Market and fashion: aesthetics that is power

I went to Praça, the Public Market of Braga, looking for the colors, the smells and the customs that associate it to a communicational parade in continuous ebb and flow. But I let myself be surprised more by what it hides than by what it exposes.

It is factual. A few days after St. John’s festivity and at the gates of St. Peter’s, the scented herbs are there: lemongrass, citron, basil, all the profusion that precedes the dryness of summer. After the harsh cold, the visual and tactile exuberance of tomatos anticipates flavor and texture. New potatoes painted in pink, strawberries as bright as they are perfect, in the suggestion of smell and flavor. One must not forget the mosaic of colors displayed in boxes, baskets, buckets, jars, and bags. Inevitably, the smells, so fundamental to give identity to a look, even if these are not the most evident elements of a parade. And the body posture, how we present ourselves to offer a product. The marketplace and fashion are similar in all their founding distinctions. Having said this, it is unavoidable to make semiotic interpretations in both activities, at the level of advertising persuasion.

Perhaps because it is lunchtime, the hustle and bustle of buying and selling has slowed down. This underlines the body of work that each one of these people carries, some of them taking advantage of the calm to have lunch right there, in the stall decorated like the most careful window display of a boutique. If trade has slowed down, the work does not stop. Now you can hear the noise of empty boxes being thrown into a corner, the cleaning cart across the floor. There is time for a conversation between vendors. I also think about the symbolic capital of the space, where a forced modernity shelters improvisation: parasols placed to protect the products from the sun. I reread Bourdieu (1996) looking for the explanation for what is witnessed here, and it comes across as ironic, so prescient. “In fact, those who manage to remain in the most adventurous positions long enough to obtain the symbolic profits that they can secure, recruit themselves essentially from among the wealthiest, who also have the advantage of not being obliged to devote themselves to secondary tasks to ensure their subsistence.” (Bourdieu, 1996, p. 295)

Let us go back to the body of the workers. This body of work is a suggestion of hands picking lettuce, arms carrying baskets, legs rushing to the opening of trade: the first purchase dictates the success of the day.

Around the Praça, what’s there to see? The Garrafeira do Mercado, cafes, meat trade. There in the background, the tower of the Church of Carmo, so consonant with Braga where the market’s root building and others that preceded it were born. Now, where conservatism was forged, contemporaneity has metamorphosed. Look at the old Policy building, the wooden slats that cover the renovated square. Even so, boxes tossed into a corner continue to be boxes tossed, the cries of work remain imperative and urgent, an air conditioner reverberates a worn-out tune, and carts testify to the effort of the toil. If there is glamour in the market (and there is) perhaps it lies in the aesthetics of the everyday. At this point, the aesthetic experience of moving through the market resembles in everything the aesthetics of Saito’s laundry (2017). We are not, admittedly, facing a work of art, as it is conventionally understood and characterized. However, if one summons up the type of experience that one has (the smells, the colors, the attraction to this or that product) and the emotions it provokes, we enter a level of understanding of the aesthetic sense, which extends to the community. Becoming aware of these symbolic values ritualized in banal gestures not only makes us more attentive to the other (we prefer a salesperson who prepares with care for the sale and not an anonymous accumulation of products on a hypermarket), but also makes us more active in a world whose finitude we must respect and protect.

If in the market everything boils down to an aesthetic of everyday life, in fashion there is a basic intentionality, which makes it closer to artistic activity. But as fashion begins in a precise and intentional design, its use transforms a piece of clothing into an object that acts in a social context (a moment, a status, an attitude), which trivializes it, even when it presents itself as a form of ritualized intervention. The transformation of a look into a conscious everyday aesthetic is possibly one of fashion’s greatest strengths: this is who I am, this is the skin I chose and not the one I inherited, this is the chameleonic way I found to express myself. Whether it is from the space of the terrace to the table of a family, or the creative sophistication of a fashion show to an anonymous body, everything seems to flow into the concrete everyday of our lives. The use we attribute to them is diverse and, most of the times, entirely subjective and, above all, intersubjective (de Almeida, 2004). Both appropriations can be based on a functional gesture (buying a product for consumption) but let us not underestimate its power. As pointed by Inglis: “In a way, style is always a revolt against perceived conformity, a means by which a person can say to the world around them I am me I am more than just the job I do or the role I play. Style and defiance are closely connected” (2005, p. 42). Let us take up Saito: “What should we do with this power of aesthetics?” He answers, “We should also try to resist the allure of the newer, stylish, and fashionable clothes, shoes, and iPhones and hang on to the obsolete-looking current ones as long as the functional performance is satisfactory.” (2017, p.1 96).

How we dress expresses an intention, even if rooted in the ephemerality of everyday life. We buy from local producers apples or olives embedded in primordial communicational rituals. All of this is proven, felt, and conjured into an action.

Text and images: Teresa Lima

Published on 07-07-2022


Bourdieu, P. (1996). As regras da arte (M.L. Machado, transl.).Companhia das Letras.

de Almeida, M. V. (2004). O corpo na teoria antropológica. Revista de Comunicação e Linguagens33, 49-66.

Inglis, D. (2005). Culture and everyday life. Routledge.

Saito, Y. (2017). Aesthetics of the familiar: Everyday life and world-making. Oxford University Press.




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