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Postmodern Village
est. 1999
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Mind, the Gap
By Norma Perfect

The first impressions are of unrelenting, impermeable gray. Obviously, the coolness of contemporary hipsterdom supersedes any sense of season. But isn't this also defiance, a burst of dour reality over the patriarchal expectation that a woman is the function of an eternal Want, the whore/hole to be filled four times a year by fashion, the effluent of industry?

Effluent would certainly describe the look, or rather The Look, most recently adopted by The Gap, our quintessential formulation of the corporatization of the continual counterculture. Consumerist capture of anti-authoritarian trends are nothing new, of course, but The Gap was one of the first to flaunt it, to be more-or-less open about the fact that they were basing their brand off of an expectation of there always being an inherent disconnect between the generations, the idea so fervently explored in the '60s.

In fact, “1969” is The Gap's current theme, carefully chosen to avoid referencing the year before, 1968, when things were truly in upheaval. Given the techno-triumphalism of the moon landing, Nixon's ascendency, and the collapse of hippie optimism, 1969 presents itself as somehow safer today: it doesn't confront our ways of knowing or being. 1969 is a manifestation of the beginnings of backlash, of collapse back to the cynical (and disgorgingly blasé) front put on by the latest (and always) manifestation of The Look.

And then there's the Freudianism: The Gap, the Lacanian Lack, the Slit, the Gash--it's all the whore/hole to be filled. The Gap is, itself, the psychosexual femme, the Other made (w)hole, legitimized by its manifestation as a corporate entity. The Gap is sold back to us with the cloying, industrial stank of a sweatshop somewhere, a fake and antiseptic Summer's Eve factory whang.

But 1969? Not even close to the real thing. I was there. And despite the collapse of our initial idealism, there was color there, still; there lingered the funk organic.

On the wall, the same model, infinitely repeated, is supposed to provide us a diverse selection of “fits.” Apparently, we are all emaciated and hollow-eyed. They follow:

  • Real Straight
  • Always Skinny
  • Long & Lean
  • Slim Cropped
  • Curvy

In other words, 4 out of 5 “fits” are for people who comprise perhaps 1 out of 5 actual women.

And “Real Straight”? What is this but an insult to the Spirit of Stonewall, class of the actual 1969, the riot that made it possible for men and women alike to come out? How “Real Straight” were the designers of this line?

“Curvy,” too, is a euphemism, an amelioration of the more stigmatizing potential terms. But it's less than empowering: it's no “BBW” taking charge of language, not even a ghetto-hip “thick” with its juice and delectability. The Gap may cover generations, but it certainly doesn't cover size.

Our reminders, on the wall, all in hipster gray, of these narrow fitment regimes, of the ectomorphic model, infinitely repeated, state that actual size is never an issue: it's all about style, really. Size is thin and can only be. The wall looks down upon us poor and simple shoppers, replicating the Male Gaze as imprinted in the eyes of the idealized woman; the Patriarch has given us the idol, our form refined and spun to wiry gold, the accoutrement of the stylish subject of an implied male, stylish so he need not be. On the wall is the first and only lesson of the college of the trophy-wife-to-be, The Gap into which womanhood falls when it finally gives up being.

It may have been this writer's insistence on beige, her age, her average-sizedness, but she was allowed to linger, unmolested and unapproached, by the young thangs with the turned-up noses who feigned command of the floor. Feminism is so “post” here that there is no expectation of rebellion; indeed, naught is recognized against which to rebel. No curiosity is allowed to disturb their cool, the gray behind their eyes. What my self should be doing there, staring, agog, jotting down notes, is much too unimportant to the fashionably bored to even consider. The Gap therefore is a no-place, a non-place that admits of not a single aberration.

For to be free—to be truly liberated—is to be able to pursue one's own peculiar set of aberrations, one's personal deviations, one's own odd ass or eccentric boobs or proclivity for floral prints. Perhaps, and only perhaps, it is all a matter of taste; after all, there are a million other places to shop. But The Gap makes claims of ownership of the consumer cutting-edge, and as such would seem to speak to a collective sense of the accessibly acceptable. In this, it is a benchmark, and it marks itself as belonging to the same bench from which women have been judged since man began to cut the cloth, began to wrap us in the Gaze and enrapture us in the suffocating hegemony of expectation. In this, The Gap is not the continuation of the infantalization at work at Old Navy, but a manifestation of the true power of consumerism: the apotheosis, finally, of Want.