Alexandra Nanasi and Jennifer Tarbell
California Girls vs California Culture
Growing up in California, the stereotype of the California Girl is an extremely accentuated and present image. The iconic blonde, tan, and laid-back standard is something which follows girls living in California wherever they go, and often influences the way they tailor their personal style. The glamorous representation of living in California, as displayed in film and television, creates a state of simultaneous inclusiveness and exclusiveness in the sense that it somehow isolates the individual, but connects them to members of their social circle who experience the same lifestyle. California style, being one of the most accessible, makes it easier to attain the ideal image without even batting an eye. Interestingly, this look has become a tagline and a marketing tool used to sell the image seen on the screen, promising a cool and effortless perception to those who subscribe. In this sense, it is not too offshore to make the claim that life in California is seen as a spectacle and even a fantasy of the silver screen in itself.
Because of these ideals, we wanted to explore the ways in which our upbringing in California influenced our personal styles, along with those of other girls from the Golden State. Having experienced the fashion industry in both California and New York, we wanted to gain a better understanding of how fashion manifests itself in both environments, and how it changes from each place. Through our research regarding the history of Hollywood, the influence of film and media in fashion, along with a study we conducted among California residents, we were able to explore and gain better insight to who, and what, a California Girl is.
The romanticization of the California lifestyle and what it looks like to be part of it, has become a trend in the past couple of years, which begs the question: Is “California Culture” artifice, or is it an actual, natural way of life? It seems that nowadays, fashion history is repeating itself with the free spirited style and influence of the 1970’s and the Summer of Love, but the history and origin of these styles are overlooked. The deeper meaning behind the trends associated with many of these styles are often ignored, which plays into the modern culture of imitation rather than applying meaning to the style of dress. One example of this is the free spirited hippie look which many California based brands have adopted. The organic, free flowing and overall naturally driven trends accentuated the style of “the hippies—the rebels and dropouts of the Haight-Ashbury community of San Francisco” (Lobenthal). The ignorance of the origin and backgrounds of these looks, especially when it comes to subcultures, not only created a lack of political awareness, but makes a culture a narcissistic endeavor. The classic California Haight-Ashbury look was something which “resonated...with the burgeoning women’s liberation movement: women would no longer be told what to wear by a designer, who was usually male,” which not only boosted morale in the battle towards gender equality, but became a way for women, specifically in the radical environment of Haight-Ashbury, to identify themselves (Lobenthal). The act of dressing in a recognizable way created and defined the standards for the women of California to specifically represent themselves through style, but opened the door for artifice to infiltrate the system, as it tends to do. The use of hippie style became a commercial product which could be accessed in stores and imitated by the masses, which was counter to its original cause. The look was what mattered, not the cause. In this way, much of California fashion is very individually oriented without discretion for the value behind it.
Surface level representation has almost become synonymous with the way in which California caters their fashion industry, making styles easy to access and making the glamour of celebrity fashion easily imitable. The fast fashion industry’s presence in California is proof of how the “Made in LA” tagline can be misinterpreted. Beyond the film industry, “Hollywood’s cinematic fashion fantasies flowing outward over the globe while Latino and Asian immigrants flow into California to work in garment factories” (Rabine). The way in which the industry, especially fast fashion, uses the image of an idealized trend at the expense of the workers who create it is something which fast fashion with the influence of California fashion hides regularly. The use of the Hollywood glamour almost blinds the people involved, which can also be credited to the allure of the classic California look. In this way, California “fashion increasingly sold lifestyle and branding, even as the actual garment became more and more indistinguishable from hosts of other garments (Rabine). The look of being Californian became a concept which many consumers subscribed to, and in this way, the idea of the California Girl was nurtured. Association is everything, and the culture of easily imitable fashion makes association something crucial within California society.
The formation of the California Girl stigma can be traced back to the beginning of Hollywood escapism in the early to mid 30s when the rise of film gave hope and ideals to an otherwise depressing era. Much like California, Hollywood escapism is all emulation. You didn’t have to be able to afford the latest fashions to fit the feeling presented in movies, a simple haircut to match your favorite star was enough to fulfill that ideal. “These Campaigns win on a mixture of accessibility and aspiration,” The purpose of the California Girl, according to reporter Eliza Brooke, is to be easy and effortless, to appeal to normal kids while still being a step above average (Brooke). Simultaneously, around the time that Hollywood was making its mark, bathing suits were coming into fashion and the way women dressed in the public eye was revolutionizing. Although still in cotton and wool fabrics, they started to popularize bronze skin and sunglasses, and women were starting to show more skin - the budding appearance of the California Girl.
As a modern example of Hollywood’s footprint on California style, the 1995 film Clueless created an entirely new style for California that had not previously been represented. While conducting a survey on the most influential movie on California culture, Clueless was the most answered film by Californians from across both northern and southern parts of the state. Mona May, costume designer, took the laid-back style and gave it a high fashion twist - mixing thrift with designer, which completely defined an era of fashion which was derivative of film. Along with this, the actress Blake Lively was the most answered vision of the California girl, who fits the stereotype which we described earlier of being blonde and tan.
