of vintage girls, young fogeys, and chaps."

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the original comment. Men of any age, size and shape can look passable with a decent suit.

That's a bit like saying that men of any size and shape an look "passable" in a military or other uniform.

When you say "passable" here you are employing a different standard for the sexes. There's nothing stopping a women from wearing a male suit, except that you would not say she looks "passable" in it.

The idea that shapeless and baggy clothing = male clothing and that form fitting and revealing clothing = female clothing has taken root in our culture, among women perhaps even more than among men.

Anonymous said...

I agree about women's clothing becoming overtly sexualized.. frankly I don't find ti appealing.

THE great article on all this...
The Perpetual Adolescent

Simon in London said...

Movies from 1984 or 1986 have people dressed very '80s'. But styles seem to have stopped changing round about 88 or 89, about the same time Political Correctness took over the culture. It's very hard to place the date of stuff from late '80s on without looking at the technology.

I don't know if the style stasis and the Triumph of the Cultural Marxists happening at the same time as the fall of the Berlin Wall is correlation without causation, but I suspect there was a big change round about then.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

For most of history, style and fashion belonged to an elite few. Most were dirt poor folks in rough clothes and missing teeth. Most couldn't afford to dress well. Most people mended their socks.

With rise of mass society and culture, people could finally aspire to dress well and be hip. Initially, even for most of 20th century, lower elements imitated upper elements. Even lowly entertainers put on suits to look good, or classy.

So, with places like Marshall Fields, anyone could buy some better stuff. It was like buying a piece of aristocracy.
But over time, especially with upper classes becoming more casual too, Walmartism took over Marshall Fieldism. So, we have black friday mob shopping.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it has something to do with teh rise of the nerd. Today, geeks in computers and hightech make most money. Geeks have no style sense. With Bill Gates as richest man in America, where is style?

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that Sailer mention car styles. Cars are now designed for maximum aerodynamics. So, style is dictated by functionality.

Same with clothes. People like clothes that fit well and look reasonably nice without being overly showy.

It's like End of Style because we've arrived at the best kind.

Elizabeth Head said...

Style may remain the same but demographics aren't. Substance matters more than style.

And one could argue that there is biological style: the looks, shapes, and attributes of certain races are part of the style of a culture. Syria is still stylistically Syrian even though many people wear western clothes. Even if Italians and Japanese wore the same suits, Italians would still be stylistically Italian in looks and manners while Japanese would be Japanese.
When whites play black music, the style changes even if white guy is doing his best to be black. Different racial styles.

So, the huge change in demographics in America will affect the style of style. It's not just a matter of what one wears but WHO wears it.
Guillermo in a leather jacket is different from Mike Tyson in a leather jacket.
In NOBLE HOUSE, whites and chinese wear similar clothes, but the style reflects differently depending on the wearer.

Anonymous said...

Or is it Edith Head?

Anonymous said...

Re Men in suits...

A friend of mine has been on a dating site for some time, without any success. His profile picture was OK, it was him wearing a denim jacket.

Recently I got married and my friend was wore a suit that day. He added a new profile pic - taken at the wedding. He noticed that within days the number of hits on his profile had gone up.

In the last few weeks he has met a girl from the dating site and they now seem to be an item.

Verdict: wear more suits chaps!

Anonymous said...

The whole baggy jeans thing - I found it merely irritating and silly to see it 10 years ago, now it enrages me!

And the fact this fashion has endured for so long is odd in itself.

Ive got a private theory that sheer impracticality ought to doom fashions like this over a reasonable period.

Leggings for girls, t-shirts for everybody may be subject to changes in style and fashion but they do at least have the benefit of practicality in everyday life.

But men waddling around with jeans, in extreme cases, barely above their kneews. FFS!?

gang said...

How many kinds of styles are there?

There is the Traditional Style. For centuries or millennia, Arabs wore raggish attire cuz it was just the way they dressed.

There is the Ideological Style. Think of Puritans with their ultra-stark-simple clothes. Or blue Mao suits which both men and womem wore in Red China before Deng's reforms.

Neither traditionalism or ideologicalism has much cachet in our free modern consumer society.
Modern Western society is contradictory. It emphasizes the People and equality, but the appeal of consumerism is to look better, feel better, and live better than others. So, people are nuts about lifestyles of rich and famous. So fashion is both elitist and demotic. It's for everyone, but people wanna look better, like cool people.

Maybe we can learn something by looking at highschool. For any style-system to work, there has to be pecking order. There has to be the popular kids who set the standards, less popular kids who wanna be popular or hang around popular kids, and others. This is important cuz something is legitimized IF popular kids do it first. Generally in highschool, popular kids do something before others follow. There is an element of risk for popular kids cuz if they go for something totally stupid, they might be laughed at and lose their 'popular' status. But if what they do or wear is considered cool, others will follow.

