A host of fashion gurus, marketing mavens, and subcultural theorists have long championed spectacular stylistic distinction as a politically empowering and self-affirming force. These observers define style as an aesthetic and material expression of selfhood that confirms our uniqueness and displays our links to circles of like-minded people. This month, though, New York magazine’s Fiona Duncan was the latest observer mystified by the emergence of sameness: that is, instead of seeking out distinguishing style and visibly discernible brands, many consumers instead appear to be embracing the plain and non-descript, trooping off to secure the innocuous jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers hawked at the likes of Old Navy and Abercrombie and Fitch. Instead of looking to the red carpet for our fashion cues and monitoring the elite for material standards, at least some of us appear to be parroting Jerry Seinfeld’s garb and venturing to Costco for household material tips.
Archaeologists and style-makers alike tend to assume that personal and group identities will inevitably be marked off by visible difference, making style a visual code that somewhat theatrically displays our singular identities. Stylistic distinction certainly has not been read its death rites, but aesthetic and behavioral uniformity can no longer be reduced simply to disempowering assimilation. The archaeological question is how stylistic homogeneity and the appearance of banality may have radical political implications and not simply reflect the sheep being led to consumer culture’s slaughter. Read the rest of this entry