Fashion pundits have long recognized the notion that trends in fashion take part in a phenomenon known as the trickle-down effect. A process of social emulation of society’s upper echelons by the subordinates provides myriad incentives for perpetual and incessant changes in fashion through a sequence of novelty and imitation. Dior’s ‘New Look’ of 1947 consisted of creations that were only affordable to a minority of affluent women of the time.
Fashion was governed by haute-couture designers and presented to the masses to aspire toward. However, this traditional prospective has been vigorously challenged by many throughout the fashion world. Revisionist observations have introduced a paradoxical argument that fashion trends have, on numerous occasions, inadvertently emerged from the more obscure spheres of society onto the glamorous catwalks of high-fashion designers.
These styles can originate from a range of unorthodox sources, from leather-jacketed punks and dramatic Goths, the teddy boys of the 1950s, to ethnic minority cultures from all edges of the globe. Styles that emerge from the bottom of the social hierarchy are increasingly bubbling up to become high fashion.
There has been significant concern over the implications of this so-called bubble-up effect, such as the ambiguity between the notions of flattering imitation and outright exploitation of subcultures and minority groups. Democratization and Globalization of fashion have contributed to the abrasion of the authenticity and original identity of street-style culture. The inadvertent massification of maverick ideas undermines the ‘street value’ of the fashions for the very people who created them.
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The underlying definition of subculture, regarding anthropology and sociology, is people who differ from their larger prevailing culture. Members of a subculture have their own shared values and conventions, tending to oppose mainstream culture, for example, in fashion and music tastes.
Gelder proposed several principal characteristics that subcultures portrayed in general: negative relations to work and class, association with their own territory, living in non-domestic habitats, profligate sense of stylistic exaggeration, and the stubborn refusal of massification. Hebdige emphasized that subcultures’ opposition to conform to standard societal values has been slated negatively. In fact, misunderstood groups are only attempting to find their own identity and meaning.
The divergence away from social normalcy has unsurprisingly proliferated new ideas and styles, distinctly observed through fashion diversity. Ethnicity, race, class, and gender can be physical distinctions of subcultures. Furthermore, qualities that determine a subculture may be aesthetic, linguistic, sexual, political, religious, or a mixture of these factors.
Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays investigated the drivers of social control and the engineering of consent. Their psychological theories provide insight into the causes of deviation, from social norms, by members of a subculture.
They highlighted human beings’ irrationality and discovered that it is possible to manipulate unconscious minds to manage society by tapping into their deepest desires. Freud believed that stimulating the unconscious was crucial to creating desire and conducive to economic progress and mass democracy. Bernays argued that individual freedom was unattainable because it would be “too dangerous to allow human beings to express themselves truly.”
Through various advertising methods, a distinctive ‘majority’ can be created in society, where a person belonging to this group is perceived to be normal, conventional, and conformist. By using techniques to satisfy people’s inner desires, the rise of widespread consumerism plays a part in the organized manipulation of the masses. However, through the unleashing of certain uncontrolled aggressive instincts, occasional irrationality emerged in groups. This repudiation of ordinary life banalities is believed to be a key factor in the generation of subcultures.
The expansion of youth styles from subcultures into the fashion market is a real network or infrastructure of new commercial and economic institutions. The creation of new and startling styles will be inextricably linked to a process of production and publicity, inevitably leading to the diffusion and spread of the subversive subculture trends. For example, both mod and punk innovations have become high and mainstream after the initial low-key emergence of such styles.
The complexities of society perpetuate continuous change in style and taste, with different classes or groups prevailing during certain periods of time. To deal with the question of which is the most influential fashion source, it is necessary to consider a distribution of power. It is not the same for all classes to access how ideas are disseminated in our society, principally the mass media. In history, the elites have had greater power to prescribe meaning and dictate what is defined as normality.
Trickling down to shape the views of the substantial passive parts of the population, designers from high places could set trends that diffused from the upper to lower spectrum of society. It was suggested that subcultures go against nature and are subject to abhorrence and disapproval by followers of mainstream trends.