So, an element of privilege is crucial in style. In the movie DAZED AND CONFUSED, popular girls set the styles and others follow.
It could be this mechanism is weaker now cuz of culture of sensitivity that made it more acceptable to 'uncool' and 'marginalized'. And popular kids today are more 'sensitive' than before. When I grew up, popular kids would demean something as 'so gay'. Now, popular kids are probably eager to show that they are so compassionate and tolerant. With such 'tolerance', the pecking order breaks down.
When the social order was more hierarchical, lower elements aspired to be like and to be liked by 'popular kids'. But if even a gay kid at school is made normal and happy, there's less cachet in being 'popular' as opposed to 'uncool'.

A strict pecking order also helps create the rebel-outcast style. If a bunch of 'popular kids' rule the school(and sometimes act like jerks), there has to be its opposite, the outcast-rebel types. So, 'popular kid' style spawns the 'outcast-rebel' style. Of course, if 'outcast-rebel' style gains currency, 'popular kids' appropriate it and it becomes the new 'popular' style.
But, in a more tolerant and sensitive order where 'popular kids' are nicer, there's also less need for an rebel-outcast style. Since no one feels 'oppressed' by popular kids, there's less need to strike back.

The rocker style of the 50s was a rebel-outcast style of 'white negroes' and 'prole working class' look. The movie OUTSIDERS shows working class underprivileged Rocker kids vs more affluent preppy whitebread 'popular' kids.
If 'popular kid' style was based on privilege, the 'rebel' style rose from resentment. But with fewer stylistic class distinctions, style has less social significance.

To be sure, there's also been the Ironic style. This was maybe most acute among Mods in Britain. 'Rockers'(aka Teddy Boys), with greased hair and leather jackets, were blatant in their rebellion.
'Mods' played it different. They dressed well and acted dandyish even. But they were also steeped in rock n roll and drug culture. Their style was 'elegant aristocratic rock n roll hoodlums'. I wonder if British Invasion, along with Dylan, infused Rock culture with irony.

But even irony runs dry. Ours may be a politically correct post-ironic culture.

shades said...

Didn't some guy named Strunk something write a book called ELEMENTS OF STYLE? It seems writing style got leaner and more functional over the yrs. Maybe we're moving toward a kind of casual minimalism. Not demanding minimalism of Japanese tea ceremony but relaxing minimalism of having enough style to look pretty good but not to show off like some gawdy cheesy fool. Swipple style it is.

Anonymous said...

On fashion:

A few years ago I noticed an explosion in the popularity of flip-flops. Everyone under 30 seemed to wear them everywhere, even in the office. Men too. I don't think you'd see that in a movie set in 1992.

A year or two ago I started noticing women wearing high heels with a thick sole in the toe area. It's an extremely ugly style. Reminds you of strippers. Not just the heel is raised, the tow is raised off the ground too, somewhere between 1 and 2 inches.

Another change: at some point around 2000 white music became marginal. Someone at MTV made a decision to stop playing it. I don't know if MTV is relevant anymore, I've tuned it out long ago, but it's my impression that white music hasn't recovered much from that blow to this day. In 1992 there were Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, etc. Most white and Asian kids were still listening to white music then. I'm out of touch now, but I'm under the impression that that's not true anymore.

Sitcoms were largely replaced by reality TV sometime around 2000 too, right? I think that the class differentiation of TV (upper middle class - premium cable, everyone else - everything else) has increased during these 20 years too.

Basketball was still big in 1992.

The green meme has exploded. The carbon footprint, etc. It's a source of virtuousness, saintliness for SWPLs to a much greater extent now than it was in 1992.

Gentrification - how could I forget that? It started in the 1980s, but way more than 90% of it occurred after 1992.

Anonymous said...

If you live in the colder climes, the standard female uniform of UGGs, stretch pants and an oversized sweatshirt are cross-generational.

Ladies, gay friends tell me that guys wearing sneakers with jeans are almost 100% guaranteed to be straight.

Anon 8:22 and Carol, you're kidding, right? A skirt with sweater/shell and pumps are the standard office uniform and much easier to handle than a men's suit. Add a jacket and higher heels for occasions. Padded bra and control top hose for shape if God didn't take care of it, Carol.

Anonymous said...

There are two reasons why something comes to an end or stops changing(in fundamental ways).

(1) It runs out of ideas, and people lose interest. It is then replaced by something else. The Western ran out of ideas(especially with TV westerns), and people lost interest. And people preferred other action movies with more advanced technologies or more violence: modern cop thrillers, crime sagas, sci-fi. Since the 70s, Western was no longer a popular genre.

(2) It arrives at the perfect synthesis and it remains popular for what it delivers. And people want that 'same' thing. Take Coke. There has been variations like cherry coke, but classic coke is an all-timer. And so is KFC original recipe and Big Mac. I haven't been to McDonalds in quite awhile, but they got what people want over and over. In fact, when Coca Cola changed its recipe in the 80s, people demanded the old Coke back. And they were right. New coke wasn't as good. Don't fix what is not broken.

Why has there been a prevailing movie style since the 1990s? I think it arrived at the perfect synthesis of earlier styles(and new technology). Not that this synthesis was good for cinema as art, but it had great appeal as cinema as entertainment.

