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Bleach Marks as Method Acting

By Patrick Benson

Paolo Nutini was wrong. Or, at the very least he was half wrong. In 2006, British-Italiano singer Nutini, birth name Tim Rogers*, told the world that as long as they were wearing their new shoes, everything would be alright. So we all decided that Topshop and serotonin would get us through, bought something we didn’t need and carried on. In the music video for New Shoes, he discards a beaten old pair of green and pink Puma Kings for a pair of pointy black brogues, and a smile suddenly grows wide between his sideburns (honestly, the mid 2000s were wild). I’m here to argue that 15 years on, people care more about the rips at the seams than anything else.


Let’s start where Nutini was right, clothes can make you feel good; Professor Karen J Pine found out that 61% of people would agree if they liked what they were wearing. And even this is a dramatic oversimplification. “Feeling good” can mean fitting in, feeling sexy, outside yourself, confident, or a whole host of other emotions. 


So how was he wrong? Well, let’s start by questioning why it is that over the last decade, vintage clothing has taken a huge rise in popularity. Vintage clothing comes with a degree of authenticity, a sense that because it belonged outside of the self, you can inherit something wider by taking it on as a part of you. The fact that it isn’t pristine is not its downfall but rather its exact benefit, the item has experienced more in its life cycle than just tag removal. This is one of the reasons you may see people walking around with an old sweatshirt brandishing the logo of some American sports team, something they, who may have never even been to the U.S., would never buy new. Its age, its being as a symbol of something that used to mean a lot to someone, somewhere, once, is precious. Even if it means nothing to you, those feelings can be inherited by continuing the last owner’s job of wearing away at the cuffs. It’s the same reason why handmade things are more popular than machine made items, people of today want their belongings, and by extension themselves, to have lived a life, to always have an external attachment that isn’t them. When social media increasingly paints life as a series of events to experience and later tell stories of (no pun intended), then the items that clutter your day must also have these stories within them. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the bar now. People want a tag line if asked about their new jacket.


There is talk about the youth of today being more inundated with the abstract concept of ‘happiness’ than generations before them, and I think this translates strongly to clothing choices. People don’t buy second hand souvenir t-shirts from holidays they haven’t been on because they love Barbados, but rather because the constant reminder of something that isn’t modern capitalist Britain is remedy for anesthetic, even if it was someone else who experienced it. When Gucci released a dirty version of their Ace trainers a few years ago, their market wasn’t people who muddy their shoes, but rather people who trade clothes in and out so flippantly that their true hidden desire is for something that has been truly lived with, something that has been truly used, and has created memories with it in the process.


But I don’t think this is a problem, or at the very worst it’s a symptom. Don’t get me wrong, it can become problematic. Many, many high fashion brands get criticised for profiting off working class aesthetics. This gentrification of aesthetics is a huge issue, particularly when certain types of clothing can often be aligned with criminality or chicness depending on the type of person wearing it. Even if the average Parsons queue member probably does display a few Hetty Douglas-like symptoms, and could do with a bit of awareness, this is a huge point that there isn’t enough space to discuss here, but please do research the topic.


So, does Nutini’s message hold up for the 2020s? Well, the vintage clothing industry is booming. It grew 21 times the rate of the fast fashion industry between 2016 and 2019, and is predicted to take over it by the late decade. That doesn’t mean Paolo’s takes on the consumerist sense of self in late-stage capitalism will age quite as badly as his outfit choices, but they may not be far behind.


*this isn’t true, wish it was

My own work is self-labelled as documentary photography, out of a lack of a better title. By carrying a camera daily, I aim to embody the spirit of the Brownie in making the means to photography ready to me at every moment, without obstruction – by doing so, I can take a photograph of anything that captures my eye and interests me enough to preserve. Any of us can do this these days, with a camera readily available in our pockets around the clock – and many of us do so without even thinking about it. Next time you take your phone out to take a photograph, whether it is of your friends or of something that caught your eye, think about how you are participating in the act of documenting your life through photography. Make prints of your favourites, display them on your walls, share them with your friends and family. Follow the tradition of those who came before you and took their own snapshots documenting their lives. Everyone is a documentary photographer today, and this is a good thing.

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