You’ve probably noticed during the past two years of extreme polarization in American life that everyone can agree on one thing: the country is headed in the wrong direction. It’s just that each side of the debate — and increasingly within each side — has a completely different set of reasons. Part of navigating such an era is learning to accustom oneself to mixed messages, cognitive dissonances, contradictions, inversions, and general topsy-turviness, along with the usual bias, self-interest and hypocrisy that characterizes public life.
The news roundup in our last post featured a report on declining revenue and earnings at Ralph Lauren. RL is a huge company with multiple divisions, but the fact that it has been pushing a neo-prep revival has us paying close attention as to whether or not consumers are responding to it. In the comment section of the last post, Ivy Style contributor BC shared a link I found interesting enough to warrant further discussion, especially as it exemplifies this strange zeitgeist we’re living through in which everything comes down to interpretation.
The article in question comes from The American Spectator. Here are the relevant passages:
First, Ralph Lauren is a citadel of sartorial elitism. This image flies in the face of global bashing of so-called elites in India, Britain, France, and the United States. In general, people are fed up with elites telling them what to eat, how to think — and how to eschew wrongthink and be correct.
Indeed, Ralph Lauren is out of step with these times of class warfare and the curse of private enterprise, as espoused by the Left. Blue blazers festooned with patches and piping, regimental ties, and casual attire fit for croquet and mimosas on a long summer afternoon don’t quite make it any longer.
Second, and as I have written in these pages, Ralph Lauren has been hammered not just by the ascent of global grunge — but by the triumph of global grunge. From the cafes of Europe to Oxford Street in London to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, the slovenly look is in. Indeed, grunge is not only in, but it is the new chic look for those who dress for success.
Today’s millennial generation, like other generations, is rejecting the values and structures of the preceding one. Period furniture, oriental carpets, and antique silver are not so much in demand — simple basic things are, and these are things that do not convey a sense of discernment or hierarchy. Indeed, why would a young socialist shop at Ralph Lauren?
Like virtually every other major corporation, RL has made a big diversity push in its marketing imagery over the past couple of years. So while the brand’s clothing still draws upon traditional Anglo-American class signifiers, now more than ever the message is that the clothes are for everyone. Moreover, Ralph Lauren’s house style is not the globalist-elite look the author decries, but rather, one could argue, its antidote. Nothing could be a better antithesis to global grunge-chic than American classics like khakis, oxfords, canvas sneakers, ribbon belts and polo shirts.
The author is correct that Ralph Lauren’s look is based on elitism, but it’s the old elitism, which makes it simultaneously elitist and not-elitist. Or rather “wrong-elitist.” This is because we’re going through a drawn-out paradigm shift regarding which displays of elitism are socially acceptable and which ones aren’t. The author suggests that RL should “dumb-down” its traditional and stuffy elements, while those in this corner of the web would counter that dumbing-down the trad look is precisely the problem. If RL is confused about how to merchandise at this present moment in time, it’s a reflection of the fact that we’re all confused. You can’t have things both ways, and yet we’re bombarded with contradiction every day, when every aspect of society seems to also carry its opposite. Yes we live in the age of Trump, but we also live in the age of Anti-Trump. The wisdom tradition provides us with the principle of polarity as a universal law:
Everything is dual. Everything has poles. Everything is a pair of opposites. Like and unlike are identical in nature, and different only in degree. Extremes meet. All truths are but half-truths. All paradoxes may be reconciled.
Undaunted and evidently determined to stick to its roots, this season Ralph Lauren is offering an Americana collection that in design is only a few degrees removed from the unabashed patriotism of its recent Olympic collections, and which includes items featuring stars and stripes at a time when the American flag is considered problematic. In an age of polarity, one thing’s for certain: the American flag has been, and will always be, a sign of the times. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD