December 14, 2011

The decline in generational style changes

A reader writes:
One thing I noticed when I was looking through my mom's 1973 high school yearbook was how similarly everybody was dressed.  Compare that to my (late '90s/early 2000s) high school experience, where there were different subgroups who dressed differently from one another. 
If you ever watch either of the MTV series 16 and Pregnant or Teen Mom, you'll notice how many of the dads dress similarly to one another: solid-color oversized baseball caps, usually turned to one side, and baggy clothes.  That's basically the style of lower-class white teenagers (you see those clothes all over the men's section at Wal-Mart.)  On the other hand, my cousin, a conservative 17-year-old from an upper-middle-class family, would never be caught dead dressed like that.
In other words, what's changed is that in the past, people had a common culture, and teenagers dressed to distinguish themselves from 40-year-olds.  Now teenagers dress to distinguish themselves from other teenagers.


mr_evergreen said...

That is because people don't have their own style these days, or not as much these days. I have managed to make my own style and do my thing.

Paul Mendez said...

I can remember going to arena rock concerts in the 1970's, and looking around to see that I was surrounded by 360 degrees of blue denim. 99.9% of the audience was wearing either Levi's or Wranglers.

Graydon said...

The recent Kurt Andersen essay in Vanity Fair makes a related point (albeit from a pomo "cannibalization" viewpoint). This so-called disintegration of social cohesion situation that is just so much Worse Than The Old Days is shaping up to be a hot theme with progressives, always eager to out-patrioticize the Silent Majority faction or what remains of it. Either the Internet or income inequality is to blame, take your pick.

Anonymous said...

you could always tell how chavs dressed compared to the respectable peoples..

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of one of the greatest articles, ever (and about the only good thing to come out of the american weekly standard
The Perpetual Adolescent

Anonymous said...

I checked several recent highschool yearbooks of different schools and most kids dress and look alike.
I'd say mid 80s yr books are worst, with really bad hair.

Antioco Dascalon said...

The interesting thing about this post and the one before is that there are always two things changing so it is difficult to figure out which is the dominant factor. In the first article, fashions changed in 20 year increments, but so did the age of the observer, which is a confounding factor. The author concludes that the world isn't that different in 2011 as it was in 1991. Sailer points out, correctly, that an equally plausible interpretation would be that the author himself changed more from age 15-35 than from 35-55, which is such a mundane fact as to not merit an essay.
In this case, we have a similar problem. One would suppose that one can see much more subtle differences in one's own culture than in another. This is why people say that all Xs look alike (blacks, asians, etc). For an American, it may be hard to tell a bunch of Koreans apart-because, from a European perspective they all have black hair, slanty eyes, etc, but Koreans have no such problem because they are using different markers. We might be tempted to say that all the men in Mad Men dresses alike, but at the time an observer would be able to point out differences that were important and indicated wealth, status, class and personal style.
I remember the movie Somewhere in Time, where Christopher Reeve goes back to the 1910s and he wears a vintage suit from that era. But, since it is a few years off, everyone makes fun of it for being dated. Styles changed rapidly in those days.
We do seem to be reverting to an earlier time where clothes indicate class rather than age, but it has ever been thus.

agnostic said...

It's interesting which parts of our appearance do and don't respond to changes in how conformist the culture is.

The "do your own thing" ethos of the '60s through the '80s didn't show up so much in pants or shirts.

But it did in hairstyles, which ranged from very short to very long, whether for males or females. Women with volcanic eruptions of hair stood next to ones who cropped it like Sandy Duncan or Pat Benatar. And men ranged from Alex P. Keaton with a somewhat short length, up through metalheads who look like they landed from the 17th century.

Since the early-mid '90s, though, the range of hair lengths has narrowed considerably. You don't see girls with hair as short as Madonna wore it for "Papa Don't Preach" or as long as Madchen Amick did as Shelly in Twin Peaks.

Hairstyles seem to respond to changes in how conformist an individual is supposed to be (low back in the good old days, high recently). Clothing has less to do with conformity than whether there are high or low inter-group conflicts -- low before, high now, even among whites... and even among sub-sub-sub-species of whites. Like, which micro-niche of hipster losers do you belong to?

