Society has been ascribing labels for centuries. Though it is true that a large amount of assumption, blank filling and experiential knowledge influences the way we perceive the people and world around us. The newly popularized label of “basic,” also commonly specified as “basic bitch” generally refers to young women (most commonly) who adopt style and social trends without attention to meaning or active selection. Being basic refers to opting for what is popular on the most primary sense. Conceivably these basic individuals realize that they are judged based on the self expression of their personal style and don’t have the character content to personalize what they wear.
Representation refers to the act of choosing commodities based on the connotations and signs attached to them with the goal of emulating meanings of those garments which one projects to themselves and the world around them. For most of us, the clothes we wear don’t just happen to us, we make a series of choices that lead to the ensembles we leave the house wearing. Our clothing is an expression of who we are and what we want to project about ourselves.
Items of clothing have inherently no meaning except the practical purposes of protection from the elements. As consumers and cultural participants, we ascribe meaning to clothes based on the connotations, personality and signifiers they represent.
I would describe Basic as a label and not a stereotype because to a varying degree the majority of society follows the mainstream trends, knowingly or unknowingly, even those of us who belong to trends for reasons other than for the sake of following a trend. Along that vein, it is difficult to find someone who is the picture of a basic bitch because many people, young women especially who tend to be identified with basic bitch behavior, have certain practices or elements of their style that are personally cultivated and meaningful but also pieces or aspects they adopt blindly from trends.
Conspicuous consumption is definitely present in Basic behavior. A lot of Basic behavior and the spread of the label itself has take place on social media where these Basic Bitches present and showcase their Basic-ness. In “The Theory of the Leisure Class” Veblen states, “Motive that lies at the root of ownership is emulation.” This statement is true for everyone from the most Basic Bitch to the most “Real” bitch. However for many who cultivate their personal style and image based on representation of the content of garments such as stylistic aspects, and even ethical ones, the “emulating” is a result of personal choice and not a motivation. For all of though, Veblen is correct that what an object or garment represents is at the heart of what and why we purchase. To purchase something because it represents the mainstream and is in line with what the mainstream is emulating, is Basic.
Though it often does, Basic may not always mean emulating the mainstream. Cultivating a representation of a subculture is also Basic in that it is trying to signal the subculture itself and not emulating the characteristic or principal (substance) of that subculture which develop the images/style associated with it.
The Basic label has also been associated with a sense of superiority. Because Basic Bitches are consumed with representing the right, the “in” thing, it creates a sense of exclusivity as far as who you associate with.
Though it often does, Basic may not always mean emulating the mainstream. Cultivating a representation of a subculture is also Basic in that it is trying to signal the subculture itself and not emulating the characteristic or principal (substance) of that subculture which develop the images/style associated with it. In the image above the women is being photographed sporting multiple trends. Both hats a glasses are most tangibly intended to be worn for practical reasons. Hats are intended to be worn to protect the head and face and glasses are intended for vision correction. The cosmetic use and appropriation of glasses and hats, in addition to pictures of coffee cups are all associated with the subculture of Hipsters. This label, dissimilar to the Basic label, identifies as deviating from the mainstream. However when these trends are provoked in a Basic crowd, it proves that Basic Bitches, who do not want to deviate from the mainstream, are trying to represent the attention of the subculture and not the content of the subculture. In the above photograph especially, with the effect of the most generic example of each trend, on a generic looking model, the Basic-ness is highlighted.
“Going on a Run!”
In recent years the commodification of athleticism and health has rapidly grown. Brands like LuLu Lemon, Athleta, Lucy and Nike have integrated athletic wear into every women’s wardrobe. Wearing athletic clothes represents athleticism, health and sexuality. Workout classes have become social outings and yoga pants are the new denim. A typically ascribed Basic behavior is to post a picture of your workout outfit on social media. By making the post about your neon Nikes and not about fitness or why you actually put the Nikes on (if for exercise at all) you are representing the fit girl without actually representing what the fit girl is all about.
Basic Behavior can also involve emulating cultural archetypes. This practice is very much in line with Basic-ness because television characters for example provide a great example of personality which can be easily commodified and mimicked. Especially in cases like Sex in the City where each of the four main female characters is supposed to represent different female stereotypes, none of them are meant to seem mainstream.
The more the label of Basic is digested and probed the more it seems that it may be a reason synonym for fake. The closest and most popularized antonym for Basic is most likely “Real.” While it is true that all consumption is an adoption and representation of meaning, perhaps the more you contemplate and cultivate meaning in your image and actions the more “Real” you are and conversely the more you adopt the image of others, without the curation of meaning, the more Basic someone is.
Veblen, Thorstein, and Stuart Chase. The Theory of the Leisure Class; an Economic Study of Institutions. New York: Modern Library, 1934
Han, Young Jee, Joseph C. Nunes, and Xavier Drèze. “Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence.” Journal of Marketing 74.4 (2010)
Khaled, Heidi, PhD. “The Enduring, Insufferable Hipster: Popular Critiques of Art, Commerce, and Authenticity Through the Ages.” University of Pennsylvania (2012)