Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Read my tits and take dictation



I am always fascinated by hipster trends. These are short-lived style motifs seen among tastemakers around town. My original observation on these was they operate parallel to the trends espoused by regular fashion trend cycles because you tend to see them only on hipsters, and indeed that you can identify a hipster by the fact that they are wearing one of these motifs.

Some examples are the bandanna worn with the point at the front (and worn over the face in party pics) and the keffiyeh scarf, which refuses to die even though it seems tremendously played to me now. This does trouble what I had always taken as a central tenet of hipsterism: its cyclical logic of early adoption and obsolescence. I'll return to that later.

Anyway, I was getting my light dose of entertainment at Blue States Lose when the writer sarcastically pointed out the "originality" of the hipsters photographed at Misshapes because three of them were wearing nearly identical t-shirts:







As for where the t-shirts come from... I can't see the black one completely - it looks like a transcript from an interview with someone who has Tourette's Syndrome. The red one in the middle is from the "Fashion Groupies" collection by House of Holland and they have been around since at least last September. You have to know your fashion designers to get some of the references. And the aqua one is a lyric from the song "Close to You" by DJ Tiesto.

None is particularly clever or meaningful, and they certainly are not new:





But my point is that they share an aesthetic. They are baggy (designed to be worn with 80s-style rolled sleeves) with the sans-serif text covering the entire front of the shirt rather than just the chest. They are also long enough for No Pants 2007 - the terrifying 90s-throwback trend that I shall write about in another post, in which you wear just a t-shirt or shirt and leggings.

But the best thing is - the chain stores are all over them like a rash. The image at the top of this post is from Supre, where you can buy a variety of retarded versions of this t-shirt style. You can get "I heart my boyfriend", "I heart my hubby" (!!! - surely worn for irony by Supre's 13-year-old target market) and "I crossed-out heart my ex". But my favourite is if you are a computer nerd:



These shirts come with pre-rolled sleeves (sewn in place so they won't unroll). Also note that they are directly ripping off the House of Holland t-shirts in that the negative spaces of the letters are filled in. When I saw some in the flagship Sydney store last Friday I went into a kind of frenzy and determined to buy one, but none of the slogans interpellated me (fun fact: my very first experience at Supre involved trying on a t-shirt that said "Mel" in diamante-studded letters. It did not fit).

But the shenanigans continue at that dreadful Swanston Street store called Ice, where I saw a take on this trend so pitiful that I laughed raucously in the street:



AHAHAHAHAHHHAAAAHH! Mr Sex Pot! It's even more tragic when you realise that they are trying for the same rhyming pattern as the House of Holland collection. As another aside, I am more interested in the poster behind the mannequin where you can see a chick wearing a t-shirt that says "Save the Rave". Again, a 90s nostalgia from people not old enough to remember a time when raves required saving.

For me, the most interesting thing about this trend is that if local hipsters do cotton on to it, they're just as likely to get their t-shirt from one of these chain stores as get one from some more exclusive place. The trend is so samey that it disrupts what you might imagine to be hip patterns of consumption. In a similar way, we can see the keffiyeh still around because lately you can buy it in army disposal stores rather than actually having to travel. Isn't that a fascinating paradox, that the increasing availability of an item only prolongs its hipness rather than destroying it?

It's a similar situation to the way that Misshapes is always claimed to be tired and 'over', and yet it's survived a number of venue shifts to maintain its iconic status among hipster club nights. In the past I would have put that down to hipster generationalism, much as Streetparty has a reputation in Melbourne for attracting an extremely young crowd that grows out of the scene before they even have real IDs, to be replaced with more indie infants. The upshot is that now I really don't think people abandon stylistic motifs with quite as much alacrity as I used to suppose.

Moreover, if hipster motifs are cheaply available in chain stores, how can hipsters preserve a logic of individualism and tastemaking in their dress? I think this has to do with the baroqueness of hipsterism and its privileging of detail. People carve out a hip space within a mainstream look by making it their own in infinitesimal ways. In this case, this means we'll see more variety in the t-shirt slogans, and probably an semi-amusing parodic phase, before people get bored of them. I will be particularly interested to see if a hand-drawn felt-pen version takes off.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is that REALLY the link for Streetparty? I've always been puzzled by that in your blog roll ...

Mel said...

Goddammit. I've fixed the link now.

Tash said...

Mel, if you could make me a t-shirt that says in enormous letters:

"my t-shirt has a slogan", reminiscent of "my cat's breath tastes like cat food" then I would wear it loud and proud! But probably with pants...