Fashion and Globalization: The Girls All Look the Same by Michelle Blanco, July 07 2016, 2 Comments

As a teenager, I spent the summers in Spain. I remember being just as excited to eat paella and see distant cousins as I was to discover the latest trends. In 1998, blogs didn’t exist and the fashion industry still chugged along spreading content through magazines. No faster than human speed, styles were perpetuated at the rate a model could sashay down the runway.

New fashions took months or years to be disseminated from European to U.S. retailers and even longer to be copied and made affordable for preteens like myself. My cousins and I would load up on bowling bag purses, colored bell-bottom jeans or whatever the look of the moment capitalizing on the devalued local currency. We glowed with pride as we showed off our inimitable new Zara and Mango ensembles to the envy of our midwestern peers in middle school corridors.

As I meandered through narrow streets, I was enchanted by bustling cities and undiscovered concepts. Seeing silk head scarves and pedal pushers, I felt refreshed and inspired to see something other than the graphic tees and baggy JNCOs so prevalent in my hometown. My older cousin Paula resembled Sofia Lauren as she sat lounging in a handkerchief halter, denim pencil skirt and platform espadrilles, cigarette in hand. In those formative years, it was exciting to formulate a fashion perspective that felt personal and culturally driven.

A decade later, in my mid-twenties I was assigned to serve a religious mission near Barcelona, on the opposite coast of where I spent my childhood summers. I assumed that I would once again feel inspired by the fashion forward perspective all around me. On subways and bus rides all over Barcelona and the other smaller cities, however, I began noticing a strange phenomenon. The girls all looked the same! Every girl in Spain seemed to be trying to pull off the same Kate Moss inspired boho-rocker, motorcycle-jacket look that I had been sporting for several years previously. It saddened me to realize that the distinct cultural perspective necessitated by the chasmic divide of the Atlantic seemed to have evaporated. Instead of enjoying diversity from all over the fashion map, it was as though all the local flavor had run together, into one cultural stew.

The internet has created an impressive channel of instant communication for fashionistas and retailers alike to deliver an immediate supply for their ever-increasing demand. But with this digital Pangea, a culture of conformity has arisen. Layer that with an economic crisis and everyone is afraid to design or purchase an item that goes beyond the mold of mainstream acceptable pieces.

But who are the real icons? Fashion role models that stand the test of time are those who don’t seem to follow a blueprint. Many “It” girls and designers have paved the way with unexpected choices. One elderly “It” girl, Iris Apfel, gained fame with her elaborate collection of globally shopped and intricately hand-crafted clothing and jewelry. Iris’s love of artisinal and non-western clothing collected over her lifetime inspires thousands of women worldwide to be bold and original with their style.

It seems like the best we can hope for in broadening our fashion horizons is to look further than social media for fashion inspiration. Along with thrift store shopping, sustainable fashion is one way to open up to new textures and styles. Most green designers are independent and more willing to be experimental with new looks. We may feel as though our world is smaller because of technology, but perhaps we should try and expand our perspectives beyond the most popular bloggers and brands. 'Fast fashion' may be plentiful and inexpensive, but let’s not forget the thrill of the hunt at the vintage market or the careful curation of a wardrobe built through travel and careful consideration—this cannot be replaced with the click of a button.