Old Hollywood made genre movies. It mostly stuck to formula and gave the masses what they wanted. HOWEVER, cinema still owed much to other arts and borrowed elements from novel and drama. It had yet to develop into PURE CINEMA, an artform in its own right. Also, due to censorship and community values--and other factors--, Hollywood could not really be racy and wild. Also, movie studios wanted to be respectable and made movies for middlebrow tastes.
So, even though Hollywood gave people what they wanted, it held back certain expressions--especially sexuality and violence. There was an element of stuffiness.

The reaction to this was New Cinema with personal expression, art film, naturalism, stylistic experimentalism, and emphasis on Truth(psychological, social, etc). This insistence on art and truth demanded greater freedom in sexual expression and movie violence. After all, sex and violence are a part of reality.

For a while, this New Cinema attracted lots of people. It was exciting, different, honest, more 'truthful', etc.
But as more and more such movies came out, people discovered they didn't much care for reality, naturalness, intellectual avant garde-ism, and truth either. Much of truth was depressing, drab, grim, unhappy, and even boring. Intellectual experimentalism was 'too much'. What seemed new and fresh--in contrast to old Hollywood--soon turned out to be grubby or opaque. BONNIE AND CLYDE and EASY RIDER felt like something new and fresh but WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE and TWO LANE BLACKTOP were boring to most people. (Btw, with its fast pace and cool violence, B&C may have more in common with later blockbusters than people think.) Also, natural sexuality seemed unromantic and unappetizing. Who wants to see a pimply hairy ass?

So, if old Hollywood failed because it was too respectable and stuffy(and repressed), New Cinema failed cuz it was too grubby, depressing, honest(truth hurts), or intellectual.

But then came the new synthesis that stuck. It embraced and combined the please-the-audience genre formulaism of Old Hollywood and the libertinism of New Cinema. At the same time, it rejected the respectable stuffiness of Old Hollywood and grubby truthism/puzzling intellectualism of New Cinema. It took the most appealing aspects of Old Hollywood and New Cinema.

Anonymous said...

Take a movie like JAWS. It's a big crowd pleaser but with loads of violence and wild expression. It follows a formula but also feels liberated(in style and violence). Same goes for TERMINATOR. It's a genre movie as formulaic as Old Hollywood movies. But it has tons of badass violence and sex too.
Also, unlike in New Cinema movies, sex and violence are presented for kicks than for grubby revelation of 'truth'. Compare the sex in JOE(John Avildsen movie)with sex in TERMINATOR. In JOE, we have hairyass-pimple grubby orgy. In TERMINATOR, it's a cute couple really getting it on.

New Hollywood discovered that people want formula with a spirit of freedom. But the new synthesis wasn't complete until the 90s. Though Lucas and Spielberg revolutionized technology, computers remained more the domain of videogames than moviemaking through most of the 80s. But with TERMINATOR 2(amazing when released, not so now), New Hollywood settled on a whole new digital-computer aesthetic. Since computer technology is changing faster than ever, it can make 'same old stuff' looking fresher and fresher.
Though the first TRON may have been prophetic, it flopped at the box office. And though Cameron did some amazing computer stuff with ABYSS, it was TERMINATOR 2 that he really figured it out.

So, the final synthesis of formulaism(of Old Hollywood), libertinism(of New Cinema), and digitalism(of hightech)arrived at the stuff that kids never seem to tire of. The coke of cinema.
I suppose only virtual reality can top it. New 3D seems to be a move in that direction.

Kylie said...

"In 1992 (Oct or Nov)there was an article in the New Yorker observing the 'look' of material culture and the changes that occur...The author's premise was that the 'look' of daily life had changed much less between about 1950 and 1992, than it had changed between about 1910 (or even 1920), and 1950. In other words, 40 yrs had made an enormous sea-change in the stuff of daily life, whereas the 40 yrs between 1950 & 1990 had wrought less look of change."

Charlotte, I remember that article. It really helped put things in perspective for me. Slightly OT but do you remember what the author said was the biggest change of all between the turn of the 20th century and its midpoint? How we deal with germs. Not only the ease of keeping oneself clean, thanks to indoor bathrooms and the availability of potable drinking water etc. but also antibiotics and the knowledge that keeping healthy meant keeping clean.

gumbi said...

What can be said for movies might be said for pop music too. It too might have arrived at a final synthesis.

Old music--Sinatra, Crosby, Porter, Gershwin, etc--was formula driven. There were many original and brilliant talents, but artists were expected to give people what they wanted. Performers had to dress well and look nice. They had to look slick and professional.
Though rock n roll was a new kind of music, it too stuck to the formula of professionalism. Chuck Berry was into looking good. So was Elvis. But there was something stuffy and limited about this. Not just Sinatra but Elvis. Even the King of Rock n Roll was kinda passe by late 50s and certainly by early 60s.

Counter to such professionalism was folk. But folk was too earnest and do-goody. It was Dylan who gave the personalist middle finger to professionalism and earnestism. He wasn't handsome and couldn't sing well by conventional standards, but he sounded personal and different. He sounded free, as if doing 'my own thing'. And all of rock took its cue from Dylan. By late 60s, rockers were tuning into 'greater truth', more naturalism and personalism. Woodstock was a sort of return-to-nature fest.
But this got grubby and stinky pretty fast. Just look at the movie GIMME SHELTER. It got dreary. As Peter Fonda said in EASY RIDER. 'We blew it.'

