Op-Ed: HOW GRAILED IS KILLING THE MENSWEAR AVANT-GARDE - features-oped, fashion - Retail, op-ed, MENSWEAR, Mens Fashion, Grailed, Feature, Fashion, 2016
Buying and selling designer clothing by collectors and fashion enthusiasts on the Internet is a longstanding practice. Fashion forums like Supefuture, Styleforum, and StyleZeitgeist, where these enthusiasts tend to congregate are invaluable assets for hunting down that long-coveted piece, called “the holy grail” in the forum parlance.

The forums, however, are, first and foremost, places for discussing fashion. They can be intimidating to the uninitiated because of the complex dynamics and the learning curve entering such places entails (this is why, despite their immense influence, you don’t see much about forums written in the fashion press). You either need to be knowledgeable about fashion or willing to take some heat during the learning process. But they also reward you with a wealth of information that enriches your understanding of fashion.

One of the things you learn on the forums is provenance of the items in which you initially might have taken only cursory interest, their construction methods, dyeing techniques, and the nature of materials. Most importantly, you learn about the designers’ ethos, philosophy, and his or her cultural influences. That is what gives clothing meaning and provides an emotional connection between the maker and the wearer. In the world full of stuff, forums give enthusiasts a reason to buy without feeling like a mere consumer. Remember, every decision to buy something is also a decision not to buy something else.

Enter Grailed, a website for buying and selling clothes, largely menswear, that at its core works like eBay. It is founded by people who learned the ropes from watching the classifieds sections of the aforementioned forums. Grailed is easy, because it necessitates none of the effort that learning the dynamics of a fashion forum does. For example, on StyleZeitgeist, we require members to have a one hundred post minimum before they are allowed to buy and sell in the classifieds. This is done in order to separate the true fashion enthusiasts from those who merely want to wear “cool shit” and from those who make a living by flipping fashion. None of this happens on Grailed, which is designed purely for buying and selling. A harmless idea on the surface, but by dispensing with discussion Grailed turns all fashion into mere commodity.

Fashion does not simply sell garments but also intrinsic attributes that make them desirable enough to demand a high price tag, whether it’s Japanese selvage denim or a Boris Bidjan Saberi leather jacket. Grailed devalues this by turning itself into a supermarket. That is a serious problem for the menswear avant-grade, which is predicated on creating a connection between the maker and the wearer. Without this connection, a garment is just a garment. And if this is bad for the avant-garde, it will sooner or later be bad for the rest of fashion. Because I know for a fact that members from mainstream fashion design teams, from the mighty Chanel down to the high street All Saints and via the contemporary brands like Helmut Lang and Rag & Bone feed off the ideas of the avant-garde designers in order to simplify them and dish them out to the public.

Surely, having a website like Grailed is a sign of the times. Today, young people, reared on the Internet, are interested in fashion on an unprecedented scale. Unfortunately, in many cases the mentality of these consumers does not extend much beyond wearing “cool shit,” whether by imitating Kanye West, queuing up for the latest Supreme drop, or saving money for a pair of used Rick Owens sneakers.

And just like their mentality is often short on meaning, their wallets are often short on cash. The complaint that I hear most these days is about the culture of “lowballing” – sending a ridiculously low offer for an item – that Grailed has perpetuated. During the era when the male fashion fans bought and sold on the forums they knew the value of the garments because they learned how they were made and by whom. Also, forum members tended to know each other and understood that lowballing is a sign of disrespect, and that a transaction is not just an exchange of money for goods.

No such qualms exist on Grailed, where only the dispassionate laws of capitalism rule. Oscar Wilde’s refrain, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing” has never sounded so prescient. Grailed turns sellers into mere merchants, buyers into mere deal-seeking consumers, and clothing into mere stuff.

Naturally, because Grailed is easy, it has attracted a large number of sellers who decided to drain their closets, further exacerbated by attention from the press. The result is a marketplace with too many sellers, and buyers who by and large neither have the means to buy designer clothes, nor the knowledge to truly appreciate them. Just one example – witness an Undercover parka that should be in a collection of any museum whose fashion curator is worth his chops – languishing on Grailed for a mere $171. Also, please note that the listing indicates, “105 people want this.” How did the secondhand market get to the point where 105 people cannot find $171 for a wool jacket that is a collector’s piece? Do all these people live off their parents’ allowance?

Those of you who have sucked in the laws of laissez faire with your mother’s milk can object all you want that all this emotional connection I talk about is mere sentimentality. But beware; the collapse of the secondary market for designer menswear that Grailed is precipitating may just well be the first domino in a chain that will end with avant-garde designers without a consumer base to support them, because Grailed has conditioned buyers that all clothing is just stuff to be consumed and that bargain-hunting is a god given right.

About the author

Eugene Rabkin

Eugene Rabkin is the founder of stylezeitgeist.com. He has contributed articles on fashion and culture to The Business of Fashion, Vogue Russia, Buro247, the Haaretz Daily Newspaper, and other publications. He has taught critical writing and fashion writing courses at Parsons the New School for Design.


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