Brent Luvaas, Shooting Street Style in Indonesia: A Photo Essay

A review of — and a response to — Brent Luvaas’ Shooting Street Style in Indonesia: A Photo Essay.

Fashion is a means of self-expression, and the internet has helped both societies and individuals communicate/showcase (to entities existing outside of their in-groups) their distinct sartorial artefacts and the set of meanings attached to said artefacts. Street style blogs have emerged as a popular form of documenting commonplace, everyday fashion — strangely enough, though, by photographing people who stand out from the crowd and are then, on the internet, made to represent the popular dressing style of their geographic/cultural community.

Fashion is a form of visual storytelling that contains information about the history of a people. The socio-economic history of a culture is reflected in its popular fashion. To borrow examples from women’s fashion: first-wave feminism gave birth in Europe to androgynous silhouettes and raised hemlines; the Great Depression saw the Americans take a more conservative approach to fashion and opt for cheaper fabrics and simple/unglamorous silhouettes, while the period following it brought with it Dior’s “New Look”: cinched waists and full skirts that rebelled against the erstwhile plain fashion that economic poverty had forced upon the American people. These aesthetics emerged from a specific geographic location but spread throughout the world because the boundaries of cultures are porous and prone to incorporating meanings from outside into their own language. Fashion therefore tells us about how people respond sartorially to the events/ideologies of their times.

Street style blogs are of interest because
a) they document fashion as it exists outside of the hegemony of fashion houses, — and so, for the first time in history, the ordinary individual has been allowed to narrate the story of their times,
b) they are accessible to a wide variety of audience online, and
c) they hand over the power to document history and influence/create culture to anyone who would wish to take it.

Luvaas examines why, despite a deep penetration of the internet and a widespread interest in other kinds of fashion blogs, the street style of Indonesia remains largely undocumented online. He asks if street style is to be confined to the “streets”, and if “coolness” is an attribute that translates well across non-Western languages. His subjects are diverse and their class positions and religious affiliations are apparent from their style. He also talks about how individuals express themselves inside of the constraints imposed on them by citing the example of the hijab and how it has both informed and been informed by other articles of clothing.