There are ways to communicate in everyday life that exist outside of the realm of language – that is, outside of speaking or writing. All day long, we put off signs of what we want, how we feel, who we “are.” People on a college campus have a nice, limited variety of behaviors and actions on which would be simple to elaborate. These signs exist in the kind of coffee we order (or if we prefer tea), the mode of transportation we choose (bike versus car), how we react to people handing out fliers on campus, and what kind of clothes we wear to school. Sometimes these rituals all fit together in a nice little schema that we create for “types” of people on a college campus, but for the sake of brevity and fluidity, I will focus on one in particular: the clothing of college students.
When one hears the terms “indie,” “country,” “hip-hop,” and “folk,” the topic that these genres bring to mind is music. Would one be out of line to assign these genres to a clothing style as well? Perhaps in the “real world,” that place involving worries of insurance, salary, and job promotions, the genres of fashion are much too trivial to be considered. Yet, on a quaint college campus overflowing with cliques, it is evident to see who belongs where within the context of the campus hierarchy. The genres of fashion do exist, and they serve as signals to observers – signals that define the wearer of the clothing.
There are certain attributes to most outfits of the college student: is the male wearing “girl” jeans? That signifies that the male might be a member of the older “emo” genre (short for “emotional” and including a sub-genre of “screamo” in which the music is loud and confrontational – usually attacking the parents or the girlfriend of the teenage rock star), or the newer “indie” genre (“indie” for independent, as in bands from small record labels or people who do not feel the need to conform to society’s boundaries, i.e. men wearing women’s most androgynous item of clothing). The student could be wearing Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots, which would signify that he is likely a member of the “country” genre: a “good ol’ boy” with simple dreams. The student might be wearing pants that shockingly stop on his legs just under his boxers instead of fitting around the waist, and one could assume he considered himself to belong to the “hip-hop” genre. Once one became acquainted with these fashion genres it would become almost instinctual to identify an “indie kid” from a hip-hop fan – which is exactly the point.
It is common for students to hear a lot of “first impression” facts when preparing to enter the business world. That is, the world right after school, no matter what one’s subject of study might have been. The fact that people judge others within the first few seconds of meeting gets thrown around a lot – along with the fact that sometimes that judgment comes before one ever opens one’s mouth. This does not surprise the college student. The college student must judge friends in a sea of thousands of new faces a day. And they do that by judging that potential friend’s compatibility through the displayed fashion genre.
People, particularly young people who find counsel and comfort in music at the adolescent age when they feel they can’t relate, find many of their commonalities in music. The fact that genre is represented in fashion is not a myth – it’s a well-known practice, and it is done intentionally. Music preferences as a reflection of one’s character, however, are a myth, and are believed to say a lot about a person: especially when the one reading into those preferences is a music expert – something most college students believe themselves to be. A fan of indie music is probably also a democrat who listens to NPR and watches indie films in their free time. A fan of country music is probably a republican who enjoys nature and the hobbies that are conducive to nature: fishing and hunting. And so it goes: the not-so-mythical myth of the fashion genre extends to the myth of music, which, in turn, extends to more personal preferences regarding politics and hobbies.
Although I feel it might be evident why people judge others based on their fashion genre, it might be helpful to add more information on the subject. That “indie kid” who likes NPR probably is not going to get along with the country outdoorsman. And although there might be various commonalities that exist between the two examples, they will never appear evident to the two people, for it won’t be necessary. Talking about the latest edition of “This American Life” on NPR with a new friend is just enough to water the budding seeds of friendship; digging around a weak seed of friendship for commonalities will be tedious and crush the potential life out of the metaphorical seed.
One might argue that there are flaws in this music myth. For instance, there are college students who lack the abundance of confidence and egoism of most of their peers and do not think about their clothing style as a reflection of the musical genre that guides their lives. There are people who wear whatever they “feel” like wearing. There are people who dress for the job they have or who dress for the respect they demand from peers and authorities. The music myth does not pertain to everyone – yet, isn’t that the whole idea of the myth? That there is some signal being thrown out by someone and interpreted by another? Isn’t it necessary for the sign to be interpreted and therefore unreadable by some? And if that signal could be unreadable, then it could not be considered truth, but only a representation for some quality that is not inherent. This is precisely what makes it a myth.