Clothes Talking

Something sinister has started in the clothes cupboards of teenage and twenty-something girls, and it launches with the line “I went shopping and bought…” Haul vlogging is the latest thing to run a rash across the internet: search YouTube for “haul video” and it flags up more than 165,000 entries. It’s basically sharing a shopping spree with the world via a home-made video blog. An example might go something like this: “Hi everyone. I’ve got so much to show you all. American Apparel is one of my favorite shops. It’s quite expensive, but it is designer. I got this skirt – I’m not a big fan of pink, but I really liked it, so decided to buy it. It’s really just kind of elegant and pretty. The color’s just really nice as well, so I bought that. It just goes above the knee.”

In short, it’s the kind of inane and breathless-debrief you might expect from two twelve-year-old girls. Still, that hasn’t stopped haul vloggers hatching in their thousands, tempted by unlimited time to camera, global reach and a filmy mirage of fame on the horizon (many vloggers are beautiful). But honestly the sight of these girls sitting in amongst stacks of cosmetics, clothes and other clobber does smack unreservedly of the ridiculous. Frankly, who cares what someone bought that day, or any day? (other than the companies they promote of course, who’ve started courting vloggers like advertising royalty).

This portrait is the one that popped into mind when I first read about these vlogger types. It’s of one Madame d’Aguesseau de Fresnes and is by the female painter Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun (1755 – 1842). The artist was the daughter of Louis Vigée, a minor painter who also trained her, and the wife of a picture dealer, Jean-Baptiste Lebrun. Elisabeth-Louise established herself as a portraitist, and a good one at that: she was a painter to Marie Antoinette from 1779 and depicted France’s doomed queen many times. In 1783 she was elected to the Royal Academy of Painting by the queen’s decree. All fine and dandy until her ties to the royal family put her life in danger:  Vigée-Lebrun was forced to flee during the French Revolution, later working in Italy, Russia and England.

This portrait (from 1789) might have been painted on the cusp of escape: certainly the sitter’s expression – sweet and yet restrained – lays bare and at the same time buries the difficult political climate in which she’s painting. But that’s not why we logged on today, folks. Rather, we’re here for the fabulous haberdashery haul of clothes this madame has mixed and matched for her time in front of the canvas.

Here’s how this young woman’s haul vlog might read:

“What I’ve got on is from three foreign cultures, cos I like to show that I’m a citizen of the world, see. My turban and jacket are rocking the Turkish harem look: it’s all about the Orient, people, and getting totally on board with non-western ideas. And I got this dreamy white dress to do the Grecian trend: it’s lovely and long and Roman-looking and everyone knows the Romans were full of Republican ideals, and so forth. And I know you’re all wondering about this Wedgwood cameo on my sash: yes! it’s from England (where the politics at the moment are – like – soo much better than ours).”

Joking aside, I can deduce lots of juice from Vigée-Lebrun’s careful characterizing of this woman’s blended bedecking: stitched into the fabric of her fantastic fashion choices are the penetrative politics of the day. Show me a vlog that’s halfway as clever, and I’d be ready to reconsider my opinion.