So, 70s brought back IMAGE and professionalism. There was art rock of Roxy Music and then Disco. But art rock was bit too precious and disco just got too embarrassingly gay.

80s were an interesting time. It was the last hurrah of older acts, especially Bruce Springsteen with BORN IN THE USA. It had its share of 'artists' and 'bohemians', with New Wave music. But it was the era of MTV and a new professionalism and formulaism.

This new musical style/approach synthesized the professionalism of old pop music with the libertinism of 60s rock. But unlike old pop music, it was no longer respectable, corny, and stuffy. And unlike 60s rock, it was not grubby and stinky(like all those hippies in GIMME SHELTER).

Look at today's hip hop and techno stars and they like to look really good. They may look trashy and skanky, but they look professionally trashy and skanky. They don't wanna make love on the grass near a port-o-san outhouse like Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl. They wanna to be picked up in a limo and want champagne before they put out. So, the new music took the aestheticism of old pop music(where people looked good) and wild-and-free-do-what-you-want libertinism of 60s rock.

So, even trashy ho's look classy as well as assy. Or trassy.
In WOODSTOCK, we see naked women acting like 'I'm a nature child' and walking around shit and sweaty hippies. In today's music video, even skankass hos dress and act like they is da hottest divas in the whole universe.

As for white rock, it turned into a kind of drone music. Droning isn't my kind of music, but it's a a buzzy hum that is acceptable as perpetual wallpaper music.

Anonymous said...

“yuppies are, in a sense, heterosexual gays. Among middle-class people, after all, gays formed the original two-income households and were the original gentrifiers, the original body cultists and dapper health-club devotees, the trendy homemakers, the refined, childless world travelers.”

Huh? Gays formed the first two income households? Both my parents had to work as far as I can remember. Same for my grandparents. I guess this guy doesn't know much about real people.

Gays were original body cultists? Teddy Roosevelt was gay?

Spread Eagle said...

I have a wool Brooks Brothers gray suit I bought in 1980 that, other than the vest (three-pieced suit), is every bit as fashionable now as it was in 1980.

mother gumbi said...

You suppose demographics partly has something to do with this? Even til 80s, one could say America was solidly white and the culture was white. Sure, there had long been popular black music that crossed over into the white community, but most Americans were white, and they mostly enjoyed white culture(or white-ized culture; Elvis made black music into white music). So, until the
90s, there was the unity/harmony of white demographic dominance and white cultural dominance. Also, popular black stars were generally not hostile to whites. Take Motown in 60s and Donna Summer in 70s.
So, white people coulda been more willing to change with cultural fashions since they identified with it as 'white', as their own.

But since the 90s, there has been huge demographic changes. Also, rap, a musical form very hostile and antagonistic to white people, went mainstream. Though lots of white kids embraced it, many hated it. There was also the rapid rise of black superstars in movies. Again, many white kids embraced them, but many didn't identify with black stars in the way they had with white stars. So, the majority white population of America were less likely to identify with the new 'mainstream' culture.
If, up to the 80s, white majority embraced and identified with mainstream culture that was solidly white, since the 90s white people were not only rapidly losing ground demographically but faced with a 'mainstream' culture that was either non-white or anti-white.
So, the new 'mainstream' culture was less mainstream than in the past, and many white people, feeling no longer represented by the 'mainstream', went to look for their own things--and much of it was retro or traditional, like country music.
It's hard to have a truly mainstream culture in a nation where there is no longer a mainstream population.

It's like taxes. In a homogeneous white nation, whites are more willing to pay taxes since tax money goes to other whites. But in a diverse nation, whites don't wanna pay more taxes to give freebies to non-whites. White people retrench more and become more conservative.

When white majority felt confident in its majority status and identified with mainstream culture as theirs, they were willing to change with the times(that seemed to be on their side). But since whites are demographically anxious and since many whites no longer identify with the new 'mainstream' culture(heavily black, gay, hostile Jewish, and pornish), there has been far more fragmentation of culture and style.
And since most people don't create culture but consume what others make, they have no choice but to go for older stuff since the newer stuff that's being made don't speak to them or represent them.

Reg Cæsar said...

I believe that style changes are initiated by men, and then sold to women. --Jeff W.

The individuals selling style changes to women are anything but men!

...the Baby Boomers have always considered themselves to be the Ultimate Expression of Humanity. --Mendez

Horsemanure. I've known thousands of them, and have never known any one to say any such thing. This is just another urban legend of bad pop journalism.

If you want a more accurate stereotype of "boomers", it's that far too many were messed up by "greatest generation" divorces.

In India, the sari is fading out, which is a shame because it is elegant.. the 'in' think for women to do is wear jeans. --anon.

Nothing looks more ridiculous and inappropriate than blue denim on Subcontinentals.

...whereas a man can hide the big gut fairly well under a jacket and short stature with elevator shoes. --Carol

One of the rarely mentioned benefits of concealed carry is that it encourages men to wear jackets.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

"In the last twenty years women's fashion has become much more overtly sexualized. Regardless of whether an individual woman is sexy or not, her clothes today most likely proclaim to the world, 'Look at me, I'm sexy!'"