The influence Hollywood films had on the fashion industry in California was one which revolutionized and created a market for fashion on a national level. Because most Americans were unable to afford European fashions at the time, they turned to film as a way to not only attain the looks of their favorite actresses, but as a way to boost morale in the Depression Era. The fashions which were portrayed by costume designers were larger than life, and thus, Hollywood style became “synonymous with glamour and opulence” (Gibson). At this point, consumer culture became something which film used at its advantage. The influence and desire which radiated from the glamorous facade and fantastical worlds of film distracted consumers from their seemingly drab lifestyles, and eventually, consumerism merged with film “influenced the way men and women wanted to look, as well as the cars they chose to drive, and the cigarettes they decided to smoke. Gradually, this influence became globalized” (Gibson). The personal lives of stars became something that people aimed to attain, catering their own personal lifestyles accordingly to their favorite stars. The infatuation with film and the people in it was a new marketing technique which utilized the image of the actress as a selling point and an ideal person to mimic. The first real image of the Hollywood Starlet could be considered the very beginning of the California Girl look, except the glamour and opulence which the Starlets possessed were replaced by beach waves and worn out sneakers.
Another major attribute which was identified with California Culture and Hollywood was makeup, which was seen as a taboo for a long period of time. In the early 1900’s, makeup was used only for film purposes to accentuate the features of the actors in the harsh set lighting, but it later became something which became a staple and an accessory of sorts in the fashion world. According to Pamela Church Gibson, “Hollywood was a vital part of the process through which it became both desirable and socially acceptable for women to wear makeup,” (Gibson) which we definitely see as a crucial part of the way people present themselves in modern culture. In fact, makeup has infiltrated the fashion industry almost to the point where it is synonymous with it. The look of the Hollywood Starlet in the early years was one which was made up and always pristinely classic, while the California Girl look is one which highlights natural features and displays imperfection more subtly.
Much like the movies, music has proven to be a driving force for ideals of certain California activities. Bands like the Beach Boys capture the spirit of the state with their “California Girls,” song that perfectly coincided with the sexual liberation of the 60s, and the rise of youth culture. Recently artist like Katy Perry have taken the Beach Boys trail with her breakout 2010 song “California Gurls,” which depicts the sex appeal of the California woman and her style. The state is also known to be the home of Coachella music festival, which is well attended by celebrities, music junkees’, and instagram enthusiasts alike. The first music festival to form was in Northern California’s Bay area, and was a rock festival (two years before Woodstock). Since then, Coachella has been essentially a social media destination. According to the results of our survey, 72% of the 56 Californians who answered said they change the way they act or dress for social media - and Coachella is the ultimate cool-girl instagram destination. Although, most also answered that they do not feel the need to fit into the California Girl stereotype - there still exists an undeniable desire to do activities that can only be done in California. Whether it’s Coachella or any other music festival, skateboarding in Venice, or drinking a green juice from Urth Caffe just to post it online, social media is a prevalent aspect of almost everyone’s life. At the same time, social media is an artifice because although these are activities that are actually happening, it shadows real life and furthers the ideal of California. In reality the majority of Californians aren’t drinking green juices all the time, nor do they have time to be at the beach all day.
For the visual component of this project, we first conducted a survey of 12 questions to be answered by people who live in California. 56 people answered a variety of questions ranging from dress, to lifestyle, to the effects of the California Girl stereotype. We will be printing all the survey answers to be viewed during the exhibit, next to a cutout of California showing geography in relation to trends by making associations with the clothing and the different regions of the state which generate the most influence in these trends. The display is meant to be not only critical, but representative of how the fashion industry, especially brands which are easily accessible, infiltrate media and influence the styles we see worn by people everyday, especially with influence coming from California.
After our examination of California Culture and the idea of the California Girl, we feel as though we gained a better understanding of the reasons why the laid back culture and style of California is so sought after. The idea of being carefree, adventurous, and surrounded by friends is something which seems ideal for most people, which the idea of California offers. This old time idea that making a name for yourself and that you can be anyone you want to be, especially in the Hollywood era, is something which people chase because it gives the illusion of freedom from the struggles of everyday life. Although the times are different than the Great Depression Era, we can make the connection of striving towards the romanticized image we see in the films as a release from everyday life. This being said, we would be interested in exploring the California mindset rom a more psychological perspective in the future.
Brooke, Eliza. "What's So Alluring About California Style?" Racked. February 28, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2017. https://www.racked.com/2017/2/28/14752056/california-style-myth.
Gibson, Pamela Church. "Hollywood Style." In The Berg Companion to Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. Accessed December 15, 2017. https://www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com/products/berg-fashion-library/encyclopedia/the-berg-companion-to-fashion/hollywood-style.
Lobenthal, Joel. "Hippie Style." In The Berg Companion to Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. Accessed December 15, 2017. https://www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com/products/berg-fashion-library/encyclopedia/the-berg-companion-to-fashion/hippie-style.
Rabine, Leslie W., and Susan Kaiser. "Sewing Machines and Dream Machines in Los Angeles and San Francisco: The Case of the Blue Jean." In Fashion’s World Cities, edited by Christopher Breward and David Gilbert, 235–250. Cultures of Consumption Series. Oxford: Berg, 2006. Accessed December 15, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/9780857854117/FASHWRLDCIT0023.