My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, published today, looks at a word that I’ve been seeing a lot in fashion reporting and advertising: “tribal.” That’s “tribal” as in “tribal chic,” “tribal trend,” and “tribal style.” Or in this ad from Piperlime:
Beyond the bad pun, what does it mean? Here’s an excerpt from my column:
In past decades “tribal” styles might have been called “exotic,” “primitive,” “ethnic,” or “multicultural”—adjectives that now seem patronizing. “Tribe” and “tribal,” on the other hand, have gained status and hipness in the educated First World. Joel Kotkin’s 1994 book Tribes: How Race, Religion, and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy paved the way by positing that “tribe” could be a modern, urban construct. (Kotkin’s thesis is that Jewish, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and British people are sophisticated “tribes” whose shared identity, rather than politics, contributes to their economic success.) In 2008 the influential marketing writer Seth Godin published Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, which told readers that thanks to the Internet, a tribe is any connected group of people.
The upshot: tribes are now cool. So cool that at least four marketing agencies in the US call themselves Tribe, and Tribal DDB is the name of “a digitally centric global advertising agency” that’s part of the huge DDB network.