The color of elitism

Posted by Alyssa Polaris on

It’s sunday morning. Breakfast has been consumed, hair has been washed, and the boyfriend has been sent off on an errand quest. I’m finally alone, with time to sit and talk to you, uninterrupted. It’s been a long time since I felt the need to talk to you about something that isn’t work, but the tide is turning and I find myself full of thoughts and opinions that beg to be released to the void that is the internet, and to those of you who care for them.

First, a general life update is in order for the ones that have managed to avoid getting sucked into the bottomless pit that is social media, but have chosen to still connect with me exclusively through this journal. I haven't really logged any personal happenings to this space in almost a year. I haven’t spent much time in reality either if I’m honest. I’m currently writing what I initially thought would be a short story but has transformed into a novelette now. It chronicles the visions of my inner world, and it has me very much distracted, slightly out of touch with the real world, but there have been some events that kept me grounded during this lull period. In an effort not to bore you, I’ll just mention the most obvious ones.


I chopped my hair really short and dyed it pink.

Then, agent H and I adopted two beautiful gray cats, both very young females and a little bit feral. They don't yet fully trust humans but we are making steady progress on that front, their names are Kuu and Tähti, meaning Moon and Star in Finnish. Most of the presents we received from our families last christmas were cat toys, cat books, cat treats, hand-knitted cat themed socks, and other cat regalia. We loved it, I’m sure our celestial kitties did too.

And here we are today, with an issue I never thought would be a cause of concern for me: The deep black sea that is my wardrobe.

I am the night, demonstrably.

Lush and curated as it is, my mostly black wardrobe abounds with ambiguity, and as I stare at it, frustration rises like a swelling blister in my ego.

Lately, I find myself squinching hard at the endless pit of dark clothes and start to wonder if my darque sartorial direction really is an expression of who I am, or if it is merely an attempt to signal a desire of belonging to a superior social culture? I certainly intended for it to be a sort of elegiac, yet sexy narrative to the otherwise mundane and earthly parts of my life, but as I continue to get swallowed by the obscurity of this closet abyss something feels amiss.

My self doubt and frustration aren't without a sound basis though. Recently, I read a book about the racial origins of fat-phobia in which food elitism is one way the aristocratic elite achieves distinction from those with plebeian tastes. It is called “Fearing the black body” by Sabrina Strings and it draws on the work of two eminent social theorists, Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault.

And so it goes that according to Bourdieu, elites are constantly working to differentiate themselves from the lower classes. In so doing, they often distinguish themselves by cultivating tastes that are in opposition to those of the subordinated groups. These “social distinctions” serve to naturalize and normalize social hierarchies.

To add context, let me tell you about the quest for exotic spices that made European empires expand across lands, colonizing almost the entire world. They established control over target territories, enslaving the native populations and using them as spice suppliers with the aim of economic dominance.

The spice trade was an expensive business, which meant that for a while only those belonging to the European elite could afford them, but by the 1600s the market for spices had leveled out, and they became widely affordable, as it happens with everything that is mass produced. The once very coveted and extravagant spices were now a cheap and ordinary thing associated with the cuisine of cultures seen as inferior, so the nobles decided spices reflected middling taste. The elite needed a new way to distinguish themselves from the baser appetites of the masses causing a new essentialism, demanding that food taste like itself, instead of cooking meat with spices, rich Europeans started cooking meat in meat stock and meat gravy to make it taste even metier. 

So you get what I’m getting at, much like cuisine, ~fashion~ is not about fitting yourself into different clothes, it’s about setting yourself into different contexts. Think of color as the spices of our era. In 1810 “The theory of colors” a book by Goethe, a German philosopher and diplomat was published, in it, he provided a catalog of how color is perceived in a wide variety of circumstances. He states that “savage nations, uneducated people, and children have a great predilection for vivid colors… people of refinement avoid vivid colors in their dress” 

The realization that even the once dubbed “anti-fashion” designers like Rick owens, Ann Demeulemeester, Yohji Yamamoto and many more of my personal favorites, that have managed to imbue their work with an unmatched poetic vulnerability, are now also classified as members of the elite club is when the ick fully set in for me. 

This is not to say that everyone who belongs to, or aspires to have the sophistication and overall superiority in style of the higher classes is a conscious enthusiast of class division, but it is safe to say that, however inadvertently, they participate in this distinction of social culture. And very much like in the 1600s we are entering an essentialism era, with fast fashion leveling out the market once again, our modern fashion essentialism focuses not only on the lack of color but also on the purity of garments, via fabric composition, designer exclusivity, etc. One look at the fashion side of social media is enough to recognize the patterns. Brenda hashtag comes to mind as a specialist of casual opulence in the influencer arena, where monochrome rules supreme, she and others in this realm occupy positions in society that allow them to establish and impose the legitimacy of certain forms of culture. They might not be the instigators we expect when talking about the racial origins of fashion elitism, but they certainly generate widespread belief in the inherent value of their own arbitrary, ever-more expensive and exclusive tastes with an if you know, you know approach to mark themselves off from lower social classes. Casual opulence is something that is easy to rationalize and lust after, especially when it's displayed as organic.

In my defense, I can argue that we live in a time and place where social emulation is rewarded. From a young age we learn imitation strategies as aspirational outsiders of the higher classes, and I am but a small, working class girl in a big, big, capitalist world with a blend of highbrow pursuits, one of which is that of immaculate style.

My predilection for black clothes is quite possibly hard-wired, making my strive for personal style less discerning and more discriminating than I thought, but acknowledging its history and pedigree could possibly make me less fragile to an outsider existence. Maybe not, I am only human (regrettably) and I reserve the right to have aspirations of social prestige and material success.

I'm now off to think of kitties and puppies in an utopian society. There’s still snow outside and it's getting dark already, so I'll sit close to a window and just look at the light and be where I am for five minutes.  You're allowed to get five minutes to be where you are and take a breath, so please try to do that today. Take care of yourself, talk soon.


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