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Primer: Style Detournement

Detournement, or “turning around,” was a primary tactic employed by the Situationists to subvert the meanings of images and events in spectacular society in order to reclaim them. This stratagem continues to be employed via political expression such as subadvertisements. The following is a primer of Style Détournement. Its purpose is to encourage people to begin jamming, or subverting, the governing paradigm of style.

1. Refuse to wear logos, brands, or designer monograms.

Logos are pitiful: Advertising for which the “buyer” pays. Ultimately, it is the consumer who pays the manufacturer for the privilege of displaying a logo or brand. The luxury goods manufacturer will not suffer if you buy one of its fancy handbags and throw it directly into the trash; it has already been paid. Carrying and displaying its logo is just bonus. The human body should not be a site for advertising.

2. Cut all labels out of garments.

Once bought, and certainly once worn, a garment no longer belongs to a manufacturer or designer but to the owner. Removing labels from clothing blunts the seller-sold relationship. Completely labelless clothing also has a refined and special beauty, like cats without collars. This suggestion may seem to many a simple-minded or inconsequential act. I am certain that to many others, however, the very idea of removing labels is downright painful. “How else will I know my worth?” The commodity style fueled by the steady and regular purchase of new fashions has become a sort of shorthand that many people rely upon to speak of who they “are.” What a wearer says via this method is tragic in its emptiness.

3. Wear it to death–stop shopping.

Is there no loyalty to one’s coat anymore? It keeps you warm for months but is tossed aside when the money-changers say that it is time? What about the beauty of frayed and worn clothes, the things that have taken you years to break in properly? I have cigarette burns in two of my favorite coats, but they are lovely, and so unquestionably mine. I cherish my cigarette-singed history. Your clothing goes to war with you. Its nature and value change as it is worn during love affairs and funerals and motorcycle accidents.

4. The moral value of thrift.

Used clothing offers a moral loophole: Consumption without production. With thrift and vintage, the thrill of the new is made possible, because the damage has already been done. Furthermore, new clothing should be made from things that have been discarded–good looking, wearable clothing. It is certain that to satiate consumer desire for a frequent ever-changing variety of goods, adults and children in Mexico or Thailand will spend hours in poorly ventilated factories for obscenely low rates of pay. Even in the United States, garment workers are routinely fired when they attempt to unionize for higher pay or better working conditions.

The doctrine of the Situationist International now seems eerily prescient. Thirty years later, the spectacle has been fully integrated, no longer merely surrounding us but also living inside of us, sticking to our hearts and our brains like asbestos. We can simply wait every day for divine intervention that never comes. Or we can foment rebellion each morning, as we get up and put on our clothes.

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