Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Styles of Auto-Garment

I was going to post a lengthy piece about the role of fashion in modern, engineered society. 

I won’t do that today; relevant to the subject, however, I wanted to recount something I saw many years ago while driving downtown. 

You old bag.
Photo: R.B. Glennie

I was a passenger in a car, and from the other direction approached a vehicle that I remember to be an early-to-mid 1980s Camaro, which may have been the exact model of the car pictured above (the image taken a few months ago at the parking lot of a local shopping centre). 

Except that, unusually for the time, the couple driving the automobile were older, both of them having solidly-gray hair. 

I silently noted the dissonance, but the driver of the car said something like, “Don’t old people know that they look stupid driving young people’s cars?” 

In retrospect though, this unknown couple, glimpsed very briefly so long ago, were auto-fashion pioneers. 

For, whatever was the case at that time, what used to be referred to as “sports cars” are in the present day driven by people (usually men) over the age of fifty. 

This point was driven home to me, when I noticed the car pictured above. I thought to myself, “You don’t see that car very much any more”, and almost on cue, a man of retirement age emerged from the vehicle. 

I would’ve been as surprised today to see a young person driving that sports car, as I was years ago seeing older people in the similar vehicle. 

Generally, movement within the “fashion system” occurs as those of lower classes adopt the styles originated by those of higher status, who in turn abandon these fashions in favour of something new, so as to not seem declasse. 

Never worn by peasants.

At the end of the cycle, the upper classes tend to adopt modified versions of sartor identified with the lower-lower classes (as with the “peasant” dresses that became popular among young women of prosperous background during the 1980s). 

But fashion also progresses on a generational basis within the bourgeoisie. Youth are on the cutting-edge of fashion, of course. 

Not all or even most youth are fashion-plates, but the fashionable are young. The middle-aged and older are not at all fashionable, or at least the vast majority thereof. 

In fact, as particular clothing and other styles becomes associated with a succeeding generation, youth tend to reject them outright. 

The body of a car is as much of a garment as pants, shirts or hats, and sometime over the last twenty-five or thirty years or so — perhaps right around the time my brother and I spotted these oldsters cruising around town in their late-model Camaro — sports-cars became identified with the old and no longer thus sought after by the young. 

Certainly though, just as the upper-classes appropriate the dress of the very lower classes, so too do youth take on the styles once only associated with the old. 

Eyeglasses are fashion accessories as much as cars and clothes. For ages, horn-rimmed spectacles were so associated with the old that the stereotypical “grandpa” in popular culture was almost always shown wearing them. 

Geek!  I mean, Cool.

In recent years, however, young people have adopted style as the epitome of hip. I think it was the psychoanalyst John Flugel who pointed out the paradox of clothing. Clothes are a form of modesty, in so far as they cover up the naked skin. They are, though, also a means of ostentation in that they (can potentially) draw attention to the self. The common disguise, clothing is a form of deception that people engage in every day.

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