Saturday, May 14, 2005

Sweet Jesus, I'm a hipster! I discovered an interesting fashion website today called FashionTribes. It's pretty New York-centric, and it begins from the extraordinarily problematic premise that:
when style-conscious people get dressed, they fall into six categories or fashion tribes. And the tribes go way beyond just getting dressed. A person's tribe will tell you about the types of restaurants they frequent, their preferred hangouts, the music they like, and even choices in transportation (eg. subway vs car & driver). The tribe you choose reveals who you are.
These categories are: Global Chic; Fancy Flirt; Downtown Doll; Rock Punk; Afro Love and Technoid Subculture.

Thank goodness for Glen. Not only has he recently been sucked into the wonderful world of online quizzes; he's just posted about the methodological (and epistemological) weaknesses of subcultural theory. I feel as though any attempt by me to explain why the FashionTribes model is deeply flawed would be greeted with a resounding "Duhhhhhh!", especially my lame protests about its lack of academic rigour; but please let me point out one or two things that blow my mink about FashionTribes. It's using the language of subcultures and the methodology of a bodgy online quiz (or perhaps more accurately, a Cosmo quiz). It has the most spastically obvious interpellations ever - a question asking whether your favourite accessory is a Vivienne Westwood skull ring and a studded leather belt is pretty transparently trying to brand you a "Rock Punk".

Also, it is tied to outdated models of brand-loyalty and presumes a familiarity with the work of couture houses. In one question, I was really struggling to work out which set of designers I "couldn't live without". There is also a pissweak demographic section at the end, but if it's trying to pin down your consumer behaviour, it's like using a jackhammer to open a bottle of champagne. This just isn't good enough, considering that Arnold Mitchell's VALS consumer behaviour model has been around since the 1970s.

But more extraordinarily, FashionTribes is using its arbitrary categories as a way of organising the content of the website. It describes the six sections as six "fashion magazines" tailored to a particular set of preferences. Cute idea in principle, but I disagree a) with the legitimacy of the categories themselves; b) with the idea that they're mutually exclusive. The site presumes that only Fancy Flirts would be into stories about pearls and Beyonce, and only Rock Punks would read articles about street stencilling. There is a splash page with a general editorial and independent links to some of the articles; but there is no interlinking between the six "magazines".

It would be far more interesting to see how these "tribes" interacted, how their purported tastes dovetailed and conflicted. I am currently investigating ways to turn my dedicated fashion blog, Footpath Zeitgeist, into a portmanteau research, publishing and consulting project, and so I have been researching existing online fashion media. But I am pretty sure I could do it better and more rigorously than FashionTribes.

It's funny; today I was having brunch with Bo and he was talking about that Coke ad that uses rock ideology.
Music should make you want to drop out of school and learn guitar. And a live show should last a lifetime. There should be blood on the frets and the audience should dance. Support bands should get a sound check. Ticket stubs should be cherished. And everyone should want the lead singer. Lip-syncing should be reserved for b-grade kung-fu movies. Televisions should take their rightful place at the bottom of hotel swimming pools. And damn right your parents should disapprove. Piercings should not be allowed in the mosh pit. Blowing a whole month's pay on front row tickets should be admired...if you can get them. And that 64 Fender should be earned not bought. Lyrics should be crafted to a point, that heard just once become burned into the memory as if they were your own. People who don't know the words, should shut up and listen. And your favourite song should be played so loud, that neighbours you didn't even know you had, ask you to turn it down. That's music... As it should be.
Bo was saying it's a genius ad, because it completely hits rock ideology on the head. He was interested to see how Dan took this; and Dan was outraged - not, said Bo, because Coke was cynically using rock to sell fizzy drink; but because Coke got it so right. Because Dan sincerely believes rock ideology. Because he is a Rock Person. And it's an outrage to him that a mega-corporation should speak to him in his language.

So perhaps that's at the heart of my rage at the Tribe I was assigned by FashionTribes. Here it is.
Welcome to the world of the Downtown Doll! Electic hipster, you are as trendy as they come (although you're too cool to think of yourself that way). You troll the sample sales of NYC with your exacting eye, and find just the right pieces to mix with your vintage stash from Reciproque in Paris. Bungalow 8 is like your home away from home. On the dance floor, your open toed heels reveal your always perfectly pedigreed [sic: does she mean "pedicured"] piggies.
Celebrity Downtown Dolls include Chloe Sevigny, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kate Moss, Macy Gray and Milla Jovovich. Downtown Doll's favourite movie is Garden State.


Sorry, must dash now. I must squeeze my red-painted "piggies" into some high-heeled sandals to go with my vintage sparkly off-the-shoulder tiger-print top and ra-ra skirt for Elaine's 1980s disco party in St Kilda tonight. Oh, but that's after I see some burlesque at the Prince Patrick. Oh sweet Jesus, I'm not joking! I'm a hipster!

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