Youth Culture influence(d) on/by advertising strategies
The evolution of the Fashion system
This dissertation does not go into a comprehensive outlook of the extremely long history of fashion. It just stresses how, during the Renaissance period, a new relationship between clothing and time was created: a connection that encouraged the change. Davis reported M.
E. Montaigne's Essais, about the situation in France of the sixteenth century: "Changes are so sudden and swift that the inventive imagination of all the tailors all over the world would not be able to meet adequate new necessities”. This passion for change reflected an increased social dynamism and the search for equilibrium among the classes. In fact, the increased social mobility, resulting from the pressures of the emerging middle class, distorted the time pattern.
In this regard, Polhemus argued:
In the past, changes were invariably experienced as problematic; suddenly - in the light of social mobility - changes are seen as beneficial and desirable. Therefore, it has been determined the equation New = Better, within a world view that celebrates the idea of unlimited progress. This is the scenario where fashion comes to life, where the garb and decoration are designed to celebrate the transition. Fashion in this context means quick change of taste.
In contrast, in pre-renaissance societies, in many traditional cultures, and especially in youth subcultures, the immutability of apparel reflected the value that brought about an identity of people belonging to a specific social group. At this point it becomes clear what Polhemus argued: "The costumes and body decoration in these contexts are part of a view of the world. Unlike what it happens in fashion, with its senseless series of look of the year, the apparel is an integral part of a socio-cultural identity”.
Hence, the adoption of a particular symbolic system by a person to decorate his body was an inseparable action from joining a particular social group.
The similarity between wearing the traditional outfits and youth subcultures is therefore to be searched in a relationship among culture and clothes, one that is capable of making the garments an outward and immediate sign of a cultural nature.
Now I would like to investigate the relationship between the fashion system and subcultures. First and foremost, what do we mean by systematic fashion? If we refer to the specific clothing field, we can consider "Fashion system" as a set of players in the fashion process. In general, as Davis stated: "The subjects involved in the fashion process are the following ones:
• Producers, makers of formal and style proposals;
• Distributors, variously configured in the diverse local and national territories;
• Sellers, or rather the shop managers;
• Media, the fundamental link between subjects listed above, and consumers;
• Research institutions, capable of influencing the creation and communication of what is new;
• Consumers, recipients of the proposed fashion”.
Hence, the term “Fashion system”, because fashion works according to the typical systemic mode where each change of a parameter of the system is followed by a modification of all the others. The point I would like to put forward is that a phenomenon like this is due to fashion's own nature, as anything related to it has to be renewed constantly, in a continuous evolution. In this perspective, the fashion phenomenon can be considered as a continuous process that moves from temporary imbalance, which is generated by a system component, to a following readjustment of the system itself.
In recent decades, the most striking imbalances have been produced firstly by the creators and secondly by the producers. In the ‘70s, fashion proposals referred to additional needs and social status: this was the so-called “status symbol period”.
However by the '80s, the focus shifted from the single object that connoted a certain social status, to a lifestyle shaped by a particular constellation of consumed goods.
These were the years in which the style symbol and designers became themselves fashionable. In the '90s, the fashion system imbalance was mainly due to more open minded consumers' new habits and lifestyles, as they were increasingly in search for progress. Indeed, as Polhemus pointed out:
The factors that determine it, basically comprises of two kinds: On one hand, the creators and producers are increasingly in difficulty because of the incessant need to attract and to hit the headlines, while on the other, with the emergence of post modern issue, fragmented and ambivalent, it becomes quite hard to classify consumers in terms of lifestyles. The traditional categories of definition of identity - age, gender, social class - are disappearing, paving the way to a conception of identity that emphasizes what is not established and certain.
In this context, style has different functions: on one hand, it can be an adequate tool for the representation of the post modern identity (which happens when a certain style is characterized by highly ambivalent elements), on the other hand, it becomes the means to communicate a collective identity, possessed by those who belong to certain minorities, such as youth subcultures, also commonly defined as “tribes of style”. In the first case, the result is the increase of proposals by the fashion system, in a desperate attempt to provide some appropriate responses to the demands of the multiform postmodern interests. Hence, it emerges what Pacoda defined the "Supermarket of style", where you can buy cheap pre-packaged identities and ready for use. In this supermarket, also those styles flourished from the youth are available, that are created specifically to oppose the fashion industry. As the author maintained:
Over the past 15-20 years, Fashion and Street styles' paths have intervened each other, creating a rich hybridization and a cacophony of proposals for alternative styles. Thus, on the shelves, we can find all the stylistic elements of the different subcultures as if they were boxes of instant soups.
In fact, in the history of the youth cultures, a phenomenon appeared that marked a turning point: precisely the ‘Punk phenomenon’. Presumably, generated in an environment of unease and discomfort that had already meandered for years, the Punk redefined the concept of transgression. If by then the idea of “authenticity” had become an empty myth, the only way to restore its value was now not to try to rebuild it, but to collect all of its pieces, in order to change the perspective, by ribbing everything until it had been taken seriously into account. As Baker argued:
Nihilism, anarchism, an avalanche of symbols (ranging from the swastikas, to clothes made of garbage, from studs to chains) are an original and perhaps “sublime” way to bring to the extreme, a dissident language until then it had seemed common and homogeneous by any youth countercultures. Punk has consciously deprived almost anything.
