Fashion: deja voodoo

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The Independent Culture
I'LL BE glad when this Summer of Disco Tents is over. I'm looking forward to seeing people in coats and hats, scarves and gloves - anything to cover the uniform of the Army of Me.

In the old days it was simple. You had your Mods and Rockers, your Hippies and Skinheads, your Punks and New Romantics, and each tribe had its own little moral universe. But that was before the Eighties Style Revolution, when people suddenly decided they would express themselves rather than some tribal belief-system. The marketing and advertising industries used the idea to sell brands that would help us to define and express our new individual selves. Style became a commodity, something we could buy, and thus we became media-literate, adept at decoding the values and status of brands

Eventually, of course, we took offence. We realised that these marketing people had a bad attitude. They thought they could play us like an old piano. They were lumping us all together, foisting their own tribal definitions on to us. We saw through their game.

The French - you might have guessed - have a theory about all this. It's what the philosopher Michel Foucault called "location". In choosing an identity through consumerism, you "locate" yourself within the capitalist system - you make yourself visible and accessible, and thus prey to marketing forces. Making any kind of active choice is tantamount to sticking your head above the trenches; a marketing sniper is sure to be watching. But the more media-literate people become, the more they try to "unlocate" themselves.

Which is why young people today adopt Groucho Marx's famous line, declaring that they wouldn't want to belong to any club that would accept them. This is the defining "core value" of Nineties youth culture - today's young consumer wants more than anything to be recognised as an individual. The great irony is that since everybody else wants to be an individual, too, they all sport the same "dressed down" style - based on combat fatigues, a skinny T-shirt, a Casio G-Shock watch and a pair of Nike trainers. (Even The Face recently complained that everyone was wearing the same metallic Air Max sneakers.)

Such is the New Youth Paradox. Everybody wants an identity that connects them to their friends and peers, so they wear "safe" brands and styles. Yet in refusing to make more adventurous choices that "locate" them as members of any recognisable tribe, they are somehow transformed into individuals - each and every one an Unknown Soldier, and simultaneously a Decorated Hero in this Army of Me. !