Yes, women's clothing is more revealing and more form-fitting (actually men's is too, for those who bother to notice). Look at some of the late-80s and early-90s styles and they're downright frumpy. Today a far larger fraction of college-age women (and younger and older women, for that matter) are walking around in clothing that accentuates their curves.

Reg Cæsar said...

...stuff like the helmet of the Chrysler Building, the ultimate Art Deco design, is in the same spirit of making beautiful stuff... --Steve

Of making it and of showing it off. The Chrysler's completion is among the most dramatic (i.e., stagey) in history.

They and the Bank of Manhattan Trust were in a race to supplant the Woolworth as the world's tallest building. But as construction was winding down, the Chrysler crew fibbed, "graciously" conceding that their rival's tower at 40 Wall St.would be a few feet taller... and that their own building would be delayed.

40 Wall was completed on time and was, indeed, the world's tallest. For three weeks. Then the Chrysler's hidden crown was pushed up from inside and seized the record.

Until the next year. When that Empire State thingy was finished.

Chief Seattle said...

In 1960 Massachusetts had the same population as Florida and New York had more people than California. Surely some of the recent lack of style and formality is due to the rise of the sun belt climates. Tucking in your shirt and wearing a belt actually keeps you warmer - a consideration here in Seattle, but a disadvantage in Tampa or Houston.

Reg Cæsar said...

Speaking of Deco, Nouveau, and men with hats, check out architect William van Alen's dashing millinery at the 1931 Beaux Arts Ball.

jody said...

well, there are long stretches in previous centuries, where you could not tell decades apart.

maybe if you are a SERIOUS tech head like me, you can get lucky when you look at particular devices and objects a few of the people appear to be holding or using, and place a rough 20 year date range on a photograph or drawing from some time period.

but many adjacent decades in the 1600, 1700, and 1800 eras blend together seamlessly, with not enough tech and culture change between any 30 year period to really nail anything down.

jody said...

i mean, there's different stuff now. every little kid has those stupid shoes that have lights in them, or wheels. what's up with those? little kids on rollerskate shoes.

nobody, NOBODY, in the US was texting 30 messages a day, every day, all day, in 2000. now those phones are surgically connected to every teenage girl's hand. who was updating their facebook every day in 2000?

guys didn't wear faux hawks 10 years ago without doing it as a joke, if they even did it at all. they didn't wear tapout shirts like a total douchebag, without training a single day in their lives.

i GUARANTEE digital photos from 2008will be looked back on and ridiculed for those two things alone.

nobody was cruising around town in SUVs with 22 inch wheels and bumping dubstep tunes. just that alone, the total conversion of the US vehicle fleet to SUVs, can date a photo of an era. 1995, few SUVs. 2005, bumpin' down the road in the escalade all day, son.

jody said...

ah, i just thought of another one. flat screen display technology has completely replaced CRT televisions and monitors. nobody had them 10 years ago. now, if you have a CRT in your house, it's ancient obsolete crap. old televisions, old computer monitors, LCDs and plasmas replaced them almost everywhere by now. SD television is garbage and nearly unwatchable, it has to be HD everywhere now.

especially in bars and restaurants and shops. LCD, plasmas, and LEDs hanging on the walls are ubiquitous today. in fact on audi vehicles there are prominent LED lights. actually many vehicles now employ LED brake lights. those HID xenons for headlights suck though.

this dates movies very badly now, especially sci fi movies made before the CRT->LCD conversion. when i watch aliens, i LOL at the command center with it's clunky little 12 inch CRT monitors. in fact all their video tech sucks. you can see pinpoints of light causes streaking and ghosting iin their cameras, when they pan across light sources. that's directly caused by how crappy video cameras were in the early to mid 80s, when the movie was made. you can observe this effect by watching old tyson boxing matches from 1984 on youtube, or that segment of "boogie nights" where they first experiment with leaving film behind and moving to video. (hey, that's another thing, all porn is on video now, on your computer, in high resolution, and the porn theaters are gone.)

welcome to 2005 gorman, the US marines have better better equipment than the colonial marines in outer space! even the matrix suffers from this, with CRT equipment in use in the future scenes on the hovership, dating "100 years in the future" to the late 90s.

father gumbi said...

"I went to a mall with an older neighbor the other day and he made a point of commenting on a guy with the baggy pants look... That made me think that why is this style still around?"

Because it's part of thug culture and black males are alphas of mainstream culture. People are too afraid to laugh at black thugs, so black thugs never get the message that they look stupid. If some people to criticize rap style out of fear of black fist, others restrain cuz it might be 'racist' to put down black expressions.

But disco was easier to attack cuz it was not thug music but gayish black music that even blacks came to see as dopey.

aunt gumbi said...

The guy uses the term 'devolution'.

