A ride on Stockholm’s Tunnelbana can be an interesting experience. Not only because the Tunnelbana stations constitute one of the most compelling art galleries in the world, but also because observing people is always inspiring. Doing so in Stockholm can arouse some contradictory feelings and usually a ride on the Tunnelbana can get to seem shorter than expected due to the great amount of subtle but shocking scenes one can perceive.
One day I noticed a girl wearing sweatpants and a Michael Kors bag. A few metres away there was another girl wearing a black trench coat and a Fjällraven Kanken backpack. I thought it was quite funny, but mostly I was surprised of me noticing those details after months in Stockholm and hours of Tunnelbana rides. Actually, there was nothing to be surprised of—those two are the uniform of female Stockholmers and an exponential multitude of both creates the mass of unrecognizable silhouettes that constitute “people”.
There is something that one cannot chose, though: the smartphone. No matter what uniform one chooses, all individuals will have an iPhone in their hands, pockets, lives. There is nothing to blame: technology is nowadays an essential in everyday life and also plays an major role in communication. And communication is something to be highlighted, as well. Stockholmers do not look at each other on the metro. It is thought to be disrespectful, so no one dares to do so. Physical communicative borders are strictly limited to acquaintances, and talking to strangers is something that apparently no parents warn their children about. It just does not happen. However, smartphones are so extensively used. The activity of those devices is frenetic. Most of the people will be using two smartphones at the same time, some of them even a tablet, during the five minutes of a packed Tunnelbana ride. Chat conversations, Instagram and Snapchat are fully operative among all generations of users, and while one would never look at someone’s eyes, taking a selfie in the metro is something one should not be ashamed of.
Sharing is the basis of today’s social interactions. Those after-gym selfies I was lucky to observe on the metro were actually noticed by thousands of users minutes after. It can be seen as a vanity act, or just another way of keeping in touch with one’s social circle, which is virtually growing every day. Those after-gym selfies were not the first ones nor the last ones to be published. Each one of them is a little visual piece of a major work that is the individual virtual self, the creation of an e-persona, a digital unique masterpiece. Actually, one could feel more excited about a new Instagram follower than about a quick flirty glance on the street.
The disturbing fact is that in such an individualistic era, the homogeneity of the mass is now more evident than ever. That is probably why it can be hard to realize about those two eccentric combinations: sweatpants and Michael Kors bag versus dark trench coat and Fjällraven Kanken backpack. A friend of mine once said, regarding the value that is given to items by society: “Is a Louis Vuitton bag still a Louis Vuitton bag in a jungle?”. That interesting question could lead to an answer to my perplexing experience. I may have not noticed the absurdity in those combinations before simply because in Stockholm—and one could probably write any other European capital name instead—these are just the ways one can or should dress. There is no absurdity in combining elegant outerwear with a sporty backpack. There is no absurdity in combining sportswear with a ladylike bag. Those items have lost their initial meaning, their function, and now they just serve as devices which carry identity connotations and make the wearer belong to two maybe not opposed but extremely different subcultures. The Michael Kors bag and the Fjällraven Kanken are just two options for an everyday handbag in the jungle of Stockholm streets.
If it were not the case, it would not be hard to find someone who could actually have both of them, and use them for their actual purpose. It is still possible to see kids with mini Fjällraven backpacks next to their mothers, who wear a Michael Kors bag and an elegant ensemble. It may not be a shocking fashion statement itself, but it is just a reasonable option. There is not such judgement as “good” or “bad” regarding these two items and the way one should wear them, they just serve different purposes. However, their scopes merge into a single potential purpose in the jungle of big cities and homogeneous individuality: their function is to distinguish subcultures from one another, and individuals will pick their option just as part of a processus for indentity building. Individuals know, and we are all aware, that having means being, and that’s probably the reason why we pick the clothing items that constitute our wardrobes. Actually, those wearing a Fjällraven and those wearing a Michael Kors are just following the same strategy for the creation of the self—both to express they are part of a specific group and not related to another. Probably, too, both will capture the purchase of the Michael Kors bag or Fjällraven Kanken and publish it on social media. They not only want to have it, they have to make others know they do have it. That is why one chooses to wear one of those items—or any other garment—: being seen on the streets was the first social media that ever existed.