When it comes to thinking about street style and authenticity, I have more questions than answers. To start, Ted Polhemus explains the concept of authenticity and street style in his book Street Style: From Sidewalk to Catwalk (1994) as such:
“The Street is both the stage upon which the drama unfolds and the bottom line metaphor for all that is presumed to be real and happening in our world today. In the past, ‘Western culture’ was most at ease and most recognizable within grand interiors. Today, as high culture has given way to popular culture, it is the litmus test of ‘street credibility’ that is crucial. If it won’t cut it on the corner, forget it.”
“Like holy relics, street style garments radiate the power of their associations. Every age uses dress and body decoration to signal what is most important at that historical moment. Throughout most of our history that message has been, ‘I am rich,’ or ‘I am powerful.’ If today more and more people use their dress style to assert: ‘I am authentic,’ it is simply evidence of our hunger for the genuine article in age which seems to so many to be one of simulation and hype.”
– Ted Polhemus, in Street Style: From Sidewalk to Catwalk (1994)
It seems that today’s definition of street style has shifted thanks in large part to the fashion blogosphere. I would argue that street style as it portrayed in the fashion media (online, in print, etc.) is more of an aesthetic than anything else. This past week, Ruth La Ferla wrote about what street style has become in The New York Times. She writes:
“In front of Milk Studios, on the piers along the Hudson, and at other locations where shows were staged, scores of fashion hopefuls, mostly female, mostly young, preened for the cameras, apparently vying for their 15 seconds of fame on Instagram, Tumblr or one of the dozens of fashion blogs proliferating on the Web.
… what they are parading as street style — once fashion’s last stronghold of true indie spirit — has lately been breached, infiltrated by tides of marketers, branding consultants and public relations gurus, all intent on persuading those women to step out in their wares.”
I would also suggest that when street style photographers become celebrities and start taking photographs for major fashion publications in the style of their street style photographs, something has changed. Being photographed by Scott Schuman is coveted for the fleeting sense of fashion celebrity status that it brings. I don’t want to suggest that all street style is like this or that every person that poses for a street style photograph uses it as a promotional tool. I just wonder what it means when street style is no longer “authentic” and becomes “simulation and hype.” What does it mean when street style is no longer a tool for authentic self-expression? Does it cease to exist? Should there be a new definition of street style or does Ted Polhemus’ definition apply? Should there be a distinction between “real” street style and the street style in the fashion media?
Given the structure of my MRP, street style is something that I will be revisiting throughout my creative process journal. Ted Polhemus recently published an updated edition of Street Style: From Sidewalk to Catwalk and I’d like to review it for my creative process journal. Hopefully he discusses what street style has become today.
Polhemus, Ted. Street Style: From Sidewalk to Catwalk. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson. 1994. Print