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    The Style Of Self

    03.21.2013 / ARCHIVES

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    Growing up, my best friend in middle school had the raddest tee. It was simple enough – navy and fitted – with a tiny line of white text on the front. But it’s message was far from subtle, reading “Labels are for jars. And you are not a jar.” She’d picked it up at a concert, and in the age of Guess jeans and “Button Your Fly” t-shirts, it was a bold alternative to the walking billboards that infiltrated our small town. Yet I’ve always wondered if – even when we’re not toting brand names or ad slogans – we’re still labeling ourselves? Are we becoming billboards for our lifestyle?

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    Rotterdam-based duo photographer Ari Versluis and stylist Ellie Uyttenbroek would undoubtedly argue yes. Their project, Exactitudes, is an extensive anthology of style tribes, individuality and the uniforms we choose to don on a daily basis. From trenchcoat-draped “Cappuccio Girls” to combination hoodie+leather-clad “Team Doppios,” the pair has uncovered over 120 cultural style tribes and sub-tribes from different parts of the world. Yet perhaps the most mind-boggling aspect of this project is the realization that each person is photographed precisely how they were spotted on the street – no staging, styling or altering of any ensemble.

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    The idea that we are all expressing our own individuality while simultaneously looking exactly like each other is fascinating to me. I think we’ve all joked about The Official Blogger Uniform of stripes, polka dots, sock buns and thick glasses frames (I’m waiting for Ari and Ellie to photograph this one), but the reality is that, by embracing this “uniform,” we’re collectively flashing our blogging badge to the world. We’re announcing that we read blogs and write articles and schedule posts, and that the neon satchel we’re carrying just might be storing a shiny Mac and and our editorial calendar.

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    As I’ve started placing an emphasis on becoming mindful and present and creative this year, I’ve given a lot of thought to personal style (which today, if you’re curious, consists of leggings and a gray tee – a signal to my world that I work from home and plan to venture to yoga later this afternoon). And I can’t help but be reminded of the idea that labels are for jars. And we are not jars.

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    I worry that the lens in which I view personal style is becoming my own filter bubble – that I’m subconsciously spending my time out in the world scanning faces and shoes and bags to find my tribe, when really I should be looking at the jar itself. At the eyes, the stories, the souls.

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    Labels are wonderful and helpful and often beautiful, but they are limiting. Because, in truth, there’s only enough room for a visual and a few ingredients and the small portion of the story you want to tell. There’s no room to display the struggles and trials and successes and sleepless nights and endless conversations. I wouldn’t expect there to be.

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    But I can seek to open the jar, regardless of the label. That I’d stock my pantry with the beautiful and the not-so-beautiful and the striped and not-so-striped. And that I’d make a wonderful meal with those jars, and I’d invite over many different Exactitudes to sit at my table and dine with me. (I’d let The Fluffies provide entertainment.)

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    Feel free to come along. The more jars, the merrier.

    Image Credits: Exactitudes

    p.s. Just for fun: Leaf costumes and Royal Ascot hats.

    • Wow. I absolutely LOVE this. Just brilliant. Oddly enough though, it doesn’t make me worry that I’ve subconsciously joined a tribe, it just makes me realize that almost positively I have. And I’m also fairly sure that I belong to a number of style tribes. And that’s fine with me actually, which is surprising considering I’ve always thought of myself as independent and individual, but still, something about this is deeply comforting in some unexpected way. We are all out there, doing our own thing, and yet we are all so much alike. I don’t know, somehow this has just filled me with deep joy. So glad you posted it!

      • I love your thoughts about this! And yes – isn’t it a fascinating concept? We’re dressing to make statements about who we choose to blend in with, in a sense. :)

    • Holy cow! That is absolutely fascinating!!!! Off to spend a bit of time pouring over those images.

    • Exactitudes is incredible! I’m always fascinated by projects that come to life over such a long period of time – what concentration and patience they must have.

      Your narrative about the project is so fantastic. I attended a super hippy alternative high school where people went huge lengths to dress to express their unique identity… it could be pretty exhausting. Right after graduation I went to Bonaroo, and imagine my surprise when I was surrounded by thousands upon thousands of beautiful, unique people that looked exactly the same (and exactly like the ‘original’ kids at my high school).

      It was such a relief to me… it’s way more rewarding to focus on the uniqueness of your inside, instead of your outside.

      • Wow – what a surreal experience that must have been, Krista!!

    • Even though I’m nearing 70, I’m a member of the last tribe.

    • Wow. Ok, first of all the photos are stunning. Secondly your post is beautiful and through-provoking as always. And thirdly I did not expect this photo series to be this big and evolved. Pretty crazy how many boards of photographs this duo has. Great work.

      • I agree! I can’t imagine the patience/foresight/dedication that must have gone into this series.

    • […] you ever thought of yourself as stylishly unique? Well, this thoughtful post from Erin over at Design for Mankind might change your mind. Do you think you dress for yourself, or for your tribe? I’d love to […]

    • This is really fascinating, and such a valid point. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the “blogger uniform.” Ironically I’ve been struggling in a new position because I don’t fit the mold of those around me. Coming from an entirely different region of the US to work is a whole new level of this uniform game. We question, and judge those who do not fit our idea of normal, and it makes us uncomfortable, even if we claim to be seeking individuality. I’ll be thinking about this post for awhile, so much food for thought.

    • This jar is the member of many tribes by choice, not because I am still looking to fit in or find myself…I am way too old for that now. With age comes the ability to recognize not only the tribe you belong to but the tribe others belong to as well and possibly, the tribe they will end up in when they age. Very thought provoking and fascinating topic well illustrated with the photos. Thanks for sharing this!

    • I just read this and then read it again. Such a though-provoking post! And I’m completely fascinated with the exactitudes project.

      • Isn’t it so intriguing? I so admire the dedication of this duo – a series of over 120! I’m so impressed. (And hello, sweet Gabby!)

    • I think I needed to hear this, especially while I am exasperated wondering where my tribe is in this new place? Or where is the tribe that will make room and let me in? I have to stop judging them at first glance, am going to adjust my course now!

      Steph

      • Ahhh, I love that you took this to heart, Steph! I’m doing the same. :)

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