Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do what people wear really define them? Or perhaps not necessarily define them but rather "express themselves" to everyone else? After going to the department stores last week I started thinking about mass-culture and things that are mass produced. Even if one product isn't necessarily mass-produced, it's design or the general idea of it will eventually creep into some form of mass-production so that everyone can own something that generally looks identical to something that thousands of other people own. Another thing that got me thinking about that was finally having to face the daunting task of purchasing souvenirs for people at home. Of it should be something that has to do with "Paris" but how can you actually tell that something is from here? There are so many things here that certainly are unique but there are also things that unless I was told where it was from I could assume it to be from any chain-store in America. It's almost as if there is this mass-western culture that has taken over fashion and all other products (generally speaking, and not necessarily including food) and so everyone is expected to look the same. Something is worn here but it is worn at home as well. I suppose individuals can certainly put their own "style" together, but it is not as if we have the means as individuals to entirely create an outwardly exposed identity through what we wear, since we are at the mercy of the mass-productions industries. Unless of course you are one of the few individuals who can pay to have your clothing, shoes, etc. hand-made and to your own design. But even so, if you are such a person, whatever it is that you have hand-made for you will probably be photographed or made by someone well-known and therefore it will trickle down into the mainstream fashion industry within the year, finding that item (which of course is made of cheaper material by cheaper machines run by even cheaper labor) on the bodies of those trying to fit in. So I guess the question I am trying to get at here is whether or not the mass-production industry allows people to have more options to create their look, to "express who they are" or if in fact it simply monopolizes us, allowing only certain options for an acceptable self-representation. Does the department store and all of these other chain stores with the clothes, the shoes, the perfumes, where people from Paris, to Shanghai, to Romeo MI shop, actually try to tell us that we should all look alike, smell alike, be alike? And what does that do to individuality? Is it slowly fading away along with all the small shops that nobody has heard of where everything is hand-made? This past week as I was wandering about Paris shopping with my mom, we walked into a store (mostly because of the name--Les Filles de la Vanille) where everything was hand-made by the owner. It was a cute little store full of hand-stitched dresses that were not designer priced. I don't know if it was because of how much I loved the dress or if it was because it was "orginal" both in design and to Paris, but I bought one. So now are we buying things (or maybe just me) because of their seeming individuality, because it is something that not everyone else can buy. I think that to me that is also the appeal of Vintage stores; it is something that has a story, that is no longer being produced, and is in fact an item that 20,000 other people are probably not searching for in stores across the world at that same moment. I can't admit that I am not a department-store/mass produce shopper. It's cheaper, I can afford it, and that is of course part of the appeal. But at what point does mass-production begin to actually peel away at individual expression? To what extent do we allow what the stores and the magazines that advertise for them tell us how we should represent ourselves to the rest of the world, is it possible that mass-production is confining the possibilities of individual expression to one mass array of choices--and that's all you get? Is your "self expression" actually limited by the mass-culture? Is it? I don't know yet...

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