When Counter Culture Goes Mainstream

Op-Ed | Krystal Sarna

When counter culture becomes the new norm, how should we categorize it? Or is categorizing counterintuitive to counter culture?

Take Coachella for instance. Kicking off last weekend, every celebrity suddenly embraced a bohemian hipster ensemble— all thanks to his or her stylist.

A recent WSJ article about Saks Fifth Avenue’s makeover touches on current consumer culture as “safer, more ‘commercial’ styles are being scaled back” in stores.

The brand-consumer dynamic is rapidly changing. We have arrived at a new era in fashion—where news of a collaboration is blasé the next morning, where the makings of a fashion show are no longer mystic and where the fashion-conscious can sit front row at their favorite designer’s fashion show from the comfort of their own bed.

Designers are now playing up to the social responsibility put on them by millennials, curating their collections for likes on Instagram and video-worthy runway shows.

Just years ago, the environmentally friendly, let’s-go-green initiative was confined to hipsters, vegans and eclectics. Now, millennials are as conscious about their clothing as their cold-pressed green juice. Who’s to say knowing the origins of what you choose to clothe your body with is a dissent? Nevertheless, the pressure is putting a high demand on designers, manufacturers and executives to be more transparent than ever.

The L-85 codes, which restricted fashions during World War II, were the earliest modern social responsibility in regards to fashion. A new social responsibility, devout of military association, brings attention to the origins of sartorial choice.

It’s a melody of cultural phenomena, creating a connected world in which counter-culture is craved so much so, it’s becoming mainstream. The subcultures of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s are still prevalent, but no longer elusive. There aren’t so much new subcultures as there are evolved ones, taking style references in retrospective.

Those who go against the grain in fashion are usually attracted to a process driven by creativity—a process not so linear. An established brand fits the genre, so long as it is identifiable with the consumer who cares more about expression than labels.

However, the rare and unique become commonplace once everyone has access to them. Coveted items are so attainable; all that separates one from that vintage Armani jacket is the price tag. Rarity delivered, from a click of a button to your doorstep the next day (for just $14.95). It’s not so much the accessibility as the lack of originality that has killed the cat. People grab on to counterculture style and make replica after replica, considering it their own until it’s no longer counter-anything. So, where are the intrinsically creative, outwardly outlandish and completely original trendsetters?

“People are tired of putting up with the same thing being made en masse for the masses — this is particularly important for fashion where every body is unique,” says Joseph Pine, author of Mass Customisation, in a 2011 write-up for BoF.

Streetwear shops and local boutiques driven by authenticity draw in a sense of loyalty. Customers come back time and time again both for exclusivity and autonomy. Small fashion businesses stay afloat by customer preference of intimacy over corporate strategy. Everyone secretly cheers for the underdog—no matter the arena. It’s that sense of anti-establishment that drives the counterculture movement.

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