Truth said...

Who does your 17-year old cousin dress like, Michael Bublé?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I don't deny there is something to this, but recall that highschools in the 1970's still had dress codes, especially for yearbook pictures, and there was not the array of choice in clothing one finds now. That pretty much makes the theory unmeasurable.

I could tell at a glance whether a classmate was a jock, a brain, a hood, a freak, from the sticks, or even some combination.

Additional: the 60's - perhaps the late 50's - were the first years of a national culture for youth, even though it was more plurality than universal. National media came into play more strongly than before. Prior to this, regional cultures were still very strong - in music, dress, hobbies, and reading.

I think the theory's in ruins, actually, unless people start finding more subtle versions.

mr_evergreen said...

I don't do Levi's or Wranglers unless I'm doing yard work. In high school(2000-2004)I experimented a bit until I found something I like. I am a guy who likes to dress preppy(more business casual). That is what I did in my junionr and senior year of high school and I continued doing that to this day.

In my high school, you had your subcultures and cliques, and in many cases your race could determine that. Alot of the Black students dressed in the stereotypical "hip hop" style. With the White kids it varied alot more. There were alot of White kids who wore Levi's or Wranglers(or tight jeans in general) with camouflage jackets and a shirt usually featuring the confederate flag. You had the "band nerds" as they were called(there were maybe 4 or 5 Blacks in marching band at my school). You had the skaters(which seemed to by declining around the 2000s as far as I knew), goths, jocks and that's about it as far as I knew. There weren't any "geeks and nerds" cliques that I knew of. Then you had kids like me who really didn't fit anywhere. I was basically the "nerdy Black kid" who dressed preppy. I met 2 or 3 Black males in my school who were just like me. I dressed the way I did because I liked it and it made ME happy. I liked the way I looked. I felt like I was more presentable.

I think the decline is due to people running out of ideas.

Anonymous said...

Lower class white kids dressing in baggy clothing and baseball caps is a new thing. A few decades ago, such kids might've dressed like James Dean or the young John Travolta. Later they adopted the punk/grunge look. Nowadays black culture is pretty dominant among younger kids, so it's the default among those not smart enough to realize the economic and social consequences to looking like Eminem.

jody said...

hmm, i think it's been like that, for euro americans at least, since 1980 or so. they broke into various subcultures with their own dress, styles, and mannerisms. the other groups don't do this as much.

africans in the US used to participate some in this, but now, as most high school teachers can probably tell you, almost all of them have coalesced into this monolithic block of black american culture. same dress, same styles, same mannerisms. like the same things, dislike the same things, listen to the same music, dislike the same music. very little divergence from the norm and not much formation of cliques or subcultures.

Anonymous said...

For an American, it may be hard to tell a bunch of Koreans apart-because, from a European perspective they all have black hair, slanty eyes, etc, but Koreans have no such problem because they are using different markers.

I don't know. A Chinese-American friend of mine took a trip to China. When he got back he told me "They really do all look alike!"

BrightLightFright said...

re Paul Mendez comment

In Aerosmith's official band biography written in the late 90s they describe playing that domed stadium in Pontiac, Michigan (?). They were struck by the sight of wave after wave of blue denim-clad teens coming over a hill from a spillover parking lot. Ever after they referred to their fans as the "Blue Army."

mr_evergreen said...

"africans in the US used to participate some in this, but now, as most high school teachers can probably tell you, almost all of them have coalesced into this monolithic block of black american culture. same dress, same styles, same mannerisms. like the same things, dislike the same things, listen to the same music, dislike the same music. very little divergence from the norm and not much formation of cliques or subcultures"

Well, I would say this. Perhaps the Black Power Movement of the 60's had some effects that were not forseen. The Black Power Movement was a response to what was being done to Blacks, and now there have been strange effects. One of them is this "monolith" culture that you speak of. Many view being Black as merely "not dressing or acting White". In some cases, if a Black student steps outside of that and defines himself as an individual(such as not adhering to the thug culture), he can get derided and ostracized for "acting White". I should know because this has happened to me.

