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Posts Tagged ‘subcultures’

I know I’ve been neglecting this blog.

Unless you have been living under rock in the Arctic Circle,
you will have, if not followed, then at least heard the story of the recent
London Riots, which spread quickly across the city and even strayed over into
areas of Manchester and Medway.

Not so long ago, David Cameron launched his ‘hug a hoodie’
campaign, the idea being to target underprivileged kids, or ‘youths’ as MPs and
media like to term them, and show them that government policies had their ‘best
interests’ at heart, and were committed to providing them with a brighter
future post-recession.

Today, Mr Cameron along with many others in government and
let’s be honest, across the media too, have begun to wonder whether the ‘hoodie’
itself has a large part to play in taking the blame for facilitating the recent
unrest. It should be noted that not all of the violence, looting and general
thuggery committed during the Riots should be cast solely at the door of ‘youths,’
and children, as there were many adult offenders, from disenchanted
school-teachers to kids of bankers. However, the majority of offenders were
wearing the ubiquitous garment in question.

I’ve just been watching tonight’s One Show (watch it now on
BBC i-player if you fancy seeing what I’m referring to), where they asked
whether the hoodie (the garment that is) should be banned. A surprising number
of the random members of the public they questioned seemed to think it might be
a good idea – though I am wary of editing here – and a quick role playing test
where one of their middle-aged crew members tried to see whether passers-by
would talk to him with or without one on. No one wanted to talk to him hooded
up.

The hooded sweatshirt has to be seen as separate from the Hoodie.
The Hoodie is what has become a personification of a thug who commits so-called
‘mindless’ violence, possibly in a gang, and has no time for authority, maybe
because they think that the system they are being told to support has let them
down. And they wear a hooded sweatshirt to help obscure their identity while
carrying out these acts. The hooded sweatshirt itself can’t do all these
things. It’s just a garment, albeit one that has picked up as a symbol for
societal threat.

However, that’s not to say that we don’t understand the power
that the wearing of a hooded sweatshirt affords us in certain situations. If
you see someone walking down the street in sunshine with their hood up, let’s
be honest it looks a bit odd. But after dark, the impact of wearing a
face-obscuring garment like this brings on a whole other issue. Body studies
have continually stressed the importance of human interactions, if not through
the whole face then certainly the eyes and mouth. In the UK where we are
predominantly not wearing veils and other covering clothes for the majority of
areas in the country, being confronted with a person whose identity is obscured
is an unsettling experience.

I own a hooded sweatshirt, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.
Even my mother who is 54 has one.
Usually I don’t wear the hood up, but I am well aware of its power. I
used to walk to my university in the middle of the night to do my printing
(excellent when you’ve just finished and want to skip the morning queues). I
had a massive, baggy hooded sweater I would wear walking down there alone at
night. It was big enough to comfortably mask my laptop, often concealed
underneath, and my face. Taking a glance at me as I walked past, you would be
hard-pressed to identify whether I was male or female, whether I was a threat –
actually, anything at all. There was a conscious aim to be anonymous, yet with
a lingering threat of potential violence. Of course, I did not intend to attack
anyone, but I sought to deter anyone who might have attacked me if I had
sauntered down there as an obvious young girl on my own.

I think the conclusion we might draw from that experience is
that unfortunate as it is, we still expect violent behaviour to stem from men
rather than women, particularly if acting alone and not protected by a gang.

I am at a loss really as to how to end this post of
Hoodie-musings, but I think it’s fair to say that it is prohibitive to give
this item of popular clothing undue ‘power’ to make us uncomfortable.

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(Catherine Lucas, May 2006)

The Impact of Fashion Photography on Consumer Choices and Embodiment of Identity.

The manner in which we, as consumers, choose to dress, depends heavily on the psychological effects imposed upon us by images projected daily on us. These images may come in advertising, or photographic media, and even in film and music videos but generally none influence us so potently as images of fashion photography, which generate so many conflicting ideas of what it is socially acceptable to look like in terms of physical attributes, and which garments we should be wearing.

