A Quest Called Tribes.

Note: Google spiders would probably prefer I called this article ‘tribes in fashion’ or ‘post tribalist style’ (apparently they don’t ‘get’ puns), so I hope you ’80s kids appreciate the reference.

fixie hipster tribe

We all know someone who looks like this, right? Yes, they might not have the beard, or the chest piece, but you know someone who is just like this person. And if the site I drew it from is correct (which it almost always is), they’re probably a fan of acts like Girl Talk, Ratatat, Animal Collective, Freelance Whales and Grizzly Bear. Two of which a female friend (and manifestation of the fixed gear hipster) literally recommended on her Twitter the other day.

This week I stumbled across an article in Shortlist’s fashion magazine for men, MODE, about tribes in fashion. The article sets the scene well (recounting Hooligans, mods, Teddy Boys etc), which is nice as I don’t have the energy to rehash all of that here. However, its slightly weak conclusion (namely that hipsters sampling various styles from different eras is just another form of tribalism) left me feeling that Robinson ended the piece where it should have just been beginning.

The MODE article neatly references Ted Polhemus, an anthropologist specialising in street style, who claims that ‘most of us are now both post-tribal and post-fashion. The name of the game is to do your own thing.’ I call bullshit. As Tyler Durden uttered in Fight Club, ’you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.’

uniqlo brian kanagaki
Brian Kanagaki

Although we are definitely not post-tribal, we do seem to have developed the ability to inhabit more than one tribe at once. Take me, for example – by day, I’m a preppy, fashion blogger type. By night, you’ll usually find me watching underground bands like Loma Prieta or Touche Amore screaming their way a set in some grim bar’s basement. You’d think that’s a combination that wouldn’t be too common, right? Well, it’s one I share with Brian Kanagaki, the bassist of Loma Prieta. And about twenty other guys at any one of their shows.

Brian Kanagaki Loma Prieta
Brian Kanagaki

So how, all of a sudden, are we able to switch between tribes so easily? I blame the internet. In ‘the old days’ if you wanted to become (or at least look like) a punk, you’d have to spend years buying Doc Martens, a denim jacket to safety pin patches to and all the vinyl The Misfits and The Ramones had put out. Everyone in your town would know you were a punk, and that was that.

Now? I could finish work and set my laptop to download The Damned’s discography, get some studded DMs from Topman, order a bunch of patches for a vintage store denim jacket from eBay and be heading out to The Black Heart by 9pm. Instapunk. In the same way that people might present themselves differently on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, they often have a collection of interchangeable images of themselves that they project in different social situations.

dress like tyler the creator
Tyler, the Creator & OFWGKTA

As well as becoming more spasmodic and interchangeable, tribes in fashion are also becoming more metatextual and cyclical. Towards the end of the 20th century, rappers began to mix brands like Cartier, D&G, Ralph Lauren (traditionally the preserve of the white upper classes) with excessive bling like grills, bejewelled canes and pimp cups. In reaction to this, the white upper classes took a u-turn and began to dress in a style that seemed consciously ‘uncool’ – thick glasses, cardigans and deck shoes were once again en vogue c.f. The O.C‘s Seth Cohen wearing Original Penguin by Munsingwear, a brand formerly associated with ageing white dudes like Richard Nixon.

It took a very long time (well, as long as we’re not counting Erkel…and we’re not) for young African Americans to take on these trends, but it finally started to happen. The picture above of Tyler, the Creator and rap collective Odd Future (Wolf Gang Kill Them All) shows the way in which many young black teenagers have started to reappropriate the image of white, middle-class, often nerdy teenagers in their own way. Yup, so in the queue waiting for the new Supreme collection to drop, there will inevitably be a bunch of white guys trying to dress like black guys who are trying to dress like white guys. For more on Supreme and its phenomenal success, check this excellent article.

Stereotypes like this, that initially seem obscure and unique, are everywhere. Fashion bloggers with that Chanel quote about only being irreplacable if you’re unique (irony.) in their Twitter bio, who look coyly at the floor to their right and act surprised in every photo…even though they’re the ones who set the self timer. Screamo kids wearing wool hats and Jansport rucksacks at gigs, arms crossed and nodding their grudging appreciation at French post-hardcore bands. Tumblr kids with dip dyed pink hair and upside down crucifixes on their t-shirts who listen to The Cure and The Smiths (who they heard about from 500 Days of Summer) and obsess over manga. Gaggles of chino-clad fourteen year olds, with the strings of their American Apparel hoodies tied in a bow over a tribal print Topman t-shirt, who all hate One Direction. Despite looking just like them.

Catch you later, snowflakes.

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