Anonymous said...

"Fer Shur"... It's an '80 Thing

Carol said...

"solid-color oversized baseball caps, usually turned to one side, and baggy clothes."

Add the floppy shoes and athletic socks, and you have the way 90%o of men under 40 dress here in flyover. Maybe the cap is turned respectably forward.

Anonymous said...

Google the 1994 Ford Taurus and you'll see it is unmistakably a product of early 90s design - Definitely boxy like all its sedan predecessor from the previous 2-3 decades

Google the 1996 Ford Taurus which was a radical departure in design from 94 and 95...It's sleek and ovaly and while you might recognize it as being from the 90s, it's really not that far off from cars released today. Perhaps aided by advanced CAD and software, but somewhere in the 90s we turned a page in aesthetics and never looked back.

Anonymous said...

Well, it's not like the ability to tell apart members of different races is genetic. Unless your friend had housebound his whole life and had no access to American media, he'd have learned pretty much the same 'markers' as white Americans.

You probably need at least a year or two of living there to fully adjust, after which you'd find Asians looked different but blondes all started to fade into each other...

DaveinHackensack said...

The sitcom Friends, which aired from 1994 to 2004, is playing in syndication now at midnight on a local NYC station. Looking at the early episodes, the hairstyles and clothes don't look much different from what you'd see today.

If you knew nothing about the show -- you'd never heard of it, and didn't know when it aired -- what would date the 90s episodes for you wouldn't be the clothes or the hairstyles but the occasional shots of the Manhattan skyline featuring the Twin Towers, and the absence of smart phones in the coffee shop. 20-somethings reading magazines and talking to each other in coffee shops, without at least one of them staring down at his smart phone, is a little rare these days.

Davies said...

There are two very different lower-class white cultures in the USA.

I was raised and live in a rural area, but work in a larger city (both in the Midwest). I also have lived in two of the largest cities in the USA and often travel to large cities for work (in the US and Europe).

From my observations, there are two very distinctive lower-income white cultures.

Rednecks: These lower-income whites are mostly rural. More religious. Date and marry other white people. Dress in flannel shirts, sweatshirts, jeans, boots, etc. Listen to rock, heavy metal or country. Like fishing and hunting. They aren't overtly racist but they appreciate a good black or Mexican joke. They might not be the most sophisticated people, but they're typically decent folk.

White trash: These whites mostly live in the big cities and are essentially wiggers. They dress in baggy pants, listen to rap music, imitate black culture. A fair number (although probably still a minority) of the women from this group will date blacks or mestizos.

Of course, you have breakaways from each group. When a redneck girl goes bad, she'll move to a big city and become a wigger stripper. And you have poor inner city whites who've had too much diversity enrichment and become quite "racist" (see all the neonazi graffiti in poor white neighborhoods outside Chicago).

Oddly, the media seem to skew and distort these two different groups. They tend to portray the rednecks as "white trash," although the rednecks, for all their faults, aren't nearly as bad as the inner-city wiggers, whom the media tend to glorify.

Davies said...

Another subset of the rednecks are the extreme self-righteous religious fundamentalists (who actually are probably a small percentage of overall rednecks). They listen to "Christian rap" to be hip, and some even fly to Haiti to adopt a black child because Jeebus told them to. Personally, I find this subset to be even more annoying than the inner-city wiggers.

TGGP said...

I haven't seen any neonazi grafitti around Chicago. Maybe I don't spend enough time in crappy neighborhoods, or I'm not observant.

Marc B said...

Most 1980's synthesizer music doesn't sound nearly as dated as it should. I suspect it's because the electronic/digital sounds in the music were more futuristic than my present day, not-so Logan's Run surroundings.

mr_evergreen said...

