The History (and Memeification) of
The History (and Memeification) of
- Words Leslie Zhang
- Date October 23, 2017
If the summer of 1967 is known as the Summer of Love, then perhaps the summer of 2017 will be known in the decades to come as the Summer of Clout. And just as the hippie revelers in Haight-Ashbury had their heart-shaped sunglasses, the summer months of 2017 have had their own style of eyewear to claim: oversized oval lenses encased in thick white plastic frames that give their wearers a distinctive mosquito-eyed look.
In the past, they were popularly known as Kurt Cobain shades due to the late musician’s penchant for them. Officially, prior to the style’s mainstream co-option, they were known as the Archive 1993/Series 6558 by Christian Roth, the luxury eyewear company behind Cobain’s pair. Nowadays, they go by the informal nickname “clout goggles”, after Floridian rapper Denzel Curry donned a pair for a brief video clip. “These ain’t glasses, baby,” Curry crowed triumphantly to the camera, his hood and swaying dreadlocks perfectly framing his sunglasses. “These are clout goggles!”
What Curry doesn’t get to in his video is explaining why wearing a pair of these oblong shades will boost the wearer’s clout. Clout in itself remains a relatively abstract concept that is difficult to quantify. First employed by Chicago-based journalist Mike Royko in the 1960s to describe the influence wielded by powerful figures in business and politics, ‘clout’ has now trickled down to be possessable by the everyman, denoting one’s influence on his or her surrounding (and often online) community.
Perhaps the style’s clout-bolstering powers are due to contemporary rappers’ affinity for the style, resurrecting the sunglasses from its role as an artifact of grunge music and fashion and finding a new place for them within the streetwear realm. A seven-page-long thread on notable Kanye West forum Kanyetothe created in August is dedicated to investigating the origins of clout goggles, with members offering up culprits—while Denzel Curry christened the sunglasses, he didn’t set the trend. Some credit the trend’s foundation to Lil Yachty’s April 2016 interview on CNN, in which he thanks Lil B for turning him on to Bernie Sanders and is rarely seen without a pair of clout goggles on, regardless of whether he is indoors or outside. Others insist on Ian Connor, A$AP Bari, Offset or Wiz Khalifa in his 2015 music video for “The Play.”
While rappers may be flexing clout goggles in all sincerity, it’s impossible to ignore that clout goggles have quickly become meme fodder at its best and an emblem of being dressed by the internet at its worst. “In a short amount of time, Clout Goggles has become shorthand for a style favored by fame-hungry rappers and Internet-based ‘creative’ types chasing followers,” Jake Woolf wrote in GQ. “They've become as ubiquitous among a certain subset of stylish guys as souvenir jackets, side-stripe track pants, suede Chelsea boots, and any other number of left-of-center menswear items currently clogging Instagram #influencer feeds.”
Clout goggles may be a meme, but the reputation appears to have done little to harm sales. On Google, a generic input for “clout goggles” yields more suggested phrases that others have searched: “clout goggles cheap”; “clout goggles for sale”; “clout goggles price” and “where to buy clout goggles” are but a few that pop up, reflecting the sunglasses’ impenetrable popularity. Their quick spread can also be attributed to their accessibility across budgets compared to the equally-memed Gucci belt, being sold on Alibaba (under $2) and Acne Studios ($320) alike. For the same price as a fidget spinner, you could get your very own pair of clout goggles!
Additionally, wearable memes are, bizarrely enough, respectable wardrobe pieces. In an age where sincerity and vulnerability are considered lame, wearing something with meme status is like wearing your aloofness and cynicism on your sleeve—or, in the case of clout goggles, perched on top of your nose bridge—while simultaneously demonstrating your mastery of internet humor.
While meme status may boost the product’s notoriety, it also dooms it to an equally short lifecycle. The moment Skepta posted a photograph of himself suited up in Craig Green’s collaboration with Moncler, the designers’ work was sentenced to rot alongside the “man’s not hot” meme. When Gucci belts became the punchline of Twitter comedy, it became impossible to wear one because you genuinely enjoy the design—to everyone else, you just look like you’ve fallen prey to internet humor. The resurfacing of clout goggles could be metaphoric for hip hop and rock’s symbiotic relationship, but to analyze it as such seems like a reach at this point.
Meme status strikes randomly, indiscriminately. As such, it’s difficult for designers to take preventative measures, but it is possible for them to embrace meme status as beneficial to the brand. Gucci rode the wave, releasing a series of memes as an advertising campaign and cementing its popularity with millennial consumers. It’s a different case with clout goggles, however, as the sunglasses style became so quickly widespread that it’s doubtful that Christian Roth can reign in the situation. The true harm that meme culture inflicts on fashion is the potential dilution of the piece in question’s substance. The moment articles of clothing or accessories go viral without any intervention from the designer, they become one-dimensional, incapable of being culturally impactful beyond drawing a quick laugh.
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