Dressing the Part

By Revekah Echols

From Coachella to The French Laundry

Dressing as if you are attending a music festival is a thing. If you never knew what the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was, any number of websites, blogs or media outlets may not reference the music and art represented there but could tell you exactly what people wore. A crochet midriff top, cutoff denim shorts, a wide-brimmed felt hat, impractical shoes and a lot of mixed and matched accessories. Maybe a long, sheer caftan and metal rim sunglasses. Once an obscure fashion microcosm, the music festival look is now a formula which a person with little or no knowledge of the California music festival culture can mimic. You don’t have to go. You don’t even have to like music or art, but now you are certainly equipped to look like you do.

This idea of reducing a specific expression of style into three-minute long how-to tutorials is gaining in popularity these days, whether it is a YouTube video copying a celebrity’s makeup look or trendy online retailer Shopbop instructing you step by step on how exactly to attain New York street style. This byway seems to have formed at the intersection of fashion, capitalism and the internet, which together have the power to reduce ideas into directives, expressions into scientific hierarchy. And in every corner of the world people are starting to look more unique, original and hip.

In a way, exploiting these microscopic moments creates an even broader spectrum of fashion in which the style-conscious can engage. The catalogs of endless images of people who may have otherwise gone overlooked are available to reference, inspire and even generate new genres of style. In effect, fashion becomes a more democratic, accessible platform in which people high and low, left and right, old and new can participate and relate.

But what does it say that we are all looking more worldly, cool and sophisticated at the exact same time?

What if in the food world Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, Olive Garden and McDonald’s were simultaneously using the words “craft,” “responsibly sourced” and “artisan”? Would it indicate some sort of Nirvanic enlightenment in restaurants and chains across America? Are all people, by proximity, suddenly able to experience the three-star Michelin, Napa Valley gastronomic wonder because the menus share the same words? Or is it just good marketing? And if that’s true, what does that say about us?

Food is an interesting parallel to fashion because both are necessities, and yet both are things that humans have tried to elevate for most of history. Dressing like we have been to Coachella doesn’t actually give us the experience of a days-long jam session with thousands of other people in a West Coast desert valley. So even though we are looking better, more diverse and more aware, are we really changing as people? If we keep faking it, will we eventually make it?

Maybe all of these catchphrases, this imposed worldliness, this longing to be different and exclusive and unique is really just the new normal, and we are exactly the same. This trend seems to be driven equally by two things: the desire to be better and the fear of being left behind.

This is the tension that the generation raised on Apple products and easy access to cheap, trendy clothing will have to reconcile. Increasingly, we will be able to feign experience, travel and even history by following exact directions and dressing the part. But this outside-in approach does not address the first objective, which is to develop perspective and meaning in life.