Shopping for new jeans with my mom last night was positively traumatic. There I am in Jean Machine trying on EVERY pair of jeans in the entire store to the politely hostile employee. I kept asking if she had something more comfortable, something that didn’t look like it was painted-on, something that wouldn’t expose my ass crack when I bent over or my pubic hair when I wore anything less than a baggy sweatshirt over top.
I’m not saying I want to look frumpy or anything, but this was ridiculous. Most stores in malls have the same problem with variety. I finally ended up with a pair of men’s pants. I didn’t want anything that was going to make me self-conscious; I don’t want the fear of exposure dictate my physical movements. I don’t want to become one of those perpetually self-conscious girls wearing those short, flouncy skirts that are popular right now, walking with one hand on the back of the skirts to make sure her ass-smile isn’t showing. I find that skimpy clothes like that to be too confining.
Time to bust out the nerdy literary theory allusions. If Adorno and Horkheimer ever found themselves in a Jean Machine, they would probably declare that the store epitomizes what they describe as the “illusion of choice”. The large store and the range of color shades, lengths, pocket shapes and other trivial discrepancies mask the fact that every freaking pair of jeans is exactly the same!
This means that shoppers feel like they have many choices so they can pick something that suits them the best. but really the choice has already been made for them. Just try and find jeans that defer from the basic mass-produced style. They simply don’t exist in malls.
Does anyone remember the Spice Girls? This group of women is marketed as an eclectic bunch of original and distinctive people while in fact they resemble everyone else in the mass media. They’re like Barbie Doll moulds with different hair color and different skin-colored goo poured into the same mould. They all dress in equally revealing clothes, each bearing some cultural symbol to indicate her simplistic character. A long blue pants with a white stripe down the side denotes that one is “sporty” (whatever that even means). Besides, I have never met anyone who could be pinned down by one single vague and meaningless adjective.
It was a common joke among my friends at Catholic high school that on the one day a month when we could wear something other than our uniforms, all the kids who complained about how lame it was to have to wear ugly uniforms would showed up dressed exactly the same as each other anyway, sporting the latest styles from The Gap, Jacob, AE and other stores found in malls. Although I also complained at the time about the uniforms, it was the days when we could wear our own clothes that the kids who couldn’t afford to shop at The Gap or Abercrombie and Fitch really stood out. In that sense, the uniforms had a very positive social leveling effect. I also thought at the time that forcing kids to wear uniforms infringed on our expression of individuality, though now I find it strange that individuality was equated with clothing and outward image rather than behavior or choices.
I said jokingly once that everyone should be forced to wear uniforms. My comment was met with shocked expressions and someone called me a fascist. The mass media markets to women an unattainble standard of “beauty” and offers no alternative, only the illusion of choice. This process creates a cycle of perpetual consumption. Having eveyone wear uniforms all the time didn’t seem like such a bad idea once I realized we are all doing it anyhow at an incalculable cost.