by David Martin
A social and critical philosophical outlook on spandex culture.
| The central focus of this essay is to peruse Simmel’s theory of culture with regards to its theoretical explanatory power. Using a case study of spandex pants, an evaluation of Simmel’s theory appropriateness to such a modern cultural artifact rests on gender, specifically women, in order to accentuate individualism versus collectivism. The linguistic focus is on the word ‘fashionable’, since it is rife with meaning that requires attention from an operational locus of structural-reinforcement in theory, distilling and revealing interplay and tension of variables and complexities in the dimensions of historical, social and operational qualities of cultural duality. What are fashionable, namely spandex pants therefore is a mode of operation of the social as a form of fashion accentuating the inter-human particular of culture.
In terms of historical salience, spandex pants existed in accordance to cultural convention around the 1970s and 1980s as a dominating trend in fashion available to the growing wealth of the working class, and more specifically, to changing trends in gender occupational roles and the growing number of young women entering the work force. This labour demographic implicates that fashion is cyclical, and contains a self-sustaining energy with elements of transitoriness, self-destruction and renewal (based on memory loss through transition of generations), so that something considered ‘old’ may be brought back and seen anew, as is the case of the pants in the contemporary time of this essay.
A fundamental characteristic of fashion is that it must be universally attainable, or at least assumed to be, with reference to cost (Fashion, Adornment and Style, 203). In order for the subjective spirit to experience its required elation, self-worth and purpose, the condition of partaking in a trend requires that material means remain readily available, so that imitation and being envied act as operationally adequate variables of culture. The competing brands are known as TNA and Lu Lu Lemon, considered the top tier in this industry, remaining the dominating influence in this fashion. They regulate how other outlets adjust price tags, since spandex pants for the ‘elite’ brands sell over $100, as a marginal price point, in Canadian dollars.
Fashion contains elements of ‘feverish change’, as Simmel dictates, in order for mobility in social strata to occur, or the illusion of such, and simultaneously for the upper strata to suppress the lower. In an economic sense, the availability of cheaper spandex pants allows for movements in successive value, from relatively inexpensive to most expensive, with iconic controls as the signifier of suppression. For example the cheapest spandex pants provide no symbols, whereas the TNA and Lu Lu Lemon types provide symbols that, as of yet, failed to exceed in sizes larger than the Canadian penny. In some cases, an external symbol is not exhibited, with the symbol displayed on the inside of the pant, similar to some Louis Vuitton and Coach handbags.
What is fashionable about spandex pants is the element of imitation, using the most expensive versions, which hold the consideration of being genuine. Such imitation reinforces the duality of culture through opposition. The individual, in their process of elating themselves and being envied, forge a commitment to fashion, as in, for example distinguishing oneself against the jean trend of fashion (which is attributed to the working class as a culture of rebellion). Also, the preponderance of culture is reinforced by the mere fact that this fashionable item is applicable to all of the female gender, causing tension to arise in the distinguishing social features of tiered systems. Further, the pants reinforce the cultural-particular of uniformity, since they are available in a limited range of colours, with black as most prominent. This holds further general implications, since spandex pants tend to bleed into any type of fashion available, due to the general applicability of the colour schema, dress codes in social events, including dressing professionally in the work force; this will feature the individual as standing out due to fashion, being for others and simultaneously being envied, so that being fashionable is representing a general consensus of the individual reinforcing inter-subjective taste. An element of transformativeness is involved since it not only enables the subjective spirit of being fashionable, but also reinforces the social characteristic of advancement, as observed in the acceptance of such attire into upper working class positions such as management, clerical or teaching work. The function of renewed adoption to the fashionable allows the inter-human particular, as developmental creativity in successive transition, within the dimensions of social, personal, or professional settings.
