Depop vs Reality

When artist and writer Leanne Shapton gave her talk on the seduction of amateur fashion photography in the Fashion Interpretations Symposium in early December, I felt as though she had exposed to me the secrets of my online shopping habits. From this point on, I became fascinated (and a bit obsessed) with investigating what actually goes into my experience of buying second-hand clothes online.

Shapton happened upon the subjects of her 2020 painted series when scrolling through eBay and Craigslist. Through magical means, she transforms the one-dimensional amateur photography into whimsical painted expressions. Her talk and her work highlighted the absurdity of second-hand fashion online. The nuanced way in which we are seduced by amateur photography into buying something online that once belonged to someone else transcends the here and now to consider the imagined arena of what could be.

Depop is my queen. It has provided me with an escape – not only in this past year but since the day I first created my ‘shop’ – and a space in which to carve out my very own, very ‘authentic’ style. I sit for hours, ‘liking’ clothes listed as ‘authentic vintage’, ‘deadstock’ or ‘y2k’. I sort each item into ‘collections’ that I’ve labelled ‘vintagey’, ‘jewels’, ‘lingeree’, ‘hat’, ‘topz’, ‘dressup’. I hope that no one will see my collections, so that the dress (that I’ll forget about as soon as I close the app) is mine, in perpetuity.

I sometimes search for months and even years for the right version of the garment I want. In the past year and a half, I’ve spent an unfortunate amount of time trying to find the perfect cowboy boots at the perfect price point. When I finally found them, I felt as though my hard work had paid off. The caption read: ‘Blue embroidered cowboy boots. UK7. #cowboy #western #bohovibes #boots.’ Simple, effective and they only cost £30 (including postage and packaging)! The seller (@portlevenmermaid) put up four images of the pale blue boots with white embroidery, against a diamond-patterned carpet in similar colours. She photographed them on their side, then from the perspective of the toe, then from the heel. She even modelled them herself, sat on the floor with legs outstretched. However, this wasn’t enough for me to be sure that my £30 would be well spent. I wanted to see them standing up; I asked, and she made me a video.

To help me weigh up the pros and cons of investing, I imagined myself walking around in the shoes I hadn’t yet purchased. I put together outfits that I thought would go with them. I imagined events that I would wear them to. In essence, those cowboy boots spent a lot of time in my head before I would ever see them on my feet. The last push was the recognition that if I saw that ‘SOLD’ stamp appear, I would feel a guilty sickness for the time wasted as well as a size-seven-cowboy-boot-shaped hole in my heart. I confirmed with the seller and bam! £30 left my account.

I waited two weeks for our postman to hand me a shoe-sized package. As soon as they arrived, I excitedly ripped open the flimsy plastic purple packaging. They were exactly as @portlevenmermaid had shown them! The embroidery was delicate and yet pronounced against the pale blue faux-leather material. The wooden heel was a lot sturdier than I had expected. They looked in great shape. I rushed to put them on, unzipping the leather and sliding my foot inside. Oh… a bit tight. Not to worry – I was wearing thick bed socks and I would never wear them with these! I jumped into a pair of tights and slid the boots on again. Still a bit of a pinch… It was fine, I wouldn’t be walking long distances in them anyway.

Our Christmas Day walk was the first outing for me and my boots. We walked about 6,000 steps according to Apple Health. The pointed toe squeezed my thinly covered feet and, with every step, created a friction that became unbearable. Taking off the boots at the end of the walk felt like taking off the favourite bra that you won’t admit you’ve grown out of, despite the red-raw indents it leaves on your chest. I was disappointed to say the least, but I also felt a real sense of guilt. I thought of my grandma and the hours we had waited for my number to be called out in Clarks, to have my feet precisely measured for shoes that would last me years. This was clearly a lesson I did not bring with me into my adult life.

Outlining my Depop experience in words has been a bit bizarre. I’ve come to realise that this is not a standalone experience: it has happened to me multiple times, with shoes, suits, tops and jeans, and I’m sure it has happened to everyone who has ever bought something online. This imaginary incorporation of this digital thing into my real life is beautifully represented by Shapton in her latest series of images. She highlights the strangeness of making judgements (and handing over money to strangers online) based on a one-dimensional image that you have worked to make real in your mind’s eye.

The entire experience of buying clothes forces us to think of a life not yet lived. This imagined potential is greatly intensified online, even more so now that it allows us to hope for a future. With that in mind, I think I’ll try to cling on to the pleasure felt at the imagined version of me, wearing my cowboy boots.

By Bethan Eleri Carrick

References:

Kathryn Reed, Fashion Interpretations Symposium Part II, http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2020/12/03/fashion-interpretations-symposium-part-iii/

East Village Eye: New Wave Fashion of the Recent Future

Modern Girls at Play, East Village Eye, June 1979.

