Is It Just Me or Is Fashion Getting Really Streamlined?

leandra medine man repeller

I just opened a newsletter from Elin Kling’s brand, Totême—subject title: Shop by uniform. Inside, three templates for evening, everyday, and weekend were listed. Each featured seven looks. The only color options were actually non-colors, and therefore non-options: black, beige, white, and gray. I’d have bought it all—every last look, down to the subtlest piece.

Totême Fall/Winter 2019

Side-zipper leggings; high waist, straight leg, mid-wash jeans; a classic woven turtleneck sweater; a silk smock blouse in a color described as “nougat”—lately, this is all I want to wear and therefore what I want to buy. But I never used to shop this way. I used to listen to my gut—if it told me I had to have something, that the emotional feeling the thing elicited upon contact was worth the acquisition, I’d get it. There was no calculation beyond that—no rule. So, I’d get the thing, and not always, but often, would find that after a couple of wears, or the sum of a season, I’d never want to see it again.

My clothes were flimsy, fleeting tales of the identities I once marveled in trying on for size. Quizzical, whimsical, nonsensical—I took pride in assuming these adjectives to describe how I dressed. But now I want solid stuff. The white button-down. A “good” jacket. I want my pants how I want my pants—high-waisted and long enough to cover my ankles, slightly skinny, almost straight, but not officially one or the other. I want the wardrobe for which the most unassumingly formidable Barney’s customer ascends to the 4th floor, where The Row’s collection sits. The attire you wear day in and out, season after season. So boring it’s actually fun, because, if you’re me and love guardrails, you get to have fun narrating with your shoes and your bags and your jewelry or simply how you wear your shirt. But the shirt itself? Again, I want it to be so quiet, it barely registers.

Is it just me? I don’t think so. In a post-Phoebe Philo world, as Bottega Veneta’s jeans and unvarnished bodysuits continue to sell out, as newer brands like Khaite and Gabriela Hearst and Officine Generale or old favorites like Vince rise from the ashes of our post-trend culture and the mainstay brands we know begin to re-evaluate their designs by trading in hot pink cocoon coats for subdued camel, it appears we have reached such an elevated level of peak-peacock that we are actually post-peacock.

Old guard, rejoice! There will be no gleaming sequins in your Instagram feeds from here on out.

Uuuuuuuggggggghhhhhhh <– That was the sound of my body tensing up because, hi, hello, what if sequins are still true to some part of your constitution, as they are mine? Does a world post-peacock mean that because I want for an unobtrusive turtleneck, I shall renounce the micro metallic discs altogether? Wouldn’t doing that mean defying myself to accommodate some kind of fear of being off-trend? Or different in a bad way? Or worse…just myself?

Khaite Resort 2020

It seems obvious and simple and like I should just stop talking because if I like sequins, of course I should still wear them when I want to. We are past the point of rules. There are no do’s and don’t’s—or so I would like to think. But now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t actually believe the changeover from loud! and! out! there! to (dontlookatmenothingtoseehere) is much more than just another trend cog in the wheel of consumption.

It does, however, offer something of significant value because what we inadvertently ask when we declare the color palette of the season invisible is for people to fill in the blanks. To take simple dressing cues and improvise on a micro-level with smart styling tactics. And because this request is on the micro-level, it’s also more advanced and nuanced and some could argue more important. But it seems like these days we all read from a script that paradoxically says “I’m original,” but shows a singular template of head-to-toe fashion.

So what I mean when I say that we’re post-peacock is that I am post-peacock (postcock?). And that the actual garments that fall within this classification don’t really matter.

I know I’ve said this before, I predict I’ll say it again, and I’m sorry that I always make everything so, earnest, and personal, but it has never been as clear as it is when I get dressed that something is different. I’ve grown up. I don’t look into a pantry of possibilities and think to myself: who should I be today? What I meant when I used to ask that, really, was who should I be like. The boundlessness of that possibility used to thrill me, but I’m no longer seduced. Everything that’s in there—side-zipper leggings, high waist, straight leg, mid-wash jeans, turtleneck sweaters and silk smock blouses—has been selected with purpose, the driving force of it all laddering up to an elevated, potentially unflinching understanding of Who I Am.

Officine Generale Fall/Winter 2019

And to this point, I’m really glad that a bulk of my personality development occurred during a time before the complication of social-media-generated compare and like culture could have added a thicker layer of overwhelm and self-consciousness to the process of self-realization. There’s nothing wrong with being in the in-between phase. It’s actually a crucial part of the process. Asking the question Who should I be like? is an effective version of method-acting that asks you to try stuff on—clothes, principles, aversions, whatever!—in order to decide what fits. But more often than not, and especially these days, we forget that the method-acting is a means to an end.

What’s at the end? Closer proximity to understanding yourself! Knowing who you are! It’s a moving body of work that doesn’t reach completion until you do, but there is something remarkably relieving about having a closet that proves through the vicissitudes of inevitable human wobbliness that I’m closer than ever before to “getting” myself.

When I was graduating high school and deliberating yearbook quotes, I got caught on Oscar Wilde’s classic, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Ultimately, I passed on it. It was the most obvious and plain and cliché choice for a yearbook quote. But as I think about it, and where we stand at this moment culturally, I wonder if another collection of words better sum up the intended message of the collective consciousness.

Maybe what fashion is asserting through its call-to-streamlined-action with its plain shirts and predictable pants is derivative of exactly the same simplicity and clarity and power.

Photos via Vogue Runway.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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