There exists a hint to a sense of style, done intentionally, in the abovementioned paragraph. Simmel defines a distinction between applied and fine art, as the former representing common objects maintaining conventional standards and the latter as having implicit value that is found in the quality or condition of what it evokes. This contains deeper philosophical implications of difference that sophisticate the inherent value of an artifact, since conflicting natures of the transition of successive moments of now, allowing what is fashionable to remain timeless and renewal in multivariate physical manifestations are both at play. The depth of the style for the purposes of this essay is to illuminate that the inter-human is the necessary purpose of the fashionable, through the power of suggestion and adoption, which structurally reinforces culture, by bridging the conceptual polarities of the subjective and objective, thus mirroring such inherent value as mentioned above in ‘true’ art. Spandex pants are fashionable because they represent such structural function, with content of fashion as always-already a threshold, in terms of defining, subsuming and canceling, where transitions and partitions of individuality and the collective take place in a form of tension, binding diametrically opposed sides to cohabitate in association as an inherent process.
The objective versus subjective dialectic deserves some treatment directly, since the interplay and tension remains critical to the explanatory power of the theory. The uniform aspect of objective culture (as in the black pant) contains a measure of sharp appearance and applicability to other modes of fashion, and equally, the subjective culture is to stand out from denim attire, and to mold into the upper strata of the work force through professionalization, masking the extent of occupational status and wealth of the lower strata of society. Tension is not only found in the socio-economic status of the pants, namely the different tiers of cost, but also the individual demarcation, as in the depiction of a personality’s wealth and occupational status, and of course, linked to social position in society. The interplay complexities lie on fundamental philosophical grounds of inquiry; epistemological grounds, as to where to draw the boundary between utilitarian uses of fashion against fashionable items as a form of the social; existential grounds, if the inter-human particular is a part of intentional priority in the individual; metaphysical grounds, which begs the question if the social realm is a necessary condition for fashion; and ontological grounds, if the individual must conform to social standards and exist as a social being.
In terms of macrocosmic analysis of cultural representation, spandex pants provide an interesting example of fashion phenomena that focus on the attention to the individual, and how its demarcation causes subjugation to culture. Specifically, the pants provide exposure of a physical nature, since they provide the minutest degree of detachment using clothing as a comparison, between the body and externalities leading to accentuation of bodily features; further, it adds to adornment of the personality since it masks social and economical positions, and can be seen as necessary to the type of dress appropriate for specific social events, and inherent to professionalization (in terms of occupational function) of attire. The interplay occurs in the collective, since persons with enviable bodily features as accentuated by such a pant and styles of dress become the being-for-other personality, truncated in the process of transitioning into the fashionable.
Another important quality of cultural artifacts is that the inherent tension represents an existential aspect of modernity (Defining Culture, 45), in accordance with Simmel. Culture requires situation within a temporal schema of contemporary existence to allow justice for historicity’s sake, for example, as is found in the quality of a struggling sense of self-alienation. The attire in question simultaneously exposes the individual physically and hides the personality in aspiration and position, as such enforcing an individual freedom and becoming alienated in the collective. The inter-human is enforced since uniformity of attire in professional positions suppresses demarcation and hierarchical differentiation of the individual.
With the modest exploration of the complexities of such pants, some consideration is required to the abstract operation itself for a conclusive macrocosmic explanation. Simmel’s theory thrives on a structural-conceptual level, operating such that the function of associations between the concepts provides the meaning and drive for the theory, as is found in ‘fashionable’. Foundationalism is inadequate since meaning is irreducible to specific content of each conception without the inclusion of the other. As such what is fashionable stabilizes the polarities by including gaps from singular focusing of priority on a concept, and represents its structure in its higher-order function of the inter-human. Not only does it contain the prerequisite for association, since it connects the polarities of culture on a semantic level, but also it provides the grounds for a correlative foundation in the first place; function is not reducible to function, but understood with regards to the other, or difference, which creates the theoretical environment of signification that maintains the structural-polarity of meaning.
Goetschel, Willi, January 13th, 2010. PHL323H1 L0101 Lecture, University of Toronto.
Goetschel, Willi, January 27th, 2010. PHL323H1 L0101 Lecture, University of Toronto.
Simmel, Georg. Simmel on culture: culture of interaction. [electronic version]. Retrieved
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Simmel, Georg. Simmel on culture: defining culture. [electronic version]. Retrieved
January 13th, 2010 from University of Toronto Blackboard Portal (Tab: Week 1):
Simmel, Georg. Simmel on culture: fashion, adornment and style. [electronic version].
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