Fashion and Elitism: On Changing a Rigged Game
Imagine the following scenario:
You and your friends hear of an Avant-Garde fashion event in the depths of New York City. Excited to meet with like-minded people and browse through racks of rare clothing, you quickly book a 4-hour bus trip to take part in the experience. Only when you step into the venue, you’re immediately greeted with skeptic stares and an uncanny atmosphere of intellectual superiority. Oh, and the fact that your friends are wearing graphic tees and Jordan 1 Chicagos isn’t helping with the situation.
Everyone is covered in S-tier clothing, Boris Bidjan Saberi, Carol Christian Poell and MA+ to name a few. They’re all carrying glasses of wine, chatting and laughing at intricately woven conversations you can’t make out. And you don’t care. You and your friends leave, disappointed by the lack of authenticity from the crowd, your negative emotions clouding your mind from focusing on the amazing garments. And so the attendees continue to have their precious social interactions, as though you were never there to begin with.
"Elitism isn’t as clearly defined as we had initially thought."
It was my friend Ray who had this experience, and I regard him as a passionate enthusiast of Avant-Garde and Archive Fashion. Yet despite having in-depth knowledge of such niche aesthetics, Ray and many others constantly find themselves discouraged by the nature of fashion elitism. For as long as we can remember, elitism has always been intertwined with fashion as a way to distinguish the elite from the 'others’. One primary means of creating such a distinction is through excessive pricing, where luxury clothing could only be purchased by the self-proclaimed elite, while the masses watch from the sidelines in envy and self-pity.
There has been a shift in these barriers of entry, however, specifically through wider access to high-end garments via discounts and secondhand marketplaces like Grailed and The RealReal. By leveling the playing field and giving the larger population a shot at investing into the higher levels of fashion, one would assume that the toxicity of elitism would slowly fade away... right?
Well, as we begin to see the rise of personal style champion over the showing off of luxury possessions, we also begin to realize that elitism isn’t as clearly defined as we had initially thought. Elitism by its very nature isn't strictly based on one’s income or status, but is rather a state of mind. And whether you are in the realm of fast fashion or surrounded by niche brand devotees, there will always be a small circle of elitists whose outlooks will compel them to become gatekeepers, warding off any who dare enter. Because of this small minority, many who are eager to explore such dream-like worlds are immediately tested and ultimately discouraged into exploring any further.
Be aware that this elitist state of mind isn’t limited to the old and wealthy: it also applies to the youth. Through social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, the youth are strongly compelled to imitate narcissistic behaviors, including but not limited to: the showing off of expensive garments and personal aesthetics, enhancing natural physical properties through cosmetic surgery and photo editing, and curating personalities that are accepted by the larger audience as ‘cool’. Not only does this type of emulation apply to social media platforms but also to sites such as YouTube, where a large number of popular fashion videos revolve around recent pick-ups of expensive clothing and the flaunting of outrageous outfits.
This pattern of behavior ultimately dictates an individual’s level of success in the online fashion landscape: those who sacrifice their individuality by imitating displays of superiority are rewarded with fame and success, while others who remain true to themselves rarely receive exposure from the greater masses and are more likely disappear into the midst of the digital noise. Of course, there are a wide array of authentic individuals who are successful in these platforms and don’t follow the crowd — look no further than The Fashion Archive and Brave New Wear on YouTube, as well as, funnily enough, JQ a.k.a. Fashion Elitist on TikTok — but nonetheless the battle between elitist and authentic content remains heavily skewed.
Perhaps worst of all is the fact that the fashion elite aren’t just affecting those who wish to participate, but are also sabotaging both themselves and the cultures they wish to preserve. Since the beginning of mankind, the diverse pool of individual perspectives have proven to enrich our evolution and direction into the future; On the other hand, communities who promote groupthink and discourage conflict between such perspectives eventually reach a point of extinction. As such, by testing individuals who wish to enter their world of fashion, and by only allowing the most informed and prestigious to join, elitists succeed in preserving their vision of fashion. However, this can come at the cost of their cultures’ decline in global reach and the loss of potential advancements made by new fashion enthusiasts. Is it really worth it?
"At the end of day, fashion isn’t limited to the clothes themselves, but is heavily intertwined with the people involved in."
Elitism will always be a part of fashion, and so a means for us to remove it from fashion itself has proven to be difficult. However, we do have the ability to counteract its influence through positive and progressive approaches to the game.
I recall a time when I stopped by an Archive Fashion pop-up shop in New York, but when I arrived the energy of the space was dismal, its sellers barely interacting with those who were browsing through the highly covetable pieces. I noticed a woman who seemed to be enchanted by an Undercover SS2003 ‘Scab’ Jacket; I excitedly approached her and began providing background info regarding the piece. We ended up spending close to 20 minutes cruising through several garments from brands such as Undercover, Number (N)ine, and Seditionaries. By the end of our conversation she was several times more informed on the world of Archive Fashion than when she first entered the pop-up, and was eager to learn more and become immersed in all of its nooks and crannies. But if I were to have never approached her in the first place, perhaps nobody would have invited her into this fascinating world of fashion.
At the end of the day, fashion isn’t limited to the clothes themselves, but is heavily intertwined with the people involved.
As we continue to interact with one another in this global phenomenon that is fashion, perhaps elitism shouldn’t factor into the equation. Perhaps, instead of entering an echo chamber filled with self-appointed elitists, we should create an entirely separate space of our own that is filled with innovation and positive reinforcement. This state of being would not only lead to positive energy amongst everyone involved, but would also encourage the evolution of ideas through the clashing of diverse opinions and viewpoints, expanding our cultural reach in the process. And maybe, just maybe, we can reach out to the masses with open arms, embrace change, and bring ourselves even closer to a state of togetherness through this superficial medium called fashion. Only time will tell.
Writer: Casino Riv
The opinions expressed within this piece are solely representative of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and standings of ARCHIVE.pdf.