Filed under: Style Advocates | Tags: m. klara gets personal, Style Conscience, world view
I’m on a mission to find the perfect bidesmaid dress. Purple and versatile, something that can be worn both casually and fancy. And once again, Wayne has come through for us ladies. I was scouring virtual and actual clothes racks at Forever 21 for the perfect dress, and Wayne happens across a slim strapless number with virtually no trims, embroidery or beading involved, making it the perfect versatile dress for the ladies on my court.
But wedding ish is not the topic of this post (for once, haha). Instead, I’m struggling with the ethical and moral complications of shopping at a humongous chain like Forever 21.
A few weeks ago, one of my bridesmaids, Gen, and I hiked our way to our local Forever 21 in Pasadena, California. I just looked it up online and it’s referred to as a Forever 21 “superstore.” It seriously is. It’s 2 gigantic floors of stark white walls serving as a backdrop for racks and racks of clothes encompassing every single color of the rainbow spectrum. It’s so outrageous and excessive, it was kind of hilarious.
The sidewalk in front of the store also boasted another delightful display: about 30 angry protesters with picket signs cursing Forever 21 at the top of their lungs.
Gen and I scooted past the protesters into the safe haven of Forever 21’s giant womb of a store. Accessories! Bags! Clothes! Shoes! Totally my heaven. But I’m not gonna lie. The ruckus outside did ruin my shopping experience. I bought my crap and on our way out, I had to stop a protester to ask what was the big deal about Forever 21. Underpaid sweatshop workers? Yeah, we all know about that. We just shove those guilt-ridden images to the dark corners of our conscience as we fork over less than 100 bucks for an entire outfit.
But apparently, this protest was geared towards a more specific, not to mention local, cause. I stopped to dialogue with the protester largely because I caught snippets of South Central in their chants. I work primarily with individuals in South Central LA, so I have a soft spot for any issues that community has.
I learned that Forever 21 is trying to build a new distribution plant in the city of Vernon so they can churn out more designer knock-offs (I got no problem with designer knock-offs, by the way). However, in doing so, they push out farm workers who work that land. In addition, a new distribution plant is not eco-friendly.
The whole situation is kinda freaky. In my current mission to find this strapless purple shift dress, I stumbled upon a Forever 21 department store in Montebello. Did you get that? Forever 21 department store. They’re seriously going for blood. Two floors that are even bigger than the one in Pasadena with everything sectioned off into mini-departments. It’s insane. I never thought that Forever 21 would blow up like this!
It almost feels like the anti-Christ of all cheapsky knock-off stores. They reel you in with their bright lights and colors and incredibly cheap prices. I’ve been haunting the Forever 21 website recently to check if new purple dresses have been posted. They’ve really pimped out their site.
They’ve added some new goodies since my youthful days shopping at single namebrand Forever 21. Now they have like, 3 different labels. The webpage for one of their new labels, Twelve by Twelve, caught my eye with the editorial layout, the requisite stick-thin models in awkward poses and the exaggerated headpieces. But it should come as no surprise seeing as Forever 21 is a knock-off store. Poor people like me can’t afford to splurge my grad school tuition on a designer jacket. Why not copy couture editorials to entice their audience even further? Complete the couture image.
Other interactive features their website boasts includes a lookbook or “photo gallery” and an advice column called “Ask Aimee” where registered users can ask Forever 21’s “fashion director” all their questions about fashion. (I want that job!) The lookbook is especially genius because it touches on all the current trends: tropical, desert, rockabilly and “Sunday Best.” If you scour through recent teen mags like “teen vogue,” I see those four trends splattered across every issue.
I guess the scary part to me is how cunning Forever 21 is. Even someone as socially aware as I am can be so easily caught up in the glamour of it all while still being able to save tons of money. It’s economical both stylistically and financially. And those are the two elements that they’ve used to really capitalize on at the expense of those who do the grunt work.
Ironically, there’s a reference to a Bible verse stamped on the bottom of every Forever 21 bag. Seriously. Go and check to see if “John 3:16” graces the bottom of yours.