"Oddly, the media seem to skew and distort these two different groups. They tend to portray the rednecks as "white trash," although the rednecks, for all their faults, aren't nearly as bad as the inner-city wiggers, whom the media tend to glorify"

Maybe and maybe not. The so-called "wiggers" might be annoying, but they have not harmed me. It has been the so-called "rednecks" who have harassed me and bothered me alot. I grew up around them. Maybe being a Black person growing up around some of them made a difference. Your perspective might come from being a White person living around them. I know that I've been harassed and even subjected to physical harassment by some of the "rednecks" and some racial intimidation, such as getting threatened with "being hung at the end of a noose" or screaming the "n" word at me while I was walking to the store.

Anonymous said...

Do we have organic personalities like we used to? Jerry Garcia was an organic personality. So was Lennon. Though part of pop culture, they were also genuine individuals.
But Phish was like a clone jam band without forgettable personalities.
And most of today's celebrities have something disposable and manufactured about them. Janis Joplin was organic and real. Lady Gaga is pure hype.
Hendrix was legendary and real. Most rappers are interchangeable hype idols.

Without organic personalities, there isn't much deep emotional connection between pop culture and people. Instead, people just go from one trendy thing to another. Since it's all superficial, it's mindless recycling of older stuff.

Anonymous said...

Maybe one problem is it-can't-be-topped-ism.

When Beethoven was alive, there was still much that could be done with classical music. But by early 20th century, after Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner, Schubert, etc, etc, it was daunting to top them.
Similarly, when Lennon, McCartney, Brian Wilson, Dylan, etc took up rock music, there was still much to be done. But after the great achievements of Beatles, Stones, Floyd, Dylan, Beach Boys, REM, Springsteen, etc, it must be daunting for new talents to even think of topping them.
In cinema, in the 1950s, many film artists thought there was still much to be done with the form. 60s saw Fellini, Tarkovsky, Peckinpah, Kubrick, etc. But film artists who grew up later must have felt daunted in topping the works of those men.
There's still more technological promise in film but in terms of film-as-art, it's kinda hard to top past greats.

When you're a young tree surrounded by small trees, you think you can outgrow them. But if you're a young tree surrounded by giant oaks, maybe you lose heart in equaling them.

Anonymous said...

Culture represents a handshake between the generations. It can only be transmitted from parent to child. Youth Culture or high school subcultures do not exist. These fashions or common niche interestrs are all just passing fads with little meaning outside of a narrow context.

For example, a head banger in high school is likely to marry someone from his socioeconomic background regardless of whether she is a headbanger, too. Their kids may or may not be head bangers but they will share their parents class & mores otherwise.

Anonymous said...

LOL. Nearly everything "Davies" just wrote is nonsense. I love amateur HBD'ers!

Anonymous said...

If culture is dominated by liberals and they are at a deadend, this gives the creative right an opening. But is there a creative right to fill the void?

Anonymous said...

Pop culture in movies and music is strictly for teens. So, by the time one grows out of teen yrs, culture no longer speaks to him. 'New' culture is also for teens. So, he looks back to past culture that was more adult.

Anonymous said...

There are three kinds of female sexuality: tease, personality, slut.
In more repressive times, women had to tease and suggest than be blatant.
Personality is essential to women who aren't wowsy sexy but can attract men with eccentricity or talent. Joni Mitchell was no great looker, but her poetic personality had appeal.
Sluttiness is simple but instantly appealing. Instant gratification.
Once sluttiness took over, teasers and personaliters couldn't compete.

gumbi family reunion said...

Do you suppose pop cultural decline has something to do with elites taking over the control-levers?

Take Hollywood. Though the early moguls grew rich, most were not from elite families. Many came from humble/poor Eastern European Jewish backgrounds or from lower elements of American society. So, they really understood the audience and even identified with them. They liked what the audience liked, and so there was a certain sincerity in what they produced.

Also, because of their humble backgrounds, they felt an inferiority complex. They wanted to prove that they weren't just about nickels and dimes. So, they did care about quality to some extent. There sense of inferiority made them wanna prove themselves.

