Light and music suffocate the room as pink-clad pixies hover about. Their platinum mops jut in all directions as mandibles ceaselessly grind bubblegum with intentional audibility. Lips, shimmering with unending layers of gloss, protrude from pristine glitter-spattered visages. With starving vocabularies, the shade of their speech conveys the sense of perpetual mild frustration. These are the succubi of retail clothing stores.
When shopping for clothing, there are many forces that may cause us to gravitate toward or repel from the selection of specific fashion articles. We say that we wear what we like, which is true, but it isn’t the whole truth. Fabric, fit, cut and color all send cultural signals about our taste, lifestyle, profession and promiscuity. Our clothing is, in addition to our hobbies, abilities and hairstyle, a powerful method of communicating our identity to the world; our appearance is an outlet of self-expression. Beyond a sense of identification, fashion has the supplementary function of making us feel unique. This is the peculiar balance of our desire for both separation and belonging, to be one-of-a-kind and a part of something more, like a piece in a puzzle.
To have someone tell us that they enjoy something we’re wearing or that they are impressed by our sense of fashion is an uplifting feeling that we all secretly strive to achieve. We want others to recognize our effort and creativity, assuring us that we are special. This is why we avoid wearing the same garment too frequently and refuse to purchase anything that a friend already owns. Thanks to the mass production and distribution brought about by the modern clothing industry, we now have access to an endless variety of clothing at prices that anyone can afford. This makes it very easy for us to attain a diverse and personalized wardrobe. Unfortunately, the sense of individual identity brought about by mass production is an illusion.
These clothes aren’t unique and we aren’t made unique by wearing them. Though we may rarely see others wearing the same outfit as we are, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Today, there could be hundreds of thousands of people across the globe unknowingly wearing the same garment. Of course, this illusion does not only manifest in our clothing, but also in more sacred artifacts of identity such as houses, bumper stickers and wedding rings. The realization that our treasured possessions are not unique may be disturbing, but the idea that we find our identity through something as fleeting and petty as fashion should disturb us far more.
There’s a million people wearing your shirt right now. A million.