Monday Postcard #78 – (Non)Conformity
As millennials we have the reputation of striving for individuality. When it comes to our jobs, travels, food, lifestyle and our outward appearance. Most millennials, and I guess probably most Gen Zs, would actually say that they do not want to conform and consider themselves individualistic. We think we are very different from our parents’ generation when it comes to our opinion, life choices and style. But when I observe conversations, habits or styles around me, I am not sure if we really come up to that reputation.
I recently wrote a Postcard about why people take the same photos. Millennials (as well as Gen Zs) go on a pilgrimage to spots famous on Instagram and keep reproducing the same pictures – very often even with the same outfits, angles and editing style. It is not about discovering new places, not about being curious. It is about repeating what others do. Where are all the rebels? Do we really want to be remembered as the generation who was crazy about mass consumption, who looked the same and who was conform?
Last week, the lifestyle media (both traditional and social) were all about an event in Marrakech hosted by the fashion brand Dior presenting their Cruise Collection. It was just everywhere and I got really bored, if not annoyed, by it. What I saw was the same women not only looking almost the same but also wearing almost the same outfits. All of them telling their audience how much they love Dior products. (On a side note, I really wonder how many of their followers will ever be able to afford these very same outfits.) Elle Magazine featured them on their channels enjoying the party and promoting the mainstream outfits.
At the same time, I read an article in an Austrian fashion magazine suggesting to unfollow all these people. According to the author, even if we know that those views and styles are mainstream, consuming their content may “subconsciously drive us towards mediocrity”. It is quite a radical view but I guess she may have a point.
What I really do not understand is why would we invest in outfits which are that expensive and then make us look all the same. When I was younger, my dream was to own a Chanel 2.55 bag. But thinking about it now, I wonder why I would invest in a piece which makes me look like so many other people? If I invest that much, do I not want to make a statement and look different? It is basically mass production at a much higher price point.
I never got the logic of following fashion trends. At first, people look at you because they find you weird. I remember when I was the first one with skinny jeans, I got those looks. And now – no matter how people look in them – they follow a trend just for the sake of being accepted by a certain crowd. And what was a simple pair of skinny jeans a few years ago has become expensive designer bags.
The paradox is that there are plenty of people who do not want to be part of mainstream movements. But even if there are people who think they fight the mainstream, they often become mainstream themselves. Think about the messy bun on the top of the head which was, and still is, popular amongst the artsy crowd. It is supposed to be part of a rebellious, sometimes even revolting, style – interesting cuts, little makeup, worn-out shoes. But has this not become a kind of uniform as well? When I went to the Venice Biennale or Documenta I actually felt as an outsider because I did not dress like that. And this phenomenon is not limited to the art scene. We think we are different but at the same time we create or follow another mainstream movement. The hair bun went on to fitness gurus, veganistas and the like.
I never wanted to look like everybody else. Maybe because very early on I realised that I do not conform to what was considered “normal”. I grew up in a very small town in Eastern Austria where my views did or do not conform to the mainstream. Only when I moved to Vienna or even when I left Austria I felt the freedom to be who I am, do what I want, dress how I want. It probably is not only due to the geographic change but also because this was after my teenage years and early twenties – a time where we finish the first phase of finding out who we really are.
I enjoy experimenting and finding my own style. Sometimes I adopt a trend, sometimes I discover an interesting item on my travels, sometimes I wear vintage items I found in my mum’s closet. I was always inspired by the non-conformers – the women in the early Sixties who wore the mini skirt to make a statement of empowerment, or Iris Apfel and her eccentric style wearing pieces from all over the world. I do not say that I am completely against designer outfits or brands. But what I would like to see is that my generation moves away from conformity. Of course, being different does not only involve clothing per se. But how we dress is part of expressing ourselves.
We were the ones hit most by the 2008-09 financial crisis, we are going to pay for the current politicians who do not care about the environment because we will have to live in a polluted world. Hence, if we do not stand up for ourselves, nobody will. And the first step to showing that we are serious is to move away from conforming to certain images the media or multinational corporations create for us. Do we really want to be told by some women whose qualifications for being “influencers” is presenting their daily outfits? Outfits which have no impact other than driving profits of certain brands? Do we not want to be a generation with a bigger impact? Is an “influencer” only someone who makes us wear certain brands? Next time, when you when you are lured into those fancy Instagram posts, think about it if mainstream consumerism is really what our grandchildren will appreciate about us. Maybe we can use these platforms for something bigger, for something which does not conform.