But look at Hollywood now. It's run by Ivy Leaguers. They have no rapport with the audience. They see the movie audience only as mass of morons to make money from. So, if old moguls, despite their fancy philistine airs, understood the man on the street(cuz they too had been the man on the street), today's top execs don't know any reality except privileged world of upper SWPL. Sure, they subscribe to the ideology of 'justice' and 'equality', but they don't have a real connection to real people. To them, movie audience are not fellow humans to entertain but a bunch of lowly dogs to market dogfood to.

Also, Ivy Leaguers don't suffer from cultural inferiority. They feel comfortably superior; so they don't feel a need to prove anything. They take their superiority for granted. So, they measure success in Hollywood by who rakes in the most cash using the latest-science-of-marketing than who makes something with value. Since they themselves are quality--Harvard grad, etc--, why should they prove their quality through something as lowly as mass entertainment?

Same might be said of pop music. Many early pop music movers were from the streets. Of course, even now, many musicians come from the streets. But there was a time when even execs and managers were, culturally at least, 'regular people'. They really felt a one-on-one rapport with artists and with the audience.
Today, Rolling Stone magazine and music industry are all run by Ivy Leaguers. What matters to them is marketing numbers and power than any real appreciation/connection to the culture.

In the past, people with elite credentials stuck to high culture while pop culture was the domain of people of the street. Though pop music stars and execs grew rich, they knew where they came from. They understood real people cuz they came from real people.

As long as high-brow/low-brow dichotomy existed, elites stuck to high culture and sneered at the 'low'. Thus, 'low' or pop culture was more controlled by the people(or people with direct connection to the people).
But once the high/low dichotomy faded, and pop culture was a reputable place to be, elite people moved into pop culture. Some overly intellectualized it(and took the fun out of it) while others used pop culture less as culture-for-people than a science of mass marketing to 'give people what they want'. Something was bound to be lost.

cat gumbi said...

Maybe despite the internet and more choices and all that, the reason for cultural stasis is due to the fact that

(1) major cultural industries are more concentrated in the hands of few.

(2) everything is money.

(3) political correctness sapped spirit of individuality

(4) culture has been much too institutionalized.

These may all be inter-connected. With mega-giant industries fighting for dominance, the only thing that matters is who has more money. Since money is the thing, companies go 'what is most likely to sell', and so they go with tried-and-true, or tried-and-true recycled to look a little different.

Political correctness fits into this cuz it too is a form of mass-marketing(of values).
As culture is formulized, so is ideology. The patterns in buiness and ideology are similar and complementary. But PC also balances out the excess anarchism of consumerism. If what-sells-most appeals to wild human passions, people can be turned into a bunch of wild animals. So, to limit the rise of excessive aggressivism, there is PC to restrain consumer lusts. So, sing like a thug but be sensitive to gays.

Also, there has been a kind of cradle-to-grave control of people for some decades. Kids grow up in stable suburbs, go to school from pre-school to college. Teaching material and ideology has been standardized across all 50 states. In the 40s, a newsroom would have been a hotbed of all sorts of people: ivy leaguers, street journalists, hustler journalists, mavericks, etc. Some didn't even go to college and didn't have what we would call 'the right credentials and correct values'.
Now, a newsroom is filled with PC clones from elite universities who were fed MLK myth from pre-school. It's like Oprah's own romper room.

Same goes for Hollywood. In the old days, movie producers and directors came from all sorts of backgrounds, high and low. Now, most directors are products of film schools where people pretty much pick up the same fashions, attitudes, values.
There are exceptions, like Richard Linklater, a self-made film director, which may explain why he's more independentminded than most.
So concentration and standardization of elite power may have contributed to this.
Of course, industry movers keep their ears open to new fads on the streets, but they don't really care about the voices and passions of real people but wanna appropriate stuff and turn it into a formula to be sold for maximum profit. At Harvard, they must call this marketing science or something. Smart people profiting by scientifically manipulating the dumbness of the masses.

gumbeously said...

It might also have something to do with 'full-extentism'. Everything idea, image, or concept has a logic towards it keeps pushing. When the logic is pushed all the way and fully realized, there is nowhere else for it to go.

For example, take massive earrings among African tribal woman. Someone must have started with small earrings. Then someone figured hers will be bigger. And then it became a competition of who could make it bigger and bigger. So, ear piercings got larger and larger... until finally it reached a point where it couldn't get any larger.

