October 3, 2018

Meme Review

Here I am again, in what has unintentionally become my third installment in a series of blog posts about the current state of fashion (click for Part 1 and Part 2). I feel like a peasant version of beloved YouTuber Shane Dawson, who has been killing it lately with his docuseries (love you, Shane!).

Speaking of YouTube, you may be surprised to learn I watch the video platform's most subscribed channel, PewDiePie. I actually don't watch fashion influencers, beauty gurus, or lifestyle vloggers...I watch comedy personalities. As someone who vehemently dislikes the comedy genre outside of YouTube (and Mr. Bean!), I realize this is an odd quirk of mine.

Earlier this month, PewDiePie posted a video about fashion.

In his video, PewDiePie speaks to what he considers the intersection of fashion and memes. He brings up various examples to support his claim, but as someone who is not immersed in meme culture, I'm left wondering, what makes a meme and how is fashion a meme?

I first went to trusty ol' Wikipedia for the definition of a meme:

A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.

In essence, pretty abstract. Memes do not have to be through a certain medium, they can convey any sort of concept, and they are not always very obviously a meme because only those who understand or have an awareness of the idea will understand the meme. One could say, however, that memes are most oftentimes humorous and flourish best on the Internet. With that definition in mind, I wanted to determine for myself whether fashion has become a meme.

Memes are...

...an idea, behaviour, or style.

Fashion could clearly check off this definition. What we wear is a form of expression representing the ideas and beliefs of the time. So then, has fashion simply always been a meme throughout history, or is there something in particular about our current time that makes fashion a meme? PewDiePie seems to believe the latter. He points to how the loud, colourful clothing we have been witnessing lately is akin to the obnoxious style of memes. He shows us images of older Gucci and Louis Vuitton menswear collections where styling was more pared down and clean cut. While I appreciate his observation, I don't think being "loud, colourful and obnoxious" is necessarily what makes modern day fashion a meme. Fashion has always run along a spectrum of style, and elaborate dressing bordering on the unhinged has shown up countless times in the past. As I have written about before, what is different now is our anti-fashion attitude. I believe PewDiePie does actually get the same sense, and was trying to capture that point when he said fashion nowadays "doesn't take itself seriously. What used to be a parody is now reality." And that brings me to my next point...


People sometimes only see stone-faced models parading down the runways, the snobby air of the glamorous industry, and clothing that seems straight up cuckoo...and they fail to see the underlying humour. Us fashion folk like to have fun. We don't always take ourselves so seriously. I will gleefully snicker while wearing a cardigan that looks oddly similar to a burlap sack (hear ye, my potato brethren!), deliberately donning tasteless logos, and topping off with a free baseball cap my dad probably obtained at some random event. Tongue in cheek fashion has always existed (I'm lookin' at you, Vera Wang), but you could say it has reached a fever pitch in recent years. Ironic fashion has become a thing. Just look at the rise of hideous dad sneakers (the chunkier and more contorted the better, ladies!), Balenciaga's ongoing luxury parody of 99 cent items, and the plethora of weird and wacky "ugly" clothing. If memes are humorous, then fashion has memeing down pat.

...part of an inside joke.

While humorous, memes also gain value from jokes with obscure origins. You're only cool if you get the reference, hence the "random" humour of today's youth. Inside jokes in fashion are obviously harder to spot, but an example that sticks out to me is Prada's Flame Shoe bag. Back in Spring/Summer 2012, Prada released an It shoe: wedges with flames coming out the back. They were so iconic that after all these years, I still consider them one of Prada's most successful shoes. Lo and behold, for Fall/Winter 2018, Prada pasted its Flame shoe onto a handbag. If you didn't happen to be familiar with the shoe, you may have thought of it as just some arbitrary print -- but for those who were around in 2012, we remember. Another recent example we could consider an inside joke is Christian Dior's new J'adior moniker. Well, new-ish. It is of course a clever play on words with Dior's famed J'adore fragrance. 

...shared among many people or replicated in many ways.

Memes are meant to be shared. Sharing is arguably what the Internet was designed for: to link, to share, to connect. We have seen fashion shedding its elitist exterior and becoming more accessible in the past few years, but I have never seen luxury fashion as popular among the younger crowd as it is now. Suddenly, we have all these 20-somethings on social media coveting high-end labels. While I'm still shopping at H&M, my fellow Millennials on Instagram are flexing their Gucci slides, Gucci backpacks, Gucci loafers, Gucci tracksuits, Gucci belts, Gucci crossbodies... Luxury fashion has managed to go mainstream, making it more prevalent than ever before. Yet keep in mind there is a tipping point where memes are replicated so much they become stale and die. Not everyone can make a good meme in the same way not everyone can make a good fashion statement. I fear we will soon reach that tipping point where wildly popular high-end items will become so widespread they eventually lose their cool factor.

So after this assessment, have we decided whether fashion is a meme? I buy it. But I guess I still can't nail down with absolute certainty what makes fashion a meme -- though maybe that's the point. I'm not supposed to get it. In fact, I only make a jest of myself by trying to explain the meme and have probably already been ostracized from the exclusive community of people who simply just get the joke.

Edit: Following his initial video, PewDiePie posted another one listing out his Top 10 fashion memes. You can watch it here.

Image Source: Fashionista, Popsugar, Browns Fashion, Ryland Adams