March 12, 2013

Life Imitates Art: Thrift Shop or Suit and Tie?

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I recently read a Buzzfeed article that delineates how Justin Timberlake has successfully projected himself as a luxury brand, despite his extremely long hiatus from music. One particularly interesting point for me, however, is the author’s juxtaposition between Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ chart-topping “Thrift Shop” and Timberlake’s hit, “Suit and Tie,” and their staggeringly different stances on fashion and its ability to liberate our personalities. While the former asserts that you needn’t break bank to express yourself through your style (in fact, they completely reject a blind reliance on expensive brand names to garner an identity), the latter embraces a classic, dapper and well-groomed appearance, even if it’s pricy, to exude the ultimate degree of confidence.

As with any pop cultural topic, there’s a lesson to be learned through these two songs: no matter the price point, our styles can convey our identities if we let them. Of course, we are in no way unaware of such a fact. Why else would we need to wear certain outfits to interviews, to class and when we’re going out? Moreover, our student body is perhaps more acutely aware of the role fashion plays in our lives versus some other campuses — our Fiber Science and Apparel Design colleagues especially know a thing or two about fashion’s impact on the world. Sometimes, however, we expect our clothes to do all the work for us, which completely misses the mark. A good outfit should amplify your best qualities, not create them for you.

While it is easy to show how Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and Justin Timberlake prove this point lyrically, I am especially intrigued by how they prove it by asserting their own styles as they perform their hits. And since the two actually performed on back-to-back episodes of Saturday Night Live for the past two weeks, I have had the perfect window of opportunity for analysis.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ performance on March 2 certainly reflected “Thrift Shop” itself: it was lightheartedly humorous and energetic from start to finish. While Ryan Lewis rocked a ridiculously large, white fur coat (directly referencing “Thrift Shop” lyrics), Macklemore donned a bright red suit, complete with gold epaulets, glittered socks and black smoking slippers. Anyone with even a slight awareness of pop culture would know that he was evoking Michael Jackson’s military-chic phase. But he distinctly reappropriated the look as his own: his leather tank top and the pants’ skinny fit, for example, both updated and personalized the look.

Furthermore, while Macklemore demonstrated his best MJ impersonation with some crotch grabs, he dominated the performance with his unique dance moves, sporting an ear-to-ear grin throughout. Without having to even utter a word, Macklemore showed us how one could take a second-hand outfit and make it first rate.

Though Justin Timberlake’s sleek and visibly expensive style as detailed in “Suit and Tie” is a clear departure from that of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’, he sold his look in the very same manner as they did during his laid-back, smooth Saturday Night Live performance on March 10. Timberlake effortlessly crooned whilst showing off his signature, pop-inflected dance moves (which, ironically, are heavily influenced by Michael Jackson), flaunting an outfit that only elevated his persona. While the song is clearly an anthem about asserting male sexuality, the ladies certainly aren’t out of the picture.

During the performance, two male and two female backup dancers dressed, appropriately enough, in tailored black-and-white suits with ties, encircle Timberlake, even directly confronting him at times. The undeniably strong and refreshingly not overly sexualized female presence makes it clear that “Suit and Tie” is not just about indulging oneself in the finest designer labels, but also about that beautiful moment when a finely made piece of clothing and a dashing personality meet halfway to project the perfect image of confidence.

As Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and Justin Timberlake’s performances reveal, no matter where our outfits come from and how much we spend on them, we must be able to wear them well, not let them wear us.

Original Author: Karina Parikh