Archival Consumed: Red Hat Society

A great deal of attention and study have been devoted to individuals who, as a result of feeling marginalized by mainstream culture, adopt a recognizable visual look and form a new social group. Take the 1979 book ”Subculture: The Meaning of Style,” in which Dick Hebdige deconstructed punks, mods, teddy boys and others. Hebdige called them ”spectacular subcultures,” and his observations apply to any number of groups, from goths to skateboarders to b-boys. Communicating ”significant difference,” as well as group identity, Hebdige wrote, ”is the ‘point’ behind the style of all spectacular subcultures.” It almost goes without saying that nearly all of these groups were and are made up of young people, and that these days much of the studying is done by marketers, professional trend-spotters and a huge chunk of the entertainment industry. Read more

Archival Consumed: Museum Quality


Someday, Andy Warhol once mused in one of his many deadpan ruminations on the future, ”all department stores will become museums, and all museums will become department stores.” If this has not happened literally, it has practically. In the former art-world stronghold SoHo, gallery-like retail outlets abound; the Prada store is at least as effective at inspiring reverence for its contents as the building’s former occupant, the Guggenheim. Meanwhile, as James B. Twitchell showed in his 2004 book ”Branded Nation” (the source of that Warhol quote), the chiefs of what he calls Museumworld regularly exhibit consumer products and have become increasingly sophisticated about marketing themselves.

So set aside the hoopla around the newly reopened and expanded MoMA, and look instead at the recent debut of a shop-within-a-shop at the SoHo branch of the MoMA Design Store: the first North American Muji outlet. Read more

Archival Consumed: Chavs

The Good, The Plaid, and The Ugly

In Elizabethan England, there were sumptuary laws to prevent members of the rabble from dressing above their station. This was never really effective, but to understand how truly futile it is these days for the upper classes to try keeping the masses in their sartorial place, you need to know what a chav is. ”Chav” — the champion buzzword of 2004 in Britain, according to one language maven there — refers to something between a subculture and a social class. Experts disagree about the slang term’s origins, but the unofficial definition sounds rather condescending or even cruel: a clueless suburbanite with appalling taste and a tendency toward track suits and loud jewelry. Still, as with ”redneck” in America, a term that is imposed as a marker of scorn can be embraced as a marker of pride; at the very least, a certain humor and irony lace many of the discussions about chavs on Web sites and in books like ”Chav! A User’s Guide to Britain’s New Ruling Class.” Read more