Regrettably, criminal gangs, homeless subcultures, and reckless skateboarders, among other ‘negative’ portrayals of subcultures, have been accused of dragging down the image of other ‘positive’ subcultures that demonstrate creativity and inspiration. There is an unstable relationship between socializing and de-socializing forces. Nevertheless, German philosopher Kant observed that actual social life should and always will consist of in some way its own opposite social life, which he described as “unsociable sociality.”
Without a doubt, fashion exhibits a dichotomy of conformity and differentiation, with contradictory groups aspiring to fit in and stand out from a crowd. Previously, the pace of change that fashion went through has spawned social emulation, a phenomenon whereby subordinate groups imitate the fashion tastes adopted by society’s upper echelons.
Veblen, a Norwegian-American sociologist, and economist criticized in detail, especially the notion of conspicuous consumption, initiated by people of high status. Another influential sociologist Georg Simmel classified two basic human instincts – the impetus to imitate one’s neighbors and the individualistic behavior of distinguishing oneself.
Simmel indicated the tendency towards social equalization with the desire for individual differentiation and change. Indeed, to elucidate Simmel’s theory of distinction versus imitation, the distinctiveness of subcultures in the early stages of a set fashion assures its destruction as the fashion spreads. An idea or a custom has its optimal innovative intensity when constrained to a small clandestine group. After the original symbolic value of the idea has been exploited by commercialization and accepted as a part of mass culture, the balance will tend to tip towards imitation over the distinction. An example of a distinctive subculture’s imitation is blue jeans’ evolution, which originates from humble American cowboys and gold miners, demonstrating a subculture’s bubble-up effect. On a larger scale, it can be said that Western style dressing ‘bubbled up from 19th Century Quaker’s attire, rather than ‘trickling down’ from the styles of Court aristocracy.
Simmel describes fashion as a process by which the society consolidates itself by reintegrating what disrupts it. The existence of fashion requires that some members of society must be perceived as superior or inferior. From economist Harvey Leibenstein’s perspective, fashion is a market constituted of ‘snobs.’ The phenomenon of ‘snob-demand’ depicts consumers as snobs who will stop buying a product when the price drops too much.
The trickle-down effect has been related to a ‘bandwagon effect’ where a product’s turnovers are particularly high due to imitation. Every economic choice is bound not only to the pure computational rationality of individuals. Still, it is influenced by irrational factors, such as social imitation, contrary to what Simmel calls the ‘need for distinction.’ However, a ‘reverse bandwagon effect‘ acts as an opposing force when a snobbish consumer stops buying a product because too many others are buying it as well. The resultant force depends on the relative intensity of the two forces.
Subcultures have often endured a less than agreeable relationship with the mainstream due to exploitation and cultural appropriation. This often leads to the demise or evolution of a particular subculture once the originally novel ideas have been commercially popularized to an extent where the subculture’s ideologies have lost their fundamental connotations. The insatiable commercial hunger for new trends instigated the counterfeiting of subculture fashion, unjustifiably used on the sophisticated catwalks in fashion dictatorships of Paris, Milan, and New York. It is not purely sartorial fashion but also music subcultures that are particularly vulnerable to the massification process. Certain types of music like jazz, punk, hip-hop, and gave were only listened to by minority groups at the initial stages of its history.
Events in history have had substantial impacts on the rise, development, and evolution of subcultures. The First World War impacted men’s hairstyles as lice and fleas were ubiquitous in wartime trenches. Those with shaved heads were presumed to have served at the Front, while those with long hair were branded cowards, deserters, and pacifists. During the 1920s, standard social etiquettes were discarded by certain youth subcultures, as a drink, drugs, and jazz infiltrated America, intensified by the time’s alcohol prohibition. A crime subculture emerged as smugglers discovered profit opportunities with Mexican and Cuban drug plantations. The Great Depression of the late 20s in North America caused pervasive poverty and unemployment. Consequently, a significant number of adolescents discovered identity and expression through urban youth gangs, such as the ‘dead end kids.’