In our society, Postmoderns have come up with the idea that we cannot know truth; that we cannot even know if we are coming closer to truth or getting further away from it. On an academic level, this has led to deconstructionist literary criticism and the new historicism, among other things. Postmoderns deconstruct coherent and rational ways of thinking about the world and who we are. Such thinking is destructive on the intellectual level.
But the thinking does not end there. The fashion industry has taken these metaphysical concepts and applied them to the clothing it sells. Capitalizing on the lack of stability that the postmoderns give us and the central role humans think they have, the fashion designers rewrite the standard of what is “in” and what is not every season, playing on our fears of being outdated and geekified if we do not keep up with their trends. Targeting the age bracket of 15-25 year olds – who usually have the most peer pressure and least self-control – the fashion industry makes a killing off of our stupidity.
Bricolage is a very popular look. This postmodern style deliberately combines clothing pieces styled after different eras or cultures for an off-hand look. For example, shirts with Mandarin collars and Chinese characters paired with jeans right from the eighties. The attempt to produce a unified, traditional “look” in an outfit has been radically altered. Bricolage also combines clothing of radically different textures and colours. A putrid green jacket with orange pants and white shoes are a viable postmodern look. J. Crew suggests pairing a pajama top with paisley capris for a spring look this year. Fifty years ago, that would just have been weird, not haute couture.
The look does not end there. An individual garment can be deconstructionist all on its own. Either it can be what used to be considered “a second”, or it can be used for something that it was not designed for. By “second”, I mean that the garment is torn, poorly made or “old”. Gap has sold a jacket with one button for a closure on the collar and the other button, connected to the first, on the bodice of the coat, forcing the collar to sit in a lopsided way. Women’s shirts are often so thin that they have to be layered in order to be functional. You can buy jeans with dirt on the knees and back pockets that not even Tide will remove. Such clothing comes covered in the stuff that mothers and housewives have been fighting for centuries.
There are also many things out there that can be used for something they were not designed for and accessories have proven especially versatile. You can buy men’s neckties in the girls section to keep you pants up or tie your hair back. You can find men’s hats, like fedoras, for sale in the girl’s section as well. The most ridiculous example of deconstructionist clothing I found were a pair of pink suede high-top running shoes with three inch heels. They are useless for running or for formalwear, and that’s the point – the wearer defines their purpose. (One “fashion trend” is foot surgery for women: get a slice of your foot sawed off so you can fit into pointier shoes.) Having done away with absolutes like “ugly” or “beautiful”, as well as redefining uses for many things, our culture is killing any discriminating sense of appropriate style.
When you go to all the trouble of finding tight-fitting, dirty jeans from a designer, of course you want the world to know it, and that is where labels come into the picture. Without the label, you would look like a street person wearing someone’s hand-me-down. With the label, you are cool. How does this relate to Postmodernism? As Stanley Grenz says in his primer on the topic, displayed labels and brand names are “a feature that blurs the distinction between fashion and advertising.” We are so label-locked in our culture that stores from Nike to Victoria Secret can sell more product by slapping a visible label on it, knowing that the public will be more likely to buy the product if they can display trendy taste to their peers. Such companies are not doing the consumer any favors, but the other way around; we are paying more money for visible name brands so that we can advertise for the company that is ripping us off. We are paying them to let us be very mobile sandwich signs.
Shirts with graphics on them can be very overt results of postmodernism in our culture. Shirts that say things like “Rage against the machine,” “Judas was a great guy” and “@#$% Bush” are expressions of rebellion against authority, political and religious. Girls shirts that say “Princess” or “Angel” are either self-deluded or self-righteous – self centered in either case. American Eagle sells T’s which advertise various things like ski resorts and food shops, all of which have double meanings through the use of tropes and puns: “Watts Electricians: Let us remove your shorts”, for example. In a culture where relationships are as unstable as worldviews, no wonder we have teenage girls wearing shirts like that when their boyfriends are wearing shirts that say “I love Porn.”
Why is the fashion industry making such strange and, in some cases, perverted styles? They sell. It is not the designers, but the consumers who are largely to blame. We have bought into the lies which will affect what our historical perspective is like down to the underwear we wear. We have ditched I Peter 3:3 for cultural standards. When we want beautiful, modest, whole clothing from a designer, we will get it. If we want soft-porn bricolage, we will get it, and that’s what we’ve got – a logical conclusion for something so Postmodern.