Similarly, there was an element in black culture that emphasized male prowess and booty shake. It got skankier and skankier until it just couldn't get any skankier than what we have now with rap music--unless music videos really turn into hardcore porn, which may be a possibility.

In Japanese pop culture, there has been the element of cuteness and things got cuter and cuter and cuter to the point where it cannot get any (nauseatingly)cuter. Another cultural deadend.

And there was an element of abrasiveness in rock music, and punk took this to the full extent. Grunge was really only punk redux added with a bit of slackerism. That got dull too.

We can see this with dog breeding too. People bred bulldogs to be the more and more bulldoggish until it reached to the point where it coulnd't be any more bulldoggish.

Full-extentism is a kind of purism. It's taking a single concept to its logic limit.
When that game has played out to the end, what is left?
Since stuff cannot be taken any further in its purity, it's mixed with other stuff. So, mixed-breeding(special mixes)has become hip in the dog world. And there is fusion in cooking. And there is postmodernism in architecture(after the modernist style simply couldn't be made 'more modern'). I suppose Obama fits into this narrative. With identity politics having played out their logic, there is now mixed-identity politics. But mix-and-matchism can take on purist colors of its own, i.e. 'let's make our nation AS DIVERSE AS POSSIBLE' or 'let's create as many mixed race people as possible'. We have a purist mentality pushing impurism.

gumbtion said...

There's been much talk of 'revenge of the nerd' but how about 'reign of the herd'. By 'herd' I don't mean people-as-sheep but people(in positions of power) who prefer order, organization, and consensus than people who go for maverickism. Visionary leaders are mavericks. Bureaucrats are herds. We think of herds following but herds sometimes take over the system and become the 'leading' forces, except they prefer stasis over change(even if their ideology espouses change).

It could be our society is more herd-driven than ever.
Look at gay community. In the 60s, it had lots of firebrands and mavericks. They were reckless but also creative and bold. But reckless people tend to burn out. In the case of gays, the maverick ones also had wilder sex and many died of AIDS. Meanwhile, the more herdish gays who were less maverickish were less likely to get the disease since they were more 'conservative' and responsible in their behavior. So, though the gay movement was begun by mavericks, it eventually fell into the hands of herds. Gay community is run by Establishment Gays, not maverick gays.
But, it was the wilder gays who were more creative. They either burned out or died of AIDS. The greenlawn herd gays who took the power are now pushing for PC conformity, a kind of 'gay father knows best'. So, gays are less creative today.

Same happened with 60s radicals and counterculture. Guys like Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, and other may have been nuts, but they were firebrand mavericks. They took chances and changed the culture; but they were too wild to lead any disciplined movement. Eventually, it was not the mavericks but but the herdish elements of the counterculture who came to dominate the boomers whereas the true mavericks burnt out. Abbie Hoffman the wild man killed himself whereas the likes of Hillary--classic herder--took the power.

Same goes for conservatism. There was some spark with Buckley and his gang of counter-revolutionaries. And with early neocons too. But the sort of people who run National Review are herd conservatives with bureaucratic minds.

L. Ron Hubbard was a nut but a visionary and maverick. But people who control Scientology today are bureaucratic types. The suits.

Soviet Revolution had some creative energy in the beginning. But Stalin and his herder bureaucratic types took over and revolution turned into a form of dogmatic consensus.

Mavericks and visionaries start or bring about something fresh, but they burn out, destroy themselves through excess, etc., and so, it's the herders who take over. Same with religions, all of which were founded by wild visionaries. But eventually herders take over and change what was a vision into a dogma.

Same may have happened to pop culture as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Nerds, birds, herd, and turds.

Nerds run silicon valley and wall street.
Birds(gays)run culture.
Herd run institutions.
Turds run politics.

mr_evergreen said...

"If culture is dominated by liberals and they are at a deadend, this gives the creative right an opening. But is there a creative right to fill the void?"

But what will come from the creative right? Will it be to the liking of alot of people?