Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Oh shit, this is bigger than me"

Red Versace two-piece suit from Antibad (who have a great curated vintage collection) (£150) / Parp! 'Derriere' brooch from Sophie Busai (€470) / ROMA earrings from Mondo Mondo ($265) / Lots of good silk and cotton white suitage over at Ode to Odd / 

I save images like I used to make notes on scrap paper. My phone's camera roll is full of screenshots, and sometimes I take them because my digital exploration has become so complex and full of warrens that I worry I'll forget absolutely everything if I try to remember this one extra reference. On Instagram, I save photographs of people wearing covetable clothes, delightfully retro hotel bathrooms and meals to recreate. But really, it still feels like those old scraps of paper; I'm still creating more, even if it's in a 'cloud'. As a teenager my mum would sometimes help me tidy my room and 'let go' of things. "Do you need this?" she'd ask, holding one of my essential paper scraps. "Yes!" I'd say with panic. They contained the scribbled titles of songs I'd heard on the radio, old films I'd heard name-checked in a documentary. All of this information was so important, and if I lost them then I'd be shutting down an entire avenue of potential inspiration!

I suppose I'm just thinking about how, even though we have now have digital space to store the photographs, playlists or bookmarks that matter to us, it still all takes up mental space somehow.

I started making the collage above because I wanted to do something fun with the images I collect. Maybe, I thought, it will feel therapeutic to put the clothes I like but won't buy in together in one place. But once I uploaded the collage, it looked flat. Why did it look flat? Placed together, the individual images looked too ubiquitous for my liking. They look like the Instagram timeline of any woman in 2018 (or 2017 or 2016 or 1976) who likes hammered metal earrings, Paloma Wool, tangerines in a bowl, lavender suede mules or straw bags. I like those things too (obviously, because the algorithm continues to feed them to me!) But it caused me to pause and wonder lots of things about my personal style, and how it might be different today (when so much of my time is spent on platforms with algorithms) compared to a few years ago, when I read fashion blogs and magazines less able to compile data about my tastes. Today it feels like so many of us share a collective taste because of what our algorithms have learned about us. We've ended up desiring items that help us to feel unique, or at least niche in our tastes, but now those same tastes are feeding a proliferation of womenswear brands and stores run through Instagram that are all just so uncannily... the same. Trends have always existed of course, but this feels different. 

I started going down this rabbit hole this afternoon and THEN... Racked published this fascinating and very prescient longread, written by Kyle Chayka: "Style Is An Algorithm."

It's a brilliant read. (And wow, I had to battle my probably algorithm-learned impulse to zone out because of it's length. Blame everything on the algorithm!)

"...As soon as something Cool, Obscure, and Authentic gets put back on the internet, it is factored into the equation, maybe it goes viral, and soon enough it’s as omnipresent as Millennial Pink circa 2017. In this way, algorithmic culture is not encouraging of diversity or the coexistence of multiple valid viewpoints and identities. If a stylistic quirk is effective, it is integrated into the Generic Style as quickly as possible; if it is ineffective, it is choked of public exposure."

What Chayka was saying, (that the more we interact with social and digital platforms that collect our data, the more our personal tastes will become more homogenised) made me feel better about my ickiness over the collage. Part of me thinks "Fuck it! If you like the thing, just go ahead and like the thing!" while the other side of my asks "But what is my personal taste anymore?" 

As I've learned from talking a lot about clothes and personal style with Ana on Layers, sometimes it's possible to ask too many questions. "What is my personal taste?" is a really big question! Without getting too lofty, it's like looking up at the stars and thinking 'Oh shit, this is bigger than me.' My personal style is two pairs of high-waisted white jeans I sometimes wear on rotation. Except the jeans are shorter than I'd like and are therefore imperfect. Personal style then, isn't always real. Sometimes you just carry it around in your head. It's a reflection of taste, desire and sometimes a resignation that what you wear, and what you want to wear won't always align. Sometimes you'll spend years finding the item that's just right, which of course explains the allure of the hours spend online finding just the thing. 

As you may have established, I don't have the answers. Maybe you don't have them either, maybe that's why you're here!

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