In 1964, Susan Sontag wrote “Notes on Camp,” an essay categorising things, people and behaviours that saw the world as “an aesthetic phenomenon… not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice.” She applied this critique most fervently to fashion. Sontag’s Camp “sees everything in quotation marks… [Its] sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized — or at least apolitical.” While Sontag was tackling with a post-war society on the brink of a cultural revolution, the same characterisation of fashion still applies. However, we find ourselves in an era where these values has taken on a new meta level — where those who are engaging in such artifice are becoming increasingly self-aware about their desire for a diversion from reality.
With its love of artifice and exaggeration, Sontag’s Camp finds it contemporary spiritual home in the world of post-ironic noughties fashion. This aesthetic, popularised largely on Instagram, doesn’t reflect back at us how we were actually dressing 15 years ago, but we wished we were dressing; it’s a fever dream of what the noughties should have been. This aesthetic has been perfected by Keely Murphy, a 24-year-old LA resident who unleashed @amazonfashionsecrets on Instagram late last year. The account showcases the finest fashion throwbacks and so-bad-they’re-good accessories that Amazon has to offer. Murphy’s curated collection of sorry-not-sorry style statements has a universal, nostalgic appeal. It’s also somehow bang on trend, given that one of the most questionable periods in fashion is having a renaissance on the runway. Whether you love or loathe noughties fashion, Murphy’s homage to the oft-derided era offers up a little corner of sentimental escapism by confronting the state of the world with a level of teenage angst and satire already familiar to us.
According to Murphy, “the aesthetic determined itself and ever since then I’ve just been searching and sharing all of the insane products that are available in the most convenient marketplace of our time!” When Murphy says that “shopping online is absolutely my most practiced skill,” she means it. Her eye for hidden gems is attributed to her offline job as a fashion and prop stylist, for which Amazon is her first port of call. During her extensive online scrolling spells, she often comes across some kitsch or unashamedly salacious item. Where she once shared such items with her friends, she now shares them with the world. “I love when fashion is funny, and it’s very exciting to have an outlet that people are enjoying and sharing with friends,” she tells us.
The kind of funny items exhibited on Murphy’s account — which include rhinestone bikinis, thigh-high PVC boots and leopard print chaps — are the signifiers of the post-ironic society we find ourselves in. But there is no doubt the weird and wonderful items Keely Murphy finds are incredible tokens of frivolity, all giving her followers a retro fashion thrill. Murphy compares the experience of curating @amazonfashionsecrets to opening an online store, without the risks of purchasing inventory. Instead, her expert edit is linked to an Amazon wishlist. Once you start scrolling, your basket begins to fill with things you never even knew still existed, but now desperately need.
The joy of @amazonfashionsecrets is that it serves as both an original shopping platform and living museum of millennial youth culture. It documents a palpable anxiety about 21st century fashion, greeted with a heady mix of excitement and overcompensating. Whether it’s covering everything with diamantes and logos or reviving a kitsch love affair with the clog, in Y2K, anything goes. The noughties played host to MySpace revolution and the emergence of social media, which meant that we suddenly had access to what young people were wearing across the world, and the fashion rulebook mattered less and less. So, does @amazonfashionsecrets record the first digital subculture, or the end of subculture itself?
The speed at which the Internet consumes fashion means that it is almost impossible for subversive style to remain sacred for long. Thus a longing to return to a period of utter sartorial confusion makes sense. So much of our lives are now recorded online, and we are more accountable than ever for the image we portray to the world. We all share a common fear of tagged photos and old status updates, and the naïveté of millennial style provides us with the perfect post-ironic armour against the endlessly embarrassing experience of being a person who exists in the digital realm. With more and more of us living out our life on social media, it stands to reason that we should do it in a way that pays tribute to our digital history.