If we apply the theory of evolution to style...
we need to know that evolution works via mutation and adaptation.
Mutations keep happening but most of them are no good and are rejected or weeded out. But the rare mutation that is beneficial remains, especially the environment changes and favors that mutation.
In the past, social pressures were greater. So, most stylistic/artistic mutations were rejected as unfit for society/community. But some were so appealing that it was adopted and changed the culture. So, there was more ruthless weeding out of 'bad cultural mutations' and greater boosting of the rare mutation that was the new standard.
But in the new social order of greater freedom and tolerance, all sorts of mutations are allowed to express themselves. This was exciting in the Modernist period. But after awhile, mutations became a commonplace. So, there was a need to define what was worthy mutations and what was not. And worthy mutations became the new conservatism. Advanced guard stopped advancing. And then Pop art happened, and any notion of cultural elite kinda became moot.

Also, in the past, society was culturally dominated by elites. Even if most people were not rich or bourgeois, they aspired to be respectable. Even poor people went to sports games in good suits or best they could find. So, social/stylistic adaptation meant adapting to the looks and manners of 'better people'.
But there is far less adaptational pressures cuz one can be slobby, different, or non-mainstream and still be accepted by society. Besides, even the 'mainstream' doesn't look and feel like mainstream but represent a part of community.
So, is the problem an excess of mutations and excess of adaptations(into whatever)? When all mutations are allowed, none become hungry and ruthless enough to survive via domination(the only way a mutation could thrive in the past). When there are all sorts of niches to adapt to, there is no pressure to adapt to one dominant style, and so there is no dominant style. The vanity fair writer seems to suggest something like this but not exactly. But whatever is happening, it's not 'devolution'.

I wonder if politics will become more limp due to similar dynamic. In the past, many conservatives didn't feel represented by mainstream media. So, they organized and came together to form a counter-liberal movement. But now, every rightwing group has a 'world of its own' in the internet. Though they have little clout or influence on whole of society, their sense of their own community makes them feel represented, empowered, and relevant. So, they get to express their views more, but by doing so, they may be likely to act less.
Also, political niche-ism had led to crackup of the right. Prior to the internet, there was the sense that all elements of the right should unite against the left. Now, Ron Paulites and Romneyites on facebook cannot stand one another. Each has a full platform on the net and don't wanna compromise with the other side. Why should they since they feel so empowered as a community on the internet?

Niche trumps Nietzsche. It's will to empower than will to power. Even those without real power can feel empowered, and that is the reality of the net. False sense of empowerment.

Anonymous said...

"Because younger middle-class men are disempowered in today's corporatist America, and because in many cases they have stopped even trying to advance themselves, there is no longer any powerful social force to drive style changes."

But they were disempowered in Weimar Germany, but that period saw a greater flowering of new styles.

Anonymous said...

"You touched on men's fashion, but women's fashion has also changed for the worse since 1992."

Oh no. Generally young girls dress much smarter and sexier than girls of the 80s, a horror for fashion.
Btw, I'm not talking of Lady Gaga and extreme skankdom but of functionally sleek sexiness that now prevails.

Anonymous said...

What was Gaddafi's problem? Not changing with times for too long and then suddenly changing too fast?

Anonymous said...

Maybe nanotechnology will one day make gold as common as lead, and lots of clothing will be golden.

Or maybe there will be a line of computerized clothing.

Anonymous said...

Things stopped changing cuz there's not much after Z.

There was generation x, which meant y and z were the lasts and didn't have much place to go.

Anonymous said...

You ever notice that's just when someone says 'nothing changes anymore' that massive changes soon take place?

The world seemed peaceful on the eve of WWI.

In the early 60s, no one foresaw the wildness of late 60s.

So, expect a wild ride.

Anonymous said...

"nobody, NOBODY, in the US was texting 30 messages a day, every day, all day, in 2000."

People in Europe did. The texting phenomenon took off unexpectedly and teenagers were the vanguard. This must be the first time that design by committee produced a useful and popular inovation.

11,4 billion text messages were sent in the Germany of the year 2000. Today it's about 40 billion, so there has only been a fourfold increase.

Marlowe said...

I'm staring into a microwave sized IBM CRT monitor right now.

I'm like a William Gibson character.

Anonymous said...

>As womens pants have become sausage-skin tight, mens pants have become ever more shapeless and baggy. Men's "shorts" now come down to a point a couple of inches above the ankle. Men's clothing seems to be purpose built to make men look terrible.<

The point of baggy pants is to suggest that the male wearing them has an enormous penis that cannot be contained in tighty-whitey jeans or slacks. A typical trope of project rats and the Scots-Irish merchandizers who corrupt/enable them, adopted soon enough by underclassers of all hues.

An overall brutification is evident. Women trying to make themselves look like palace whores from ancient times, showing as much tatooed skin as feasible, and men opting for the bare-chest, pants-around-calves, baggy look. As society slides into the gutter of primitivism, with might-makes-right the ruling principle of business and government and "I'm ready for sex!" the sole communication among the dumbed-down masses, expect to see cruder and worse versions of things unless a new broom sweeps clean.

Beau Brummel said...

>but many adjacent decades in the 1600, 1700, and 1800 eras blend together seamlessly,<

Dear me! That writer is insufferably ignorant. How COULD he be unable to discriminate the very great and material distinctions in place between 1632 and 1640?

Anonymous said...