This is the verse:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Apparently, the founder of Forever 21 is deeply religious and he and his wife donate millions of dollars to their church. My question is, why can’t they use that money to pay their workers humane wages? The whole thing boggles my mind, though capitalist greed should be something I’m used to seeing and hearing about. Hell, I buy into it, too! I struggle with how to work that shit out in my conscience. I was telling a friend of mine that I will always be an advocate for the community, but here I am, contributing to their suffering and their social status on the bottom rung of the ladder.
It’s a dilemma and I have no answers. I do what everyone else does, which is to look the other way, shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s the way it is,” while enjoying my new designer knock-off sweater that I bought for $15. Trust me, I’ve been struggling with this for years, though it hasn’t been much of a struggle. It’s something that’s bigger than me and I’ve accepted that. I’m just one tiny part of the bigger problem; it would take a freakin army, or at least a small of group of people with the energy and passion of an entire army, to move mountains like improve sweatshop workers’ conditions.
I’ve always had a weird fascination for trains. And not like, Amtrack or anything. Old steam trains from back in the day. So when Wayne suggested that we take our engagement photo shoot at a train track, I almost creamed my pants.
This is why I’m marrying the guy.
Anyway, his epiphany led me to a mad hunt for examples of “steampunk” fashion. I had just read about a steampunk-themed wedding on Offbeat Bride and was immediately intrigued. To be honest, I’m still not sure what it is except that it reminds me of people riding steam engines in like, the 1920’s or something.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
I’ve always been intrigued by alternative genres of style, but none have really connected with me. I think they were either too out there or too “bright” or too “dark.” For now, it appears that steampunk is a nice medium.
I downloaded a bunch of pictures off this livejournal thread so I can show Wayne examples of how steampunk style looks like. Then we can try to incorporate elements of it into our style for the photoshoot. I was extremely exhilirated when Wayne first pitched the idea to me (I still get a little thrill down my spine when I think about it) for a couple reasons: 1) not sure how our fairly traditional Asian families will react to pictures of their children dressed in costume and 2) I’ve always wanted to do a photo shoot that involved costumes and dressing up!!
I did a little research on steampunk and found that it’s a derivative of subcultures such as Lolita fashion and romantic goth. It’s fairly new, having picked up steam (haha, couldn’t resist!) in the late 80’s. As a sci-fi/fantasy genre, steampunk is a cross between romance and steam-powered technology of the Victorian era. Like other subcultures such as cyberpunk, steampunk is anti-establishment. But in contrast, it takes a more optimistic point of view towards human potential.
In a way, this is very reflective of Wayne and I. As psychologists, it’s easy to become jaded by humans suffering at the hands of our government and just social inequalities in general, but I think we’re still early enough in our career where we still maintain hope for humankind.
On a grander scale, I like to view the rise of steampunk as a testament to the current changes in our society, particularly American society. Yes, we still have much to accomplish in terms of social justice and even economic growth. But it’s almost as though we have to set ourselves back a little just so we can begin anew, just like steampunk reverts back to a time when technology was becoming more and more industrialized. It’s almost like going back to a simpler time, but perhaps it’s also a vision of another opportunity to try things differently.
Stylistically, the pictures I’ve viewed have more earthy, neutral tones. Personally, I’ve always steered more towards neutral colors anyway, but nothing gothic unless it’s Halloween. Even though it was hotter than hell these past couple days, I still ventured out of the apartment in belted black dresses. I wish I had the patience to put together an awesome outfit like the ones above, but alas, I’m so lazy when it comes to everyday wear. Maybe that’s why I like playing dress-up so much; cuz I feel more motivated to put an effort into the details.
Due to recent events, I wonder if I’ve been appropriating different styles and genres just cuz it’s “cool.” But looking back on my stylistic tastes and interests, I’ve always been interested in period costumes, just with a more modern, sensual twist like using corsets, feathers, birdcage veils and the like. But because I know steampunk is also a lifestyle, I tend to worry about offending others who practice the lifestyle.
It’s something I wrestle with. It might be good for me to separate the two: fashion versus lifestyle. Fashionably speaking, I connect with steampunk much more than I do with the lifestyle, though that may be up for debate as well. That’s what I love about style, though. There’s always room to be creative and incorporate your own unique take on things.