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Dispatch From Sweden: Seating Politics At Stockholm “Fashion Night”

Dispatch From Sweden: Seating Politics At Stockholm “Fashion Night”

During Stockholm Fashion Week this past August, I took special note of an event called “Fashion Night” – one similar to American Vogue’s (now discontinued) “Fashion’s Night Out.” The Swedish edition invites people to shop, mingle, and watch live-streamed fashion shows on a huge screen in Stockholm’s vibrant inner city. While this gesture seems to give ordinary folks access to the fashion elite by posting pictures and videos from the event on social media in which they appear to be a part of an exclusive party, I’ve wondered if the hoi polloi are actually being invited into fashion’s inner sanctum…or are just being deceived into believing so.

For one, ordinary people are not in fact sitting next to the elite in the front row watching the show. And two, they also have to pay for their seats, which divides them from the “true” fashion elite, protecting their exclusivity.

As sociologist Yuniya Kawamura observes, “Postmodern consumers are extremely creative, and thus the lines that used to be clearly drawn between fashion professionals, such as designers and stylists, and consumers are also blurry.” [1] But to what extent does the creativity of Kawamura’s postmodern consumers lie in their use social media – and how might social media mask persisting social boundaries in the fashion industry? Consumers can be more up-to-date than ever about the latest trends through, say, a sneak peek of a fashion show on Snapchat. Consumers can style themselves to look like the fashion elite – kudos here to the bloggers who have gone from customers to creators, earning their seat at Fashion Week. Even so, consumers are still customers more than they are members.

In a similar vein, every year Swedish Elle throws a gala in January that coincides with Stockholm Fashion Week. Foremost a celebration of Swedish fashion, the gala brings together fashion and media industry stars, well-known celebrities and, in recent years, bloggers as well. It’s possible, however, for ordinary people to purchase a ticket and also to watch the gala live-streamed through the Elle website.

A few years ago, I decided to watch the gala online since I couldn’t afford a ticket. At the event that year, the host went on stage and made a joke about her dress. Her dress was heavily adorned on one side and plain black on the other; she explained that she standing a certain way so that the guests who had paid could see the adorned side of her dress while the celebrities on the other side of the room who had not paid could only see the plain side.

The obvious way to interpret the joke is that guests who paid for the event should get more bang for their buck. But I would argue that the joke made exceedingly evident the distinction between those who were invited and those who had to pay to attend. Though both groups of guests went to the same event, they were attending on different rungs of fashion’s social ladder.

What I’m trying to pinpoint is that fashion’s elitism prevails through postmodernity. At the Elle gala as well as Stockholm’s recent “Fashion Night,” money buys an ordinary person a temporary ticket to the fashion elite. The elite make sure they are at least seated across the room, if not across the street, and ordinary people’s use of social media only reinforces who’s actually invited and who’s not.

Notes

[1] Yuniya Kawamura, Doing Research in Fashion and Dress: An Introduction to Qualitative Methods (New York: Berg, 2011), 122.

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