The point of baggy pants is to suggest that the male wearing them has an enormous penis that cannot be contained in tighty-whitey jeans or slacks.

Is it? I've never had that thought come to mind while observing guys wearing pants with the crotch down at their knees.

Paul Mendez said...

The point of baggy pants is to suggest that the male wearing them has an enormous penis that cannot be contained in tighty-whitey jeans or slacks.

In the `hood, the point of baggy pants is to conceal your nine.

niece gumbi said...

It could be too many people are addicted to sitting in front of the computer and social networking(or texting on cell phones)to do much else.

Creative people spend less time really alone. They are too busy sharing to create something on their own.

granny gumbi said...

Could there be a kind of cyber-paradox.
Internet in a closed society accelerates change, but internet in an open society can slow down change.

Look at the Arab world with the introduction of internet and satellite communication(and smart phones). The whole region has been rocked, especially Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. It's still not over in Syria. Sudden introduction of new ways to communicate fueled change.

But in America, already an open society, internet could be having an opposite effect. If Arabs went from little freedom to lots of freedom with the internet, Americans went from lots of freedom to lots-and-lots of freedom.
If you're allowed to paint with only one color but then allowed to paint with 20 more colors, that's exciting.
But if you're allowed to paint with 100 colors but then given the option to paint with 1000 more, it's kinda like... nothing's special anymore. In fact, the whole thing becomes kinda boring. You wanna read books from a medium sized library. But in a giant library with gazillions of books, you don't even know where to start. Also, you figure the knowledge is all there, so why should you bother?

Also, it seems like many people in the past created their own thing cuz they felt isolated. British rockers of the late 50s and early 60s had limited access to American music. So, they fantasized about America and created their own. But suppose Lennon and McCartney and Jagger and Richard had the internet back in the late 50s and early 60s. Instead of making music, they might have been too busy downloading and burning music. They woulda been too busy sharing to be creating. Suppose Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Faulkner had internet back in the days. They might have been too busy communicating with others to sit down and write about their own lives, ideas, feelings--especially since internet allows ideas, lives, and feelings of many people to bleed into one. Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitz were distinct in every day cuz they knew and experienced different realities. Though they went public with their works, their books were written in a deeply private sphere--even a lonely one. But creative people are now all part of a kind of shared communal think-bubble. They are almost interchangeable all over the world.

There is also the problem of the chummy-chum-chum dynamic. There are MANY 'artists' and 'creative' people in the internet and they hook up with other 'artists' and 'creative' people--fans, amateur critics, other would-be artists. Now, 99% of them suck. But due to social networking, they hook up into a community.
If people have to choose between quality and chumminess, it's often the latter. Prior to stuff like myspace, people listened to the radio, attended concerts, and bought albums for music. Since the artists were not your friends, you could love it or hate it, and look for better stuff.
But with the internet, you hook up and communicate with various 'artists' and 'creative' types. They become your friends, and it feels good to have so many chums. But what if their music or ideas suck?
Because you value your friendship with all these 'creative' people, you never say their stuff sucks. INdeed, you pretend that it's good and even convince yourself that it's good to maintain the friendship. It may be good for 'niceness' but it's not good for art and creativity. This is why critics have been wary of being close friends with artists. But millions of creative people are now friends with other creative people and their fans are friends too. And so everyone pats others on the back--while anonymous commentators who speak the unpleasant truth is deleted as 'snarky' or 'trollish'. Creativity may have been Oprahized.

Crawfurdmuir said...

I do not think that the advent of credit cards was the reason for the decline in men's standard of dress. Rumors of the death of the suit and necktie are much exaggerated. I had lunch at my club today, and I did not see any man in the dining room that was without a necktie and either a suit or a sports coat and odd trousers. In the part of the country where I live, they are still standard business attire, at least above a certain level of rank and compensation.

What you may be observing is that the level of rank and compensation at which this becomes the case has risen. The middle-management types who used to dress in coat and tie don't so often imitate their superiors in this way today. To begin with, there are fewer of them. Business consolidation has eliminated many such positions, and the ones that remain are no longer way-stations en route to the executive suite. Perhaps those that occupy them therefore see less reason to "dress for success" to impress their superiors, as the 1980s-era self-help book advised.

I sometimes hear people expressing the opinion that suit and tie are uncomfortable - indeed, this is almost implicit in your description of yourself as "comfortably dressed in jeans, some kind of vaguely Hawaiian shirt, sneakers, and three days’ beard growth." For my part, I couldn't be physically or socially comfortable in such get-up. It is possible to be perfectly comfortable in a suit and tie. There is a reason, after all, that it is called a "lounge suit."

The key is good tailoring. Of course, if you go to a department store and trust your wife to select your clothing, you will not get that. Far too many men buy shirts with collars that are too tight when buttoned, and expect to wear the waist of the suit's trousers not at the natural waistline, but below the overhang of a beer belly. This may be a consequence of having grown up wearing jeans. It is wrong, and looks it. Of course such clothing won't be comfortable. The wearer will feel the urge to get out of it as soon as he possibly can.