“Lakoff and Scherr… claim that fashion photographs generate enormous dissatisfaction among women because they create unrealistic expectations that most women are unable to meet.”[1]

The gangly, unblemished, fresh yet slightly androgynous form of Kate Moss[2] posing awkwardly in the Calvin Klein Obsession adverts is not an image easily forgotten by those who have seen it. The photographs are iconic, an emblem of the brand, incorporated into its heritage, and stands out as one to inspire a generation of waif-wannabes. Websites not only guarding against the dangers of anorexia nervosa, the condition in which people feel that they must starve themselves to lose weight, no matter how thin they become, but also websites promoting so-called ‘thinspiration’[3], in which those promoting anorexia and associated images as an ideal of beauty, use the image of Kate Moss in these adverts as either a deterrent or an incitement to desirable appearance. This is an extreme reaction to a fashion photograph and proves the incredible lasting impact (for good or bad) of some prominent or ‘iconic’ images.

 

According to Diana Crane (professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania) the goal of fashion “is to project images that are intended to attribute meanings to items of clothing.” Fashion photography serves to create an idealised ‘character’, a connection between the model and the clothing, which influences self-perception and social standing. For example, in the magazine advertisements for the ‘Dior Addict’[4] fragrance, the model’s image is distorted, and her pose purposely wanton and sweaty, glamorising the idea of a drug-induced ‘trip’. However, as Crane puts it, “fashion photographers have synchronised their themes and images with those that circulate in youth cultures and…the media…”[5] Fashion photographers have observed an already present, underlying glamorisation of drug culture in youth society and the general media, and have used it to their own advantage. By generating a high-impact advertisement that will be seen in all the key fashion and lifestyle magazines, the photograph is promoting not only the product, but also an elusive and (allegedly) exciting area of society. Those influenced by the advert might not only buy the fragrance, but also adopt elements of the clothing and lifestyle into their own identity.

Dior 'Addict' Magazine Advertising

It is not only advertising which may use fashion photography in influencing not only what we wear, but also out ideals of celebrity culture and social standing. Elizabeth Hurley became the centre of great media attention in 1994, when she accompanied Hugh Grant to the premiere of ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ wearing a stunning Versace evening gown secured at the sides with gold safety pins.[6] The image of this then largely unknown actress, and the stunning dress she was wearing, instantly dominated the media headlines. The images of this dress have achieved iconic status, a place in fashion history in their own right. Women craved the elegant yet sexually provocative styling affected by these photographs.

Elizabeth Hurley

Through the huge attention to the paparazzi shots of this ensemble, Hurley’s figure, trim yet curvaceous in the right areas, became the ‘perfect’ body, and one that women believed might actually be attainable, rather than that of Kate Moss. However, one commentator, the author of ‘Is being Thin really that Great?” says of Hurley:

“The patron saint of thin, Elizabeth Hurley, never seems to tire of offering titbits of advice on maintaining her Twiglet proportions. Last week, she ‘revealed’ she is always hungry, hardly eats a thing and will occasionally allow herself to pig right out on six raisins. It’s the ‘six’ that gives her away as a total obsessive.”[7]

According to a report in the Times,

The crazed system across the media that prizes celebrity thinness and leads “style icons” such as Liz Hurley to announce that if she looked as “fat” as Marilyn Monroe she would kill herself, needs to be thoroughly upended. Because Kate Moss is thin she is prized and paid millions to lead “campaigns” across the media, rather than identified as an ill- educated drug addict who managed to miss her only child’s third birthday because she was in a drying-out clinic.”[8]

Clearly, behind the woman [Hurley] idolised by many is just another woman driven by images of ‘perfection’ and fearing degradation in society –one of the severe and prominent dangers of the ‘celebrity culture’. Hurley’s ‘obsessive’ nature may be compared to those of other celebrities who are suffering from or have in the past suffered from publicly scrutinised eating disorders. Anorexic or bulimic celebrities such as Mary-Kate Olsen and Calista Flockheart have obviously had their diet inspiration influenced by fashion photography of models such as Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd[9] on the catwalk –they’re ‘all bones,’ and this is promoted! It is little wonder that these images show up on ‘thinspiration’ sites.

