What does it take to be different? To make a statement about yourself, and to show clearly and beyond a doubt that you are special? The answer is easily found in any shopping mall, ready made to express all your unique qualities, eccentricities, and social identities. 


Walking down the aisles of H&M, Zara, or any other clothing line dedicated to casual and cost-conscious customer, we can see reflected the genres of our time, a nod to what composes the wardrobes of people who subscribe, consciously or not, to a stylistic segment of our social landscape. I remember, not so long ago, visiting an H&M during the summer. At the time I was simply  looking for a T-short to replace a number of mine which could no longer function as intended. As with every time I go out shopping, with intent to buy, I found myself more than a little uncomfortable. But there is something exceptional with those larger clothing stores which amplifies this uneasy feeling: the feeling that something is missing from your life. 


Amid the trance-like perusing of my fellow customers, and the poorly fitting suits of sales associates, there is much to find unnerving. I enter, bathed in the cold fluorescent glare, and reflected in the sterile or even clinical white and chrome plated steel. Like the expression in the cold light of day, this ambiance strips my comfortable pretension, that I was well-shaven, combed, and could at least pass unnoticed in the public eye. Feeling thus poorly dressed and more than a little diffident, I began to look for a piece of clothing which could help me fill the void, both in my drawer and in my social image. 


Much like in an Ikea, H&M also employs a strategy of disorientation, a game of hide and seek with departments, outerwear, and socks. There is no doubt in my mind that this ploy emerges from the judicious application of scientific methods, tested schemes to optimize, maximize and capitalize on consumption. The sensations of being lost, or unsure of your location, evokes some primal feature in our perception, so that each detail in our environment is noticed and considered as a landmark for our navigation. However, in this case, the result of this channelled force is a better look at clothing which otherwise would have passed unnoticed or most probably unwanted. 


Having progressed through this inconvenient saga, stripped of confidence and putting out sparks of desire as I traversed formal wear, I finally arrived at the section dedicated to T-shirts. It is a funny thing to see this section, it seems that T-shirts in particular need to compensate for their casual nature, by displaying very clearly some meaning. Almost as if to prevent you from wearing unadorned clothing, nearly all bear some image, symbol, or epitaph which indicates that through this T-shirt, the person wearing it cares about more than simply being clothed and rather uses this article of clothing as an opportunity of conveying meanings and messages. 


There is a running joke amongst the native English speakers, that when travelling abroad we see clothes and furniture decorated with the English language.  I say “decorated” because the words themselves have no meaning, or else have meanings completely inappropriate in their current application. But one can quickly realize that the real meaning of “English,” does not reside in the content and definition of words, but rather in the stylistic choice to display English itself. In H&M we are faced with a similar confusion, we see discrete, and specific references made on clothing, a Keith Haring design, a photo from an obscure if not imaginary artist, and words which contain no message. In each case, it is not the content which acts as the point of reference; rather the message of the clothing is derived only from the appearance of meaning. The design of clothing progressed to a point of [insert content here], drawing from stock-photos and caricatures of reference, cultural significance, and meaning without meanings. 


While I browse their designs, and styles, I am unable to escape this understanding, my participation in the simulation of individuality and self-expression is obligatory. More and more rapidly I flick through hangers, hoping to find a genuine shirt, one which I can wear with honesty, and consistency.  Yet with no success, and with no choice, I must ask the question: why does this disturb me… is there something wrong? Perhaps it is in me where the problem lies, or so my environment would suggest.  Yet the answer appears all too clearly before me, to participate, to buy the clothing which says by not saying, and to disappear into the sea of meaningless reference. 


But it is at this point that I see my salvation, hidden, and humble against the iridescent tile, the white T-shirt. Unassuming, blank, devoid of reference, of pretence to significance, an article of clothing which I can buy and avoid the inconsistencies of expression.  I perform my transaction, I walk out, I breathe.     


David C Lee · 22 October 2021 at 11:21 am

The ever present and aggressive attempt to adapt out species to materialistic uniformity with the utimate goal of maximising profit which necessarily degrades any possibility of a true ascetic since of self. The end stage of the long process from ‘The Organization Man’ to the manufacture minion .

Kathleen Alan · 24 October 2021 at 5:41 pm

I think in many ways this applies to bumper stickers! Tatoos?

Ted · 26 October 2021 at 3:55 am

Knowing how much the market relies on our data and consumer habits can make it hard not to feel like a rat in a maze. Great reflection

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