Gangstas, Grills, Guns and Georg?
The Application of Simmel’s Theory in Analyzing Hip-Hop Fashion
If fashion is determined by the elite upper-class and subsequently imitated by the lower classes, why do people imitate Hip-Hop’s style of flat-rimmed baseball caps and oversized jeans – a style that is typically associated with lower socioeconomic classes? Georg Simmel contends that the tension between wanting to imitate or conform versus wanting to distinct one self, dictates the future of fashion in an endless circle of styles coming into fashion and styles going out of fashion. Whether styles last or disappear, the constant remainder is fashion, propelled forward by the need of individuals to constantly distinguish themselves from
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In an increasingly complex and multi-faceted society, fashion can play a functional role, assimilating the differential back into the group at the same time as it favors such differentiation. In modern society, Simmel tells us, fashion provides a very important moment of homogeneity that counteracts the disaggregational drives of differentiation. He develops the theme of the simultaneity of styles such that fashion, perhaps unlike any other phenomenon, concretizes the dual dimension of the process of differentiation pervading society. In this context, the phenomenon of imitation plays a central role, functioning as a kind of filtering of the life of the group into individual life, helping the individual to blend into the group. The principle of imitation therefore represents one side of the dualism, whose other face is given by individual differentiation, by the refusal to imitate – in other words, by invention. The driving mechanism behind Simmel’s theory on fashion is his interpretation of human’s dualistic nature: the desire to differentiate oneself (individualization) contrasted with the desire to be similar, to imitate. Thus, fashion belongs in this nexus based on the dualism inherent to human existence. As imitation, it responds to the need for insertion within the group. On the other hand, as invention or creation, fashion operates the tendency toward differentiation. For Simmel, one of the modalities of distinction is that fashions are always