Hence, from the point of view of creativity, one cannot say that the ‘Punk’ invented something new, but rather it revolutionized an already existing method. What was a uniform that reflected a strong meaning and intended to construct an alternate universe, it became a crazy world, where anyone was free to see and imagine what they wanted. In Baker's words:
Thus, if all sub and counter cultures have always tried to create ‘alternative’ values, compared to those of the system, with which they could find news motivations, the Punk upsets the situation: there is nothing that is worth fighting for, no future!
When even the ‘Punk fury’ diminished and their iconoclastic movement was absorbed, turning into a profitable business clichés, there was not much room for new ideas. After this movement, a new generation of teenagers emerged, who, in most cases, seemed to have as a main aim to relish life without any concerns about the world's future.
The emptying process of the Fashion system strongly affected all the subcultures. For this reason, it must be stressed that the ‘Punk style’ is just the most evident and famous one. It may indeed be argued that nowadays it does not refer to a culture with a strong destabilizing force any more, but rather to a widespread and exploited clothing style. In fact, nowadays, anything concerning this movement is related only to clothing items, as it lost its original spirit that involved music and any kind of rebellion. Consequently, it evolved into a harmless simulation that the system has introduced to satisfy its incessant search for new forms. The current style, in contrast to the main motto of the movement in the late '70s "Punk is a way of being, not of appearing”, it does not hide any ideology nor exhibit a rebellion against the society.
The punk clothing style was created by the homonymous movement and was identified with the rejection of the canons and rules of fashion itself. Pioneers of the music genre were the punk bands, namely ‘The Ramones’ in the United States and the ‘Sex Pistols’ in Great Britain. As L. Diodato asserted:
Their notes corresponded to a clothing style made of studs, leather bracelets, coloured mohavks, long hair, boots, piercings, lapel badges, chains worn around the neck, jeans jackets, and tight trousers at the ankle, often torn and frayed. In contrast, new trends, especially regarding the female audience, just want to forecast a young woman more conscious and less willing to give up on herself. Sequins and glittering stones dissolve the aggressive image of the original style in a new sexy trend. In fact, the 2000 Punk version includes leather bags, jackets, studded sandals, ornamental chains, boots with high heels and sparkling decorations. Prestigious brands have adopted this style, such as 'John Richmond', with tight jeans torn artfully, white leather jackets decorated with golden studs, white and black cocktail dresses, decorated with golden studs piercing, and even torn eco-leather jeans.
Therefore, the fashion system has acquired the possession of the symbolic apparatus of youth subcultures, by depriving them of all the values. Indeed, the simulation is a mortal danger for a subculture's indispensable value, that is its authenticity. In this regard, Pacoda argued:
Although also today there are many exceptions, such as the 'Goths', the ‘Emos’, and the ‘Perverts’ , the great age of the subculture has clearly faded out. In place of it, here it is the effigy off the subculture in which fifty years of counter-history of the tribes of style have got sucked into the post-modern synchronous black hole. With a nostalgic fashion and an extremely strong indicator of imitation, the surface without substance appears on the agenda.
Thus, the fluid and fragmented identity of the post modern consumer can play, with the so called “simulacrum images” of pre-packaged subcultures, as in a sort of costume party. Ironically Pacoda observed:
Want to be a Glam? You're becoming so. Want to be a Goth? (Very popular option at the moment). You already are so. Want to be a Skinhead? No problem. In this supermarket of styles, all yesteryears stylistic tribes are on shelves like boxes of instant soup. Just add some water and flavour of authenticity can be yours.
Therefore, the challenge encountered by anyone who wants to escape the logic of the supermarket of styles is to protect his authenticity by these attempted simulations. As Pacoda stated, strategies in experimental phase are basically two: a strategy of deconstruction and reconstruction; and a strategy of the united front. The first one is, definitely, a complex operation that includes: the breakdown of style tribes' traditions in its minimal components, and, secondly, the assembly of these components in order to form original combinations and new solutions. Just to name a few examples, one may think of the combination of ‘hippy’ necklaces and ‘punk’ boots, or also ‘glam’ flared trousers with the typical skinheads’ "bomber". Pacoda defined this kind of operation as "sampling & mixing", terms derived from rap, rave, and techno music, in addition to other forms of contemporary pop music. Indeed, as Pacoda explained:
The term "sampling" describes the process by which small fragments of "old" pop music are borrowed from their original contexts. "Mixing" refers to the operation of putting together a certain number of these samples to generate a new and unique sequence. The goal is to mix the strangest samples in a series of presentations.
This strategy is aimed to displace any attempt of simulation, by eluding the easy typological classifications. On the other hand, the operation of deconstruction - construction betrays in turn, the same ambivalence and fragmentation typical of postmodernity.
In contrast, the strategy of the united front starts from the subcultures' recognition of the threat coming from the "supermarket of styles72", with its simulacrum images. Moreover, it comes from the identification of a lowest common denominator, established by the research of an authentic way of life, in a kind of tribal social construction of reality. This strategy has in some cases, given rise to outand- out mixing processes. In this regard Pacoda asserted:
The recent history of subcultures has seen a whole series of seemingly contradictory tribes merging together: the New Age Travellers, for instance, have successfully blended styles and ideologies belonging to Hippies and Punks (once totally in opposition), resulting in the so called ‘Hipunk’. Now this amalgam is also taking place through effective links with the ‘Rave’ culture.
This phenomenon is based on the awareness that those who belong to subcultures are quite different from the regulars of the “supermarket of styles”. To be out of the fashion system means more and more to be out from the so called “tout court” social system. This marginalization is a key factor, also in youth subculture’s construction and will be further analysed in the following pages.
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