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Americana Del Rey: Trash Culture, Midwestern Gothic and Lana

Photographed by Jack Turpen of Jayln Thomas, Emma Adelman, Mya Grant, Kennedy Ray, Emma Watson, Lauryn Elgert, and Lauren Fulk
Styled by Jack Turpen and Lauren Fulk
Director Assist: Lilian Johnson
Hair and Makeup Assist: Lauryn Elgert
Journalist Assist: Jessica Schocke

By Jack Turpen

The land of the free has really high prices, stretching past the sky rocket in gas pricing and circling the cost of life for a minority. America drains me politically through the ebbs and flows that take place regarding the basics of human rights. I don’t subscribe to the idea of pride for one's home country, especially considering its standards or ideals don’t align with the way my life is led. I feel this serves as a disclaimer, as the rest should be read through my admiration for the irony. The way in which Americans flaunt their levels of “don’t give a fuck” energy can be rather jarring. But, though credit is not deserved, I see this energy circulating within the world of fashion.

Michigan is a strange place to foster this fascination I hold for fashion, as the surrounding areas are often covered in camouflage. The midwest houses a specific aesthetic called Midwestern Gothic. This aesthetic is based around the idea of darkness amidst quant areas in a macabre light. There are consistent themes throughout that highlight an eerie quality within nature, more specifically large fields, farms, and wooded areas. The Midwestern gothic aesthetic encapsulates the melancholic feeling of rural Midwestern America, characterized by religious, agricultural, and American symbolism. Midwestern gothic attempts to exaggerate the isolation and depressiveness felt in the rural towns that typically populate this region, through motifs of poor weather, abandoned buildings, and empty fields. This topic became popularized in the early 2010s, as a result of popular cultural influences that characterized this period. With the rise of musicians like Lana Del Rey who popularized sad music in mainstream media backed by vivid imagery and haunting vocals, and the peak popularity of social media websites like Tumblr, the movement of romanticizing sadness began. As this niche gained traction, new musical artists hit the scene and branded this aesthetic, like artist Ethel Cain. Cain is known for her musical themes of southern Gothicism, religious and multigenerational trauma, death, and abuse through chilling lyrics and imagery. The Midwestern gothic aesthetic has continued to grow into the 2020s, as social media and cultural events have continued to influence people to romanticize the realities that most of us face, including the struggles of growing up in a small town in America with the religious and mental health implications that typically accompany these struggles.

This is not an aesthetic I have been familiar with for a long time. Going to school in Mt. Pleasant, the outside of which is lined with large stretches of open fields, has influenced this new obsession. I’ve always viewed the nature that has housed me as something to be scared of. I‘ve never been an outdoors kind of person, shocker. I’ve fished as a kid and swam in a lake, all nine yards met. But, I’ve never been one to seek it. There remains this fear behind nature and what lives outside of the little bubbles that house me. I think this fear could be innate in my humanity. There are some instincts that we hold that are chemical in assuring our own safety. Like when my stomach turns at the thought of a snake or a spider. I feel an instinct that is similar in relation to the outdoors, I just know they aren’t for me. But as of late, I’ve discovered each side that shapes the beauty of nature, the light and the dark.

We often view the beauty of nature within one lens, usually a brighter, happier, and more dense view. This usually means the nature we view that has been highly regarded as “beautiful” is of a more tropical setting. I don’t view this beauty often, maybe on a vacation. But there is a darkness that holds similar beauty within nature. This innate fear I have of nature has made it all the more artistically enticing for me. This darkness is also particular to the Midwest, as the vast emptiness contributes to that darker feeling. That emptiness holds a great deal of tragedy, lending to bitterness and melancholy. Tragedy is spawned surrounding a fantasy, or it ties to a life that's already been led.

Tragedy seems to be the key term for all of the depressed souls spawned via a Lana Del Rey obsession that has yet to end. Her bread and butter is based around the idea of a tragic soul, stricken by the tragedies surrounding her. She references a great deal of female public figures who have experienced some form of loss or heart break. Grant has made references to Marylin Monroe, Pricilla Presely and Jackie Kennedy. Her musical style often accompanies these visual choices with an eerie tone that still leaves me in a state of wanting such absurdities. The way she is able to glamourize the darkest of feelings can lead many down a darker path. I, however, find myself revealing at the opportunity to maximize the tiniest of sob stories into a romantic horror that leaves me bed-ridden. Again, not the healthiest mindset to adopt full time, but her aesthetic stretches beyond only the somber. The way in which America is infused into her inspiration is in glamourising the absurdity of freedom, and what that means to the women she wishes to be. Freedom is preached by Americans, even though it is selective. The American Dream is an idea that has been constructed to make those who are unable to feel they can achieve the same as others, though the odds are stacked against them. It is not real and it is unattainable, all of which is dependent on which family you were born into. I view Del Rey’s work through a lens of irony. This old-Hollywood picture of a woman exhausted by her misfortune is a strange way of crediting the rich with having problems regardless of their wealth. It almost implies to be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s all melancholy, all of which plays to the fact that Lana Del Rey knows who she is. She isn’t the glamorous image she performs as, she plays the role as a love letter to the life she looked up to.

Along the opposite end of the Americana spectrum lies a different view of American culture within fashion. As you may have come to understand depending on which end of America you reside, it’s pretty trashy. The idea of hicks and rednecks is something that seems to have originated here. The food we eat, the things we say and the clothes we create. There is a certain, almost indescribable cheapness that can be found within every inch of the U.S. The visual choices of truckers and people residing in more rural areas have been adopted by a variety of fashion designers as of late. DSquared2 has famously highlighted this vibe in a lot of their work. In their Fall 2023 ready-to-wear collection, models walked in slip dresses paired with large coats and trucker hats. They invoke a certain sexiness that seems to be tied to American fashion. This can be seen in a lot of American designers' work. Many adhere to a very gaudy and brightly colored style of dress, oftentimes utilizing a large variety of logo mania. When I look at the difference between American and French fashion, there is a clear difference in the way we present our luxury items. It seems French fashion is more considerate of the quality, usually avoiding any large brand names anywhere. But as judgemental as I remain, I am able to embrace it through a lens of irony. I feel as though I adhere to Miuccia Prada’s ideology of fashion in that I look to the more unpretty side of things to find that there is a way to interpret it in a creative fashion. This ideology seems to be present within styling today, as people are looking more toward the unconventional and, again, ironic.

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