In addition to the environment in which man is placed by nature, without any participation on his part, he creates himself another, which is generally called the “cultural world.” When we consider the human being in this cultural world, we see that of all its multitudinous cultural forms his dress is not only the one which is physically closest to him but also that which most immediately and most intimately expresses his relation to the environment. Not even the cultural forms assumed by man’s most elementary vital activities, such as nutrition and reproduction, are so directly and so constantly interwoven with human life and the human body as dress is, except as they express themselves through it.
The conformity paradox in fashion looks something like this: Say you are an individual in the truest sense, and everything you do and wear is so unique and interesting that everyone who sees you acknowledges that you are different. A real trend-setter. As a result, your Instagram photos routinely get Pinned across the planet and end up featured prominently in trend analysis reports by mega-retailers like Zara.
In a matter of months your unique style becomes everyone else’s, and you are forced to evolve, or become just another clone of yourself. So you evolve. Again and again, until the only thing that makes you appear an “individual” is the fact that you keep evolving. The paradox lies in the fact that being “an individual” doesn’t seem to be possible in fashion, because eventually, we all end up dressing the same, liking the same things, and posting the same Instagram photos.
Sometime in 1932, Salvador Dalí met with the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. A deliciously queer photograph records them loitering together in a Parisian street, swaddled in fur coats so sumptuous that Liberace would have died of envy. Dalí’s is draped insouciantly across his shoulders like a black cape, his straggly collar-length hair lending him a vampiric air. But Lacan, distracted, has his hands shoved in his pockets, and the coat, a plush and stripy affair, mink perhaps, is a kind of nonchalant afterthought. Clothes war, though.