The Fashion Allegory (2020)
In Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1957), he shines a light onto a socially overlooked and wilfully ignored concept – the dark space of advertising. Every day, us audiences are sold ideals, images and fantasies, which we have been taught to realise through buying, adding and fuelling our lives with more. It’s worth taking a moment to look at the material possessions that we own and ask ourselves – is this really me, or is this what I have been taught to feel like I need?
A personal experience that inspired me to start to think about the heavy influx of marketing that is shaping our lives, is the fashion industry. Most specifically, the space of social media and the inhabited act of influencers selling idealistic images of the newest designer items for me to purchase. In turn, I spend hours filling my basket with the newest, most expensive - certainly out of my price range - items in order to fulfil a desired image. As I write this, my studio is currently comparable to a delivery sorting office, filled with over £500.00 worth of clothes which I have recently ordered online (which I am in the process of returning, because I don’t actually like or need any of them!).
My relationship with fashion is an addiction. This, however, is not my fault and in fact I am a target of the careful manipulation which takes place by the ‘hidden persuaders’. The hidden persuaders manifest within every large corporation, who intend to sell products to audiences. They get into your mind, by learning what drives you; in turn teaching you these drives. You begin to identify a sense of yourself in the advertisements and then perform these in your everyday acts. Your compulsions are therefore constructed by a higher power, yet this is an invisible space that isn’t directly physical to the act of you consuming the advertisement.
However, in the age of social media, particularly Instagram, image culture is growing, along with advertising. And within this grand space of images, there is a dominant field of fashion influencers and users who both cycle in a game of selling and buying. In carefully framed images, models wear on-trend clothing and frame themselves in sexualised or playful poses to sell a lifestyle, in association with the fashion garment. The fashion garment becomes a prop which is orchestrated by the visible persuader, who is hidden in the form and shell of a ‘normal person’. But this normal person is in fact a facet of a larger corporation fuelling their business with a pressure on you to give them more of your money.
In Packard’s book, he acknowledges George Orwell’s concept of Big Brother to introduce the systematic probing and manipulation which takes place by the largest advertising agencies. It is as though we are living in a state of numbness and pure absorption. We are the images we see; we have become so immune to a sense of stopping this, that we continue to endure this. Our youngest generation will experience this as completely normal.
Instagram is a dominant social norm and activity in 2020 - particularly with the rise of Covid-19. If you don’t have Instagram, you’re seen to be different, to the normative flow of social behaviours. You don’t have a story up, reflecting moments of your day? Are you even a real 2020 person, or are you just old or outdated? This in itself is the clearest form of manipulation by Instagram, as we are being sold the pressure of conforming to using the app to fit into culture. This compulsion is in fact unnatural and something we don’t need but we have been targets of marketing pressures to use it. However, with the fact that it is so widely appreciated and audiences enjoy the app, is this simply the future and therefore the correct way of being? Perhaps we all ought to turn our brains onto autopilot and join the train of globalised, constructed thoughts and social behaviours.
Through acknowledging the fact that our behaviours aren’t solely our own, we can free ourselves from addictive tendencies; in my case, fashion consumption. It’s worth mentioning that within some of the largest advertising agencies psychologists “are probing sample humans in attempt to find how to identify and beam messages to people of high anxiety, body consciousness, hostility, passiveness” (p.33). A particular study showed how advertising is biologically informed, from an example with one agency who monitored “a housewives menstrual cycle and its psychological concomitants in order to find the appeals that will be more effective” to sell her specific products. This clearly highlights that what might appear as a simple, unimportant and solely self-driven act such as purchasing an item, has in fact been carefully moderated by the producers who are selling the product. This in turn tricks you into feeling that you need this item, when really, you don’t.
Is this to say that I will never purchase an item of clothing again, or an item in general because of these global corporations and their hidden persuaders? No. I like fashion. Perhaps I will acknowledge that my like for fashion is probably a constructed belief injected into my ego consciousness by years of social media, film, print and the consumption of everyday culture. But nevertheless, I will purchase things again in my life and the message of this text isn’t to go cold turkey – for you will end up caving in at some point anyway. Instead, it is worth acknowledging fashion garments as props, extensions of a constructed, ego-driven self-identity and then lastly as a fashion garment.
To conclude, in my photography series ‘The Fashion Allegory’, I have developed a series of images which respond to my interpretation of fashion garments. The garments presented are clothing items that I have sourced in a second-hand store called Traid in Peckham, London. I traded a small amount of money and bought several items at the price of £2.00 each as there was a sale on at the time. I then developed a sustainable fashion collection which featured expressionist ink marks onto the garments to signpost my physical engagement with the item of clothing. Through this gesture I began to imprint a sense of my autonomous self onto the garment - the act of my hand moving freely and creating an automatic expression. This is an ongoing personal project that is available in the form of photography and videos. As depicted in the images, the models are seen to be holding the garments instead of wearing them. Here, I intend to persuade you into a new thought that fashion is solely a prop and a falsely advertised extension of your self-identity and then ultimately, a flat object – a garment.