Going through my old highschool book collection since I’m home, I’ve been rereading some of my favorite texts for the first time in six years. Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides (1993) has become a cult classic, but it seems especially fitting for this time. Quoting Dazed editor Claire Marie Healy, as many find themselves confined to their bedrooms reminiscent of highschool nights, this pandemic has made us “teenagers again. Waiting for our lives to begin.” The film by Sofia Coppola turned twenty during quarantine, setting the bedroom-bound Lisbon sisters in our crystallised collective consciousness for the foreseeable future and perhaps resonating with us more than ever in the midst of a pandemic.
Scintillating chandeliers, crimson draperies, hundreds of table settings arranged for local and global elite: the Egyptian Hall of the Mansion House was a grandeur entertaining space in Victorian London. Despite its name, the hall was not Egyptian-inspired, but rather it “was built upon Lord Burlington’s plans, who gathered his ideas of such Hall from a description by Vitruvius.” The pillars of the Roman architecture stood amongst myriad banquets throughout the century, displaying food from kitchens with a fireplace so extensive it could roast a huge ox or “fifty or sixty fowls or ducks” simultaneously. At the centrepiece of this grandiose, glittery space of consumption was, of course, food.
The swirling, invisible unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic has coalesced ungracefully into drastic lifestyle shifts for many across the globe. For me, this shift took the form of having to leave my student accomodation in London quite quickly to return home to the States for the foreseeable future. With this shift, my life reverted from one of young adult freedom in a sprawling metropolis, to one more similar to my highschool years in the confines of my small, leafy hometown in coastal New England. Due to the pandemic, myself and many other millennials or those of gen z, have found themselves resituated in the nuances of their youth than any life they’ve been familiar with for longer than a university break in the past few years. At a time when we’re meant to be exploring the world for some of our first times, we have had to return to our former selves and localities; some of which don’t fit us now.
Like most evenings recently, last night I was watching The Discovery Channel with my parents. A two hour special of a homestead renovation show came on, featuring a six person family living in a half finished house in the middle of Amish country in Ohio. The parents admirably attempted to live off grid after the disorienting 2008 financial crash. Yet, four years into trying to live independently as a family unity, they had found a lot less idyllic and plausible, and a lot more overwhelming than they initially thought. Their homestead looked the complete opposite from the sunbleached, turmeric accented aesthetics of contemporary “wellness” and sustainability. Throughout the episode, Wendy, the mother of the family, while standing 6 inches deep in her waterlogged attempt at an indoor herb garden, kept mentioning that “everything here is just hard.”
My pockets have been lighter than usual. Typically, they’re filled with various key cards and IDs that get me to and through the places I need to be on a given day as a student in a city. But since I don’t need an Oyster Card to get downstairs each morning to my kitchen countertop, which now doubles as my work place, or a work ID card to get me into my building, my pockets have been empty. My shoulder has been missing the weight of a bag on itself. My pants have been free of morning rush coffee stains.
As the world reached its second millennium twenty years ago, the West was in the midst of an unprecedented and exponentially increasing gulf between producer and consumer. As most assemblage and creation of clothing continue to move in large swathes from the domestic to the international sphere, customers purchasing garments experience a distance between these textiles and their own lives. This results in a desire for an individual story attached to these mass-produced clothes at the level of aesthetics in high fashion and materiality of ready-to-wear apparel. As we transition further into the 21st century, internet platforms widen this interaction between producer and consumer. Coupled with individual story-based digital architecture as well and a push towards secondhand buying due to climate anxieties, having a story behind the garments you’re wearing seems more important than ever, even if that story isn’t yours.