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On Sunday I was reading through The New York Times when I came across an article in the style section regarding the unspoken dress codes in clubs. These dress codes have long determined whether people are accepted into clubs, or are destined for an evening spent languishing on the couch. According to Iam Parms, an owner of the club Mulberry Project: “There’s nothing that dresses a room like a crowd. The ambiance of the experience is the people around you, so it’s important for us to keep those people fashion-forward and eclectic and interesting and engaging.”
Examples of NYC's unspoken club dress code were numerous. According to the Times, the ultra hip Provocateur club in Hotel Gansevoot suggests men avoid stripes and plaids, and women stick to a "minimum five-inch heel," preferably on a pair of Loubotain's, Christian Dior or Jimmy Choo's. In contrast, the preppy, old-money crowd at the South Pointe dance club in Southampton, NY adheres to a dress code of "tapered jeans, dress shoes, colored button-downs, and elegant sundresses." The hipster-populated bars on the Lower East Side prefer "skinny denim on boys and girls, draping fabrics and muted colors." And the Meatpacking district encourages "party dresses, five-inch heels, and designer bags."
Anne Hollander, a fashion historian and author of “Seeing Through Clothes”, was quoted in the Times article saying that “Today, people dress in costume. We wear what we wish to be seen as,” be it a bohemian, a glamazon, or an old-money socialite.
As I read through the article, one statement jumped out at me. Melissa Cosenza, a make-up artist who visits NYC clubs four to five nights a week, mentioned that “different neighborhoods reflect different tribes." A tribe is, by definition, a group of people connected to an idea, connected to a leader, and connected to each other. We tend to think of tribes in the traditional context of kinship and descent groups, such as a community of people comprised of related families, clans or generations. But in the modern sense, a tribe can be any group of people who support, inspire, and share similar behaviors as you
Seth Godin, author of the book "Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us" wrote: "People are turned into a tribe by "a shared interest" and "a way to communicate" (leader to tribe, tribe to leader, tribe member to tribe member, and tribe member to outsider.") A leader increases effectiveness for the people by transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change; providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications; and leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members."
Human beings are social animals and need some form of community. Since the time our ancestors gathered together in caves for protection and food, we have formed tribes and exhibit tribal behavior. As civilization advanced the tribes got more numerous and specific, developed into institutions, communities and countries. The predominant characteristic of tribes throughout time is the need to communicate. And one of the ways through which we communicate is through costume.
In the case of Manhattan's club culture, owners, promoters, and even influential club devotees are the leaders of those tribes. Beyond Manhattan, though, there are distinct tribes evident by their choice of costume. Here in my suburban Texas neighborhood, tribal dress in the form of designer denim, logo-covered handbags and Nike Tempo shirts prevails. In districts within downtown Dallas, tattoos, skinny denim, and vintage clothes are prized.
My own appearance illustrates elements of belonging to certain tribes. My tattoos and vintage clothing might profile me as a hipster. My beauty habits (frequent manicures and artfully applied cosmetics) group me in the suburban mom tribe. My penchant for thrifted apparel, bright red hair and habit for mixing prints might also classify me as a fashion blogger.
With so many tribes in existence, it makes me wonder whether it is truly possible to be an individual anymore. Most people would proclaim that the creative elements of dressing are what keeps them passionate about fashion, and that these elements allow them to express their individuality. But how individual can fashion be when it so easily classifies according to tribe?
What are your thoughts regarding tribal dress and modern culture? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we're being unique by choosing specific dress, or are were merely trying to stand out within our desired tribe?