If one wants to buy a comfortable suit, at least he should go to a good men's store (Brooks Brothers is reliable), or better, to a bespoke tailor, and let the staff there help him. Such people understand how the clothing should fit, and will steer the customer away from mistakes. This costs some money, but it will be well spent not only on superior comfort and fit, but also on appearance and durability.

jody said...

as far as sports in the US goes, witness the decline of american spectator interest in baseball, boxing, tennis, and track & field (the sports have not declined, just american attention to them). it's a dramatic change from 25 years ago, simply night and day.

in the US, you take somebody off the street in 1982, and they could tell you which african from america was the heavyweight champ, would won the last 5 world series because they saw them, have no idea who won the last 5 NBA championships because nobody watched them and they were barely even on television. they would know roughly who was gonna do what at the 1984 summer games track & field meet, and who was the fastest american around. ask them who the best american tennis player was and they wouldn't hesitate.

taking an american off the street in 2011 would produce decidedly different results. especially baseball and boxing, those were a SOLID one two in american sports for DECADES. not a few decades, for almost a century.

jody said...

last post i swear. LOL. but the tattoo and piercing culture was not mainstream 20 years ago. now it's normal for even women to show 3 tattoos and 3 piercings in public.

not sure how much more common breast implants are now, but more. they're around and socially accepted. but that's sneaky, like the explosion in cosmetic plastic surgery among actors. it's hard to tell when they've had subtle surgery on their nose or jaw or skin. dentistry and orthodontics are de rigueur and now everybody has perfectly straight and aligned teeth that gleam from either tooth whitening treatments or veneers.

i guess as hair restoration tech improves, less and less people will be bald over time - this is already happening but again, it's sneaky. you don't notice half the time, and that's on purpose. lots more 40 year old celebrities would be bald today, if this were 1981 and not 2011.

jody said...

"People in Europe did. The texting henomenon took off unexpectedly and teenagers were the vanguard. This must be the first time that design by committee produced a useful and popular inovation. 11,4 billion text messages were sent in the Germany of the year 2000. Today it's about 40 billion, so there has only been a fourfold increase."

yes, i've talked about this before. texting comes from germany. i specifically posted about the german guy most directly responsible for texting. not unlike the german guy most directly responsible for MP3.

and like i said, in 2000, in the united states, nobody was texting. germany was just beginning to export that culture. today, the "german" way of communicating, has become the standard in the US. it's amazing how quickly texting took out email and telephone calls.

steve talks about "major" stuff never changing, but the germans changed human communication hugely in just 10 years. texting is akin to the telephone appearing.

jody said...

"at some point around 2000 white music became marginal. Someone at MTV made a decision to stop playing it."

pop music on MTV you mean (there's lots of kinds of music that aren't pop music), and yes, this happened in 1997, as i've documented before on isteve. a conscious and deliberate decision among management to start removing pop music made by whites from MTV. taking their best selling products off the shelf and replacing them with stuff that didn't sell as well. i specifically remember in 2001, MTV refusing to play music by a rock band that debuted their new album at number
1 on the billboard 200 soundscan chart. essentially the ron paul treatment, before ron paul was getting the ron paul treatment. it's funny how much better selling stuff like nsync, backstreet boys, and britney spears were back then compared to the stuff they replaced it with.

wrong idea about white pop music becoming marginal though. whites are as dominant in US pop music as they've always been, despite white men dropping out of it more and more all the time. in fact, they're probably more dominant now than they have been in decades, as black americans have retreated all the way down to just making either rap music or singing techno pop, auto tuned studio songs written by somebody else. techno pop itself is the dominant pop music form, and that's totally white. it comes from scandinavian, german, and british pop music.

the billboard 200 end of year chart is white dominated. white woman dominated in fact, as steve noted in a previous post. there were maybe only 1 or 2 albums on the entire list from a mexican artist. they've had a near zero effect on US popular music.

Anonymous said...

and like i said, in 2000, in the united states, nobody was texting. germany was just beginning to export that culture. today, the "german" way of communicating, has become the standard in the US. it's amazing how quickly texting took out email and telephone calls.

How did Germany "export" that culture, Jody?

If you're going to talk about the exportation of a cultural practice (ie ignoring whatever Germany have played in the technical development) it requires that people be aware of that practices cultural origins. For example, you could fairly describe ownership of katanas as a Japanese cultural export in this way. But who the hell ever takes up texting with even a hint of awareness that "this is what they do in Germany"?

People take up texting because it's obviously fun and convenient. The unix command 'Write' is very similar to an SMS text message, the main difference being it's restricted to users sitting at a unix console. Messages are typically short (like SMS) and the receiver is alerted immediately by the message flashing across his screen, making the reception of the message as unavoidable as reading an SMS is irresistible (far more so than a telephone call, which can be easy to resist answering). 'Write' was a big hit among comp sci students when I attended university in the mid-90s. Awareness of it was all it took for students to take it up. No one had to "export" it to us.

last post i swear. LOL. but the tattoo and piercing culture was not mainstream 20 years ago. now it's normal for even women to show 3 tattoos and 3 piercings in public.

This I can agree with. It's telling that even someone like me -- utterly disgusted by piercings and tattoos (especially on females) -- can no longer muster up the effort to express disdain and contempt. It's become totally mainstream.