America has always been nostalgic for Americans. Beneath all the current social, political and cultural ruckus, there seems to always be an idealized America in our past that we constantly try to revisit. We see this urge to reconnect with the past in our need to go to Encore to update collections of already obsolete vinyl records, to dirty our fingers on typewriter ribbons while we tap on manual typewriters, to pine for the apple pie we return to as a symbol of America as much as a tasty dessert — Don McLean would agree.
We can see this American nostalgia even more intimately through the clothing trends we revisit. There are closets full of styles that have seen the light of day not once but twice. These styles include bleached bell bottoms, headbands and long, flowing hair as well as checkered shoes, skinny ties and cheap plastic Ray-Bans.
Today, it seems like the newest fashion trend revisits blue jeans, plaid shirts, cowboy boots, high-top shoes and red, white and blue — Americana chic. The style surfaced in the late ’40s and early ’50s and, this time around, we are revisiting Americana without irony or kitsch; we are honest-to-god trying to emulate the feel of that era in our clothing and, of course, in the way we view and try to present ourselves.
Why are we attracted to Americana? The look is rustic and working-class; it’s earthy and grounded, playing off the traditional patterns and colors that symbolize an historical, ideal sense of individuality and the preference of labor and utilitarianism over the more recently popular trend of cultural froth and foam — everyone’s 15 minutes of fame had been spent on superficial caricatures on reality television shows and drunken paparazzi photographs.
Our attraction to Americana might reveal our efforts to connect with the essentials of living with manual labor and the land — things the recent recession has caused us to rethink not as a last option, but as an ever-present one. While an increasing amount of desk jobs in ivory towers are being cut, more and more people are planting vegetable gardens and applying for hands-on, lower-tier jobs in order to sustain themselves. This connects people more closely with the products they consume (don’t eat out — make your own food; don’t throw it out — reuse), re-iterating a growing sense of self-awareness and the individual drive to sustain oneself.
And perhaps our movement toward Americana aesthetics has been propelled by our dissatisfaction with the present. Maybe it’s all a commodified form of our own guilt after having lived in a notably Starbucks- and cubicle-oriented industrial society, where things were made for us instead of by us. Our movement back to the roots of individual work ethic due to the failing economy could be a way for us to come to terms with past cultural trends — an attempt to move forward, to change and be aware of who we were and who we would like to be as a society.
We hope to embody the values blue jeans and plaid signify by, well, putting them on our bodies. We look back to Americana to find ourselves and our identities in this current period; ’50s America is something of a role model — a big sister we look up to as an idealized version of ourselves we have yet to grow into, even if that view is grounded more in unconditional admiration than realism.
Fashion trends are more than just an aesthetic statement; they are a way for us to commune with past cultures and future trends. They are a way for us to reconsider our values and reflect our changing mentalities in the way we outwardly appear, manifesting our renewed belief in America in our un-ironic revisiting of blue jeans, cowboy boots and plaid flannel.