Girls in rehearsal shorts

Rhonda, in clothes from East Village boutique Natasha.

Models in a mix of vintage finds.

East Village Eye – a magazine published between 1979 and 1987 – shows the medium’s power to encapsulate a moment and to convey the excitement of collaboration, in terms of its contributors and of the collages of text and images of art, music, fashion and life in general in ‘80s New York. Drawing on the cut-up aesthetic of fanzines and the pop culture graphics of comic books, it brings to mind Guy Lawley’s discussion of their role in crystallizing subcultural ideals: ‘In some important ways, the origins of punk itself are closely linked to the comics medium.  By the winter of 1975-76, the new music coming out of New York’s CBGBs club (The Ramones, Television, Blondie, Patti Smith etc) was generating an intense local buzz, but little wider acclaim. People were calling it things like “street rock” until Punk magazine appeared in December of 1975 to give the scene a catchy name and (the appearance of) a unified identity. Indeed, it is claimed that The Eye was the first to use the term ‘hip hop’ – in an interview with rap pioneer Afrika Bambaataa – and these two subcultures dominate its pages, influencing art and pop culture in equal measures.

The Eye depicts the chaos of downtown and the possibilities that opened up for young artists – of all genres, who were able to rent cheap spaces in a part of the city abandoned by big commerce.  The area quickly became the generator of new art, and home to a string of vintage and fashion boutiques that dressed its participants. It speaks to the significance of space and place in hot housing trends of various kinds, and of the vibrancy of street culture at the time – punk and hip hop intersect on its pages, and the influence and significance of Situationist art co-mingle with graffiti and New Wave.

With its recognizably ‘80s aesthetics, The Eye is a remnant of the recent past, but simultaneously projects a confusing – but fascinating – sense of actually being about the recent future, through its representation of art and fashion culture of the time: it’s gone, but it’s still here, over, but still suggesting something new. This is reflected in editor Leonard Abrams’ statement at the front of the magazine, which says:

East Village Eye is a new newspaper for new culture. Enjoying a mutually parasitic relationship with the East Village and surrounding areas, The Eye … promotes the new mutations of Positivist Futurism, put forth in the watchwords: “It’s all true.”

Inevitably, fashion is a significant component of this mix – a way to embody and perform the new ideals and become a living rendition of the artistic and subcultural manifestos expressed on the magazine’s pages.  And it is now possible to examine these influences in detail, as several copies of East Village Eye are now available to download http://www.east-village-eye.com/issues-year.html, including the June 15 1979 edition with its retro-futurist style fashion supplement.

This edition’s cover and the ensuing pages cut and paste together fashion spreads and adverts that show the promiscuous combinations of periods and styles that somehow coalesced into a recognizably New Wave dress code. Its focus on Pop Art glamour – as seen through ‘40s Hollywood make-up, ‘30s rehearsal shorts and floral tea dresses, is balanced with classic ‘50s casual wear for men and sharp suits that recall ‘30s gangster films. Even the photographic style deployed is a combination of old and new – some are styled to look like Richard Avedon shots of poised elegance, others rehearse the ‘straight-up’ that i-D magazine would come to define a couple of years later.

The focus on second-hand stores and – in most cases – the anonymity of the clothes origins suggest individuality and creative freedom from the ‘official’ fashion world. However, the text recognizes that these same styles and periods were also influencing ready-to-wear. This is a reminder that, as Angela McRobbie has written: ‘Most of the youth subcultures of the post-war period have relied on second-hand clothes found in jumble sales and ragmarkets as the raw material for the creation of style.’ And yet: ‘not all junk is used a second time around. Patterns of taste and discrimination shape the desires of second-hand shoppers as much as they do those who prefer the high street or the fashion showroom.’

Film, literature, music, comics, the street – both of the current and earlier times become cyphers for styling the downtown art/fashion/music performer that The Eye spoke to and for.  Download and be part of the recent future.

With thanks to Leonard Abrams for his generosity in giving access to issues of East Village Eye, and allowing us to reproduce these images.

 

Sources:

http://98bowery.com/return-to-the-bowery/millers-memorabilia.php

http://www.east-village-eye.com/news.html

https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/tag/east-village-eye/

http://hyperallergic.com/161064/the-east-village-eye-where-art-hip-hop-and-punk-collided/

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/08/04/garden/east-village-new-wave-of-creativity.html

Guy Lawley, ‘”I like Hate and I hate everything else”: The Influence of Punk on Comics,’ in Roger Sabin, ed., Punk Rock: So What? (London: Routledge, 1999)

Angela McRobbie, ‘Second-Hand Dresses and the Role of the Ragmarket,’ in Angela McRobbie, ed., Zootsuits and Second-Hand Dresses (London: Routledge, 1989)