Reconsidering how music and fashion are inherent parts of identity formation
The music and fashion industries have, over the years, steadily grown closer and closer together. Indeed, the two are now woven so closely together that it’s entirely reasonable not to question how or why that is. It’s common nature to consider a large public event – things like award shoes and the Met Gala, for instance – as just another opportunity for designers to advertise suits and gowns on household names (for a fee, of course).
Recent reports have placed that fee as high as a quarter of a million dollars, so it would be really easy to consider the yoking of the fashion and music industries with a certain degree of cynicism. The average consumer could look at a songstress getting paid the price of a one-bedroom condo to wear scraps of fabric for all of six hours and would be entirely justified in shrugging it off as ‘just something that happens in Hollywood.’
But I think it’s important to consider why exactly that happens, and how deeply it affects even those who don’t find themselves aggressively flipping channels between various networks’ pre-Award shows to devour every possible angle of Katy Perry’s latest Moschino ensemble. A helpful place to start is a quote from the brilliant oeuvre The Devil Wears Prada (2006):
In our case, however, the way we consider celebrity culture is precisely the way that the 2002 Oscar de la Renta collection operates in Miranda Priestley’s speech. We see a celebrity wearing something – maybe we don’t like it at first, maybe we can’t stand the celebrity wearing it, but we acknowledge that it exists. Maybe more and more celebrities hop on board with that now-trendy piece until one day a celebrity we’ve deemed worthy of our idolatry happens to be wearing that very item we hated when it first appeared on the red carpet. Then, the next time we find ourselves shopping, we pick up that once-lambasted but now seamlessly accepted item.
Perhaps this is old news to everyone reading this, and it’s entirely likely that I’ve just been repeating advertising dogma that, in this day and age, is basically common-sense: middle-class see, middle-class do. But that’s precisely what is so insidious about the fashion and music industries in particular. Fashion is so often acknowledged as a method of self-representation, a way to showcase your interiority by way of boots and scarves.
But does that understanding of fashion hold up when we’re taking our cues from network television? How can fashion be an expression of interiority if that interiority is just a mirror image of whatever amount of money a celebrity has accepted to wear a dress to the Grammys?
The point of this isn’t to shame singers for accepting money in exchange for a service – and that’s especially true for female artists. Because fashion is such a feminized industry, it’s all too common to hear people dismiss brand “ambassadorships” as nothing but a vapid, manipulative way to make a quick buck at the expense of unsuspecting teenage girls. I think it’s important to move beyond the urge to categorize fashion as nothing more than a vehicle for artists to turn a quick profit. After all, there’s a difference between Taylor Swift glowing in Elie Saab (which I’m still not over), and Kylie Jenner promoting hair-care vitamins.
The difference is that fashion is an important vehicle for identity creation, especially in kids and teenagers. That’s why I think it’s incredibly important to be aware of the way that trends insert themselves (or rather, are inserted) into our daily lives – whether we want them to be or not. When artists from Jessica Simpson to Beyonce put forward a clothing brand, why do we wear them? It’s not as simple as the reductive “you’re buying it because it has Beyonce’s name on it” argument, because that elides the decision-making process on the part of the teenager who has scrimped and saved every last dollar to afford, say, an Ivy Park hoodie.
Fashion is one of the few avenues open to children, teenagers, and even adults as a method of self-expression. Discrediting conscious fashion choices made by independent consumers limits the way we engage with and understand each other. Wearing an Ivy Park hoodie isn’t the knee-jerk response to seeing Beyonce’s face, but a way to identify with an artist who so often remains far out of ideological and physical reach.
My point is that, in 2016, we aren’t the slaves to advertising we so often associate with a bygone era. Young girls aren’t going to start wearing Elie Saab gowns to their high school proms just because Taylor Swift wore one on the red carpet that one time. Fashion is so much more than just scraps of fabric pieced together – just like how music is so much more than just a collection of instruments. They’re both ways to express emotion and create identity. If a teenager wants to wear a gown that reminds her of an artist she saw on the red carpet, it’s because that gown resonated inside her – it spoke to her on a level that moves light-years beyond a chanting chorus of “Buy me! Buy me!” It didn’t violently shout at her from the other side of her MacBook. The gown sidled up to her, caressed her cheek, and whispered into her ear: “Buy me. Embrace me. Become me.” The second she saw that gown, parts of that fabric had been folded into her identity forever. That’s why fashion and music are so much more than vehicles for advertising – they’re inherent parts of how we understand ourselves.