In an attempt to define folklore, Jan Harold Brunvand said, “The first test a folklorist could make of membership in a folk group is the members’ awareness of shared traditions; then the background of this heritage can be investigated.” (Brunvand, 51)
So-called fashionistas definitely have shared traditions, all revolving around their biggest shared activity-purchasing clothing. Before examining these traditions however, let us first define a fashionista.
People outside the group tend to use the word as an insult, yet insiders do not feel this way. On urbandictionary.com, a website that allows people to catalogue and define slang words, user Nicolethe14 defines a fashionista as “A person devoted to fashion clothing, particularily (sic) unique or high fashion. A person not to be called a fashionista would be someone who obsessively follows trends. REAL fashionistas do not believe in trends.” (urbandictionary.com) In contrast, user How To Make A Scene dismisses fashionistas as “fashionable sheep.” (urbandictionary.com) This can lead one to the conclusion that fashionistas feel misunderstood, that they are seen as “insecure, lonely, vacuous,” and that “they typically judge others, particularly potential mates, solely on looks and cliques.” (urbandictionary.com) Nicolethe14 counters that these are not true fashionistas but “that type of person would be more correctly labeled a fashion whore or a shallow bitch.” For our purposes, we will take the term fashionista to mean anyone with a devoted interest in fashion-whether they take the actual topic seriously or not.
The most obvious component of fashionista folklore is the clothing. This is a folk group that revolves around taking elaborately designed costumes and using them in everyday life. Fashion does operate as a vehicle of gesunkenes Kulturgut (Brunvand, 50), and fashionistas follow it from the highest levels down to the lowest (as seen in the quote from The Devil Wears Prada, below).
Fashionistas have their own unique vocabulary, one that celebrates heroes, includes proverbs, and has slightly different meanings than mainstream vocabulary. For example, gladiator, in fashion speak, means a shoe rather than a combatant. Fashionistas do not see seasons the way others do-there is fall (September-December), spring (April-August), and resort (January-March). Fashion proverbs are highly dynamic and change often-such as “don’t wear white after labor day”, a dictate that is now largely ignored. While actual stories may be rare, some names are spoken with a legendary reverence: Lagerfeld, Valentino, Ghesquiere.
Fashionista folk customs revolve around one major festival in four major cities: Fashion Week. This bi-annual event is what the fashion world revolves around.
So in a sub-culture that is all about “stuff”, how can fashionistas possibly gain legitimacy? Fashionistas know that every item makes a statement that reflects on the user, even if that statement is “I’m not trying to make a statement.” Fashionistas know that if life were completely utilitarian, we would lose the good things: chocolate, lace, pleasure, music, satin. Fashion is, for better or worse, inevitable, and fashion speaks. The character Miranda in the film The Devil Wears Prada states it well.
This... “Stuff”? Oh, ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets?...And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff. (The Devil Wears Prada)