Chic seekers

The fashion world used to have ‘bohemian chic’ and ‘heroin chic’.  Now in our straitened times, we have ‘recession chic’.  Although coined by the media in the early years of our current recession, as a term it has not exactly become common currency. Yet, if one looks around, it has become an identifiable phenomenon. How to remain ‘chic’ during our recessionary times is now a full-time occupation for many. 

Those very same people who were on top of the Celtic Tiger are now to the fore in downsizing their ambitions and lifestyles to the conditions of the present. Out goes Prada, in comes Oxfam. Out goes expensive dining out, in come Tesco ready meals.  For most of us poor mortals, this has become a necessity. For the ‘recession chic’ brigade, it is a social statement, partly laced with guilt, partly with self-publicity and faddishness.  How much is reality and how much is artifice is open to question.

Such a term admirably suits the ‘anti-tall poppy’ attitudes of most Irish people who far prefer sympathising with those in dire straits than lauding the successful.  Covering yourself in sackcloth and ashes in a collective spirit of denial fits in perfectly with this mindset.

In this world, ‘small’ is the new ‘big’ and ‘big’ is the new ‘bad’.  ‘Recessionistas’ make a virtue of their abstemiousness, not wanting to be out of step with the times – the worst social faux pas imaginable. It is explained as doing one’s bit for the national effort. Even if one isn’t struggling on the bread line, it is important to let everyone know that things are difficult, that you and your family are not greedy Celtic Tigers secretly squirreling away the takings of that heady era. Appearance is all, just as it was for those very same people during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ era. It’s a mindset that has all the absurdity of that famous ‘Monty Python’ sketch in which a group of self-made businessmen swap stories on how deprived their respective upbringings were. Those who are really struggling at the bottom cannot make a virtue of abstemiousness – they’re too concerned with keeping themselves afloat than in making vacuous social statements.

Recession is no stranger to Irish people. Anyone over 20 will be familiar with the poor economic conditions of the past. The difference now is that we fed ourselves the illusion that the Celtic Tiger had finally delivered us from past penury and that the normal cycles of boom and bust had been obliterated. The fall from grace was, therefore, much harder to take, particularly for a younger generation who knew nothing but growth and success.

Perhaps, though, recession is Ireland’s default mode ingrained deep into our national DNA. If so, we may get through our current difficulties more easily than many think – thanks to our traditional traits of self-denial and forbearance. Traditions such as walking Croagh Patrick in bare feet, or fasting vigils at Lough Derg, are parts of our historical past that can set useful templates for future methods of coping.

I fear that when the ‘recessionistas’ have got tired of their social grandstanding and moved on to some other convenient fad, we will be no nearer emerging from our very real, day-to-day recession in which real people suffer in very real ways. Rather like the ladies of the well-heeled classes who dine out at charity balls for the homeless, but who blanch at the thought of having to talk to a homeless person on the street, the vacuous social butterflies will no doubt find some new convenient cause to assuage their skin-deep social consciences. Overdoing the ‘recession chic’ thing is not too good for the long-term image they so studiously nurture.  Must join that queue for the latest Brown Thomas bag! Status is everything. Appearance is all.

 Image top: johnson 1952.