When I was emerging into my teens and early adulthood in the aughts I was fascinated by style. Coming from a small town in the Rocky Mountains, populated by hippies and techies, I’d had little exposure to fashion or cosmetics. Gore-Tex jackets, rainbow sarongs and Tevas had more purchase on the imagination than twin sets or pearls.
I didn’t chose a university known for its style either. I chose one known for crunching the numbers on our economy. My abiding interest in why we consume what we do never quite got around to being taste based. I followed fashion through export deficits, balance sheets and purchase orders. More back page of the Economist than Thursday Styles.
It was all an intellectual exercise for me. And it was mostly a numbers game. The cost of cotton and the trading flows of finished goods were much more legible to me than why a WASP enjoyed salmon colored pants.
I didn’t let an utter lack of taste, hell even exposure to taste, get in my way. I used a personal style blog hosted on WordPress (sound familiar) to comment on runway looks that were slowly emerging onto trade publications online. I used my comment sections to hold conversations with other enthusiasts. I was quite sure my opinion mattered. I guess I still am.
I very presumptuously emailed academic and authors like Valerie Steele and Virginia Postrel to share my enthusiasm. Much to my astonishment they wrote back. Eventually I stumbled into being their nominal peers, blending into the milieu of Balthazar breakfasts once I moved to Manhattan. Talk about peaking early. I’d achieved my life’s goals at 23.
But somewhere along the way it didn’t matter anymore that I lacked taste. No one had taste anymore. Our entire aesthetics stalled out sometime in the wake of the Great Recession. As I partied with the rest of Indie Sleeze crowd in my American Apparel deep v-necks, the end of distinct trends and looks was at hand. We just didn’t know it yet
Globalization and the internet gave us an amalgamation of tastes I’ve come to refer to the “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” aesthetic. It’s all the same and it’s always been the same as long as our forever End of History Fukuyama moment continued. We’d reached terminal fashion. As the media class fractured into the creative class and struck gold in startup land, the center of gravity of taste didn’t just shift. It disappeared entirely. It was chaos and boring all at once.
No one sets agendas for style, or taste, or top down, or even bottom up aesthetic movements anymore. It’s just a stream of consumables made by fast fashion factories and sold out through Instagram and TikTok as the data miners and algorithms predetermined your desires before you’d even thought them up. Dystopian looks like getting exactly what you want.
It turned out that fashion blogs, once a nemesis for showing taste before it was ready, had been too slow. Blogging is so 2000 and late. The Everything Everywhere All At Once aesthetic is done with a look even before it starts. Because it has no beginning or end or middle.
Maybe we should have called it non-linear fashion. There are no early adopters or taste laggards any longer. It’s all very much a kind of quantum of sameness. Which is somehow even less exciting than a James Bond movie in the Daniel Craig era.
I stumbled onto a styles section piece about the disappearance of the fashion Czarinas in the wake of the Ukraine war. Global taste has collided with the brutal reality of kleptocracy. We’d ignored it for a decade or two but now it appears history has reasserted itself. Maybe that means fashion might come back? But as inflation runs rampant and supply chains crack we might be edging towards a new austerity. Which might make for a pleasant pre-war historic period.
I for one would love to know who the Neu-Weimar Coco Channel of the Boogaloo/World War 3 conflicts will be. I bet she’s an anorexic TradCath living in Dimes Square. And like her predecessor she’s definitely fucking a Nazi. Let’s pray she has taste that is more interesting than her sex life.