Different styles, looks, clothes, silhouettes and embellishments allow you to distinguish and date fashion. Whether that be in medieval sculpture, baroque oil paintings, 19h century prints or photos from the wild parties of the 1920s. But what distinct aspects will let future scholars date images from our present into the year 2018?
When I happen to be in museums with friends from other fields I often get told: there is no relevance in this old stuff for my life.
Maybe that is so, but then again if you think about it, not so much has changed about the fact that we use a certain
iconography to present ourselves to the world.
White trainers and white soles:
White footwear is unquestionably not the most practical. When it is no longer impeccable it looks scruffy and therefore requires time and energy for maintainance. There are hacks and videos all over the internet as to keeping that pure white pure and white. In history, white clothes were a sign of status as they showed the wearer to be above manual labour and wealthy enough for the accompanying costs of washing and bleaching.
Besides, impractical pieces of clothing existed for the same status indicating reason: take for example the Elizabethan gloves with overlong fingers or the ridiculously long points of medieval Crakows.
Browsing through Instagram, the overall 'aesthetic' is unmistakable: marble, flowers, copper and gold interior decoration eye catchers, black and white, perfect make up, the much talked-about healthy glow, the outfit is spot on, pastel coloured baked goods, knitted blankets, dream catchers over the bed, succulents on the writing desk, urban life, and trips to picture-worthy locations. All is lighted in the same soft light, all is seemingly flawless.
And while Elizabethan women were portrayed, often almost life-sized, in the height of chic of 16th century dress, in all the luxury their situation allowed, and as the nurturers and fertile securers of the family line, today we portray our lives according to what is the ideal now: youthful people living a busy, fulfilling life and inhabiting a beautiful, uncluttered world.
Our aesthetic will serve future examiners to put a date on our visual culture in retrospect. The vintage/retro trend may be everywhere, incorporating past decades into our daily style from actual vintage pieces to pattern and cut being taken up by fashion houses again. Yet, it is the big picture that still shows us to be from the later 2010s. And in the case of Instagram, it is perfectly square shaped.
When you see images from Coachella, Glastonbury or what not, you notice that there is actually a distinct overall look that festival goers share. Sure, it is also highly individual. But in total, the visual effect and connotation in the viewers are the same: there is a Woodstock/summer of '69/boho chic/Frieda Kahlo-in-traditional-Mexican-dress/sunny west coast/flower girl vibe to it.
CNN just published an article on this very topic on April 19, 2018, including an analyzation: „Take a quick look through this year's Coachella street style photos and you'll see a few recurring elements: fringe and cutoffs; gladiator sandals and desert boots; metallic bindi tattoos; Mexican-style embroidery and vintage-inspired anything“.
It romanticises in a similar way as porcelain sculptures from serene shepherds and shepherdesses in the 18th century did – it conjours up an image of a carefree life in line with nature. A little exotic, down-to-earth, spiritual, individual.
In a way, it reminds me of Marie Antoinette and her yearning for a simpler life with her scandalous "Chemise à la Reine" and her equally ambivalent Hameau de la Reine where she enjoyed living a queenly bucolic life.
Moreover, the use of historism has a long history in fashion. Kings and queens used it to show the continuity of the good times of a beloved predecessor. Empress Eugénie was fascinated with Marie Antoinette and introduced Rococo elements into court dress, which were in line with her husbands reestablishment of France as an absolute monarchy.