the exactitudes project

i’ll admit it: i’ve always had a bit of an issue with what i call subcultural “uniforms”…the typical pieces that persons who subscribe to certain subcultures feel they need to wear in order to identify or fit in with said subcultures. i feel as if the constraints of those “uniforms” are often too rigid, and the members of those subcultures sometimes abhor any deviation from said uniform by other members, at times considering any inkling of diversity, difference, or attempt at personal interpretation as a threat.

i suppose that i personally i just don’t like the idea of a uniform because i don’t like the idea of being pigeonholed, the idea that anyone might think i’m into one thing or another just because of a thing i might don on a given day. i’d like to be just “me”. i like to keep people guessing, or like to believe that i do inside my own possibly addled mind (ha!). in reality, i admit fall into certain stylistic habits…and i know there are similar folks to me out there in the world. and i guess it’s okay.

the simple fact is, such subcultures and uniforms exist. no matter how original one might think they are, they can often be grouped with people who express their personal style in a similar manner. we are all likely to be part of some fashion or style “tribe”. and honestly, many people like to fit into a category or a subculture. it’s just the way it is.

it’s scientific: the human mind seems to delight in the act of categorization…our brains seem hard-wired to collect similar things of any description (or even ideas) and display them together of think of them as related. we yearn to make sense of the world by organizing it.




(photo credit to ari versluis/exactitudes)

rotterdam, netherlands-based photographer ari versluis and stylist ellie uyttenbroek have been working together since 1994 on a documentarian-style photographic project called exactitudes (a word that is a mash-up of the words “exact” and “attitude”). the pair has scoured rotterdam and a smattering of cities around the world, gathering people from various social groups that appear to share the same “dress code”. these individuals are styled, posed and photographed in such a way that emphasizes their similarities in the way of outward expression.

over the years, ari and ellie’s exactitudes project has been covered in the press, shown in galleries, and was even turned into a book in 2002. goodness, would i love to get my hands on that!

but, word is, the project is ongoing…

take note, londoners!

selfridges is hosting an exhibition of ari’s photographs. it’s running from february 26 through april 20, 2008. a small video of ari describing the exactitudes project may be found on the selfridge’s site, here.

at the same time, ari and his team will be searching the area around oxford street in an effort to gather more subjects for the exactitudes project.

if you’re in the area…go view the exhibit. perhaps you can take part!


  1. Angie Montreal

    Wow, I find this sooooo interesting! As I travel a lot for work, I find I often notice various subcultures in each city, and from an outsiders perspective I definitely see their outfits as a sort of uniform.

    I personally don’t feel as though I fit in any one group, although I feel there are certain groups I am definitely NOT part of. (ie. I am NEVER preppy or goth, not to put them down, I’m just not). Some of the categories I would consider myself to be a part of are “vintage girl”, “minimal girl”, “dreamy pastel girl” or sometimes “retro tomboy girl”. Amongst many others I guess. I like way too many styles to limit myself to one!

  2. Gwen

    This is very interesting. I consider the human mind’s tendency to categorize to be one of humankind’s greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses simultaneously.

    It is a strength, because it allows us to “know” a lot of information about things and situations without having to start from scratch each time. You go into a new restaurant and you automatically have a set of expectations as to what is going to happen, in roughly what order, what you need to do and what you are going to get. That’s because your mental category of “restaurant” is full of relevant information that you can apply in this “new” situation.

    We’d never get anywhere in life if we had to treat each new instance of a thing and each new, slightly different situation as if it was completely foreign and we were clueless about its properties, uses, likely events, etc. Imagine if you couldn’t apply anything you know about driving your current car to a new car, because they aren’t the same car. The reason you can hop into a new car and drive it is because your brain categorizes.

    Once you know enough about something to assign it to a category, all of the information in that category gets applied to that thing and you get all this advantage / benefit for “free” – you don’t have to put in the effort to gather additional information and learn about that thing before you can interact with it.

    At the same time, it’s this inherent drive to categorize that leads to some of humankind’s most shameful atrocities – like prejudice and genocide. We don’t see individuals, we don’t see other people who share things with us (like loving our children and wanting the best for them) – we see members of another group and once we associate negative things with that group, it’s easy to justify (to ourselves) doing something horrible to a person who belongs to that group…

    Thanks for bringing this up – it’s a thought provoking topic and I’m looking forward to seeing what others have to say about it too!


  3. Katrin

    I love the wide range of ages and sizes (and genders, ethnicities, etc). Much as I like to look at street fashion photos and always find something to admire, the limited range of physical types leaves little for some of us to identify with. these and these are some gorgeous examples that I can aspire to. I just wish there were larger versions I could print out for inspiration.

  4. hoyan

    i remember seeing some of these a few years ago- they’re even more powerful in person. the one with the red pants really makes me laugh, i know a couple of guys like that!

    i really like this exactitudes project because it shows that even though these people are so similar, they are so individual. and i love looking at the language of their appearance which they can fine-tune because of those similarities.

  5. Fenke

    that is so funny – to see that even people who think of themselves as ‘indie’ end up wearing some sort of uniform.

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