'Thinspiration' Sample Image

Jodie Kidd on the Catwalk

However, it is not only the state of our bodies that are influenced by fashion photography. More affluent consumers, and celebrities in particular, often try to remake the catwalk ensembles, as is particularly commented on in the pages of ‘Vogue’, announcing ‘it’s a look’[10] as stars and women of social standing hanker after the same ‘it’ bag, dress, shoes, etc. The success of the Birkin bag, Chloe Paddington bag and the Fendi Spy bag are prime examples of a ‘trend’ in action. After the bags were shown and photographed on the catwalk, they became the key ‘hot item’ for any serious follower of fashion, with huge waiting lists and even more extravagant price tags.

However, it is not solely the fashion photographer (although notable fashion photographers such as Mario Testino are revered for their talents, the pioneers of a whole fame status of their own) who is responsible for the fashion photography that influences us. Behind the fashion photograph may be photography sitting and art directors, stylists, make up artists, fashion designers, and of course the choice of model is also pivotal to the success of a fashion photograph. The choice of model lends a different effect to the whole photograph, as he or she must be completely compatible with the clothing and set choices. For example, though Kate Moss has achieved global recognition and superior model status, in some cases she would not be as suited to a shot as Lily Cole.[11] For this reason, it is fruitless for a ‘normal’ woman to attempt to completely emulate a look she has seen on the catwalk or in fashion photography: the look will never be quite right, never exactly the same, and if she does not accept this, her paranoia could lead of obsession, examples of which we have already discussed.

Lily Cole in a magazine spread

Kate Moss is a clear example of a model and style icon whose fashion choices clearly influence those who see her photos in terms of how to dress and in some sense, to behave. In a survey carried out by a social experiments researcher, journalist Kate Finnigan said, “You can’t deny that Kate Moss never gets it wrong and Sienna Miller is working it. They have that cheeky, just-picked-this-up-off-the-floor style that so many ordinary British girls have – except they’ve got more money.”[12] Photographed constantly wearing a lot of clothing from high street giant TopShop, Moss’ photographs, whether paparazzi shots or choreographed, have influenced thousands of British women and also tourists into shopping there, also paving the way for the high street phenomenon –suddenly it has become the height of ‘cool’ to mix extremely cheap, throwaway fashions with occasional designer pieces. In the afore-mentioned survey, Finnigan listed TopShop as one of her most frequent stores to buy in, showing a direct correlation between her admiration for Moss’ style and her own buying habits.

 (Note: this piece was originally written before Kate Moss’  Topshop line was launched.)

Throwaway fashion directly influenced by the fast-moving catwalk trends and fashion photography seen in magazines such as Vogue, Tatler, Glamour, etc, has had a huge cultural impact –A vest from Primark, at £2, can now be teamed with the coveted Fendi Spy bay, and the bargain will be flaunted just as much as the luxury purchase, according to ‘steal her style’ articles and the influence of photographs showing supermodels and celebrities doing the same thing. 

Shoppers have become much more savvy, claims Top Shop brand director Jane Shepherdson: “They want to be able to buy the things celebrities are wearing or they want to be able to buy into the trends that they’ve seen from the catwalk as quickly as possible.”

Top Shop’s move towards fast fashion increased sales by 20% last year.”[13]

Looking back on the history of fashion, and its promotion through photographs of ‘the right’ model, Twiggy[14] (born Leslie Hornsby) may be seen as a notable, earlier example.

 

She was named “The Face of ’66” by the Daily Express. In the mid 60’s at 16 years of age, Twiggy became internationally known as the world’s first supermodel, her photographic modelling success epitomising the age.”[15]

The first official ‘superwaif’ supermodel, she not only influenced a whole new wave of ‘skinny’ fashion, but the iconic fashion photography images of her, also promoted the miniskirt, babydoll dress[16], and 60s mod look, now all firm staples of the ever re-emerging Sixties’ fashion trends. 

“Twiggy was the personification of “Swinging” London (or Mod London, if you prefer); she adorned the cover of virtually every magazine except Field and Stream, and was on hand for all the “in” parties and public events always decked out in the trendiest frocks. A 1967 TV special revealed this supermodel to be a giggly, somewhat airheaded cockney kid, but this “everygirl” quality only enhanced her charm.”[17]

There is no doubt that Twiggy ‘changed the face of fashion’ –even almost fifty years on, she remains an icon of British fashion and the Sixties’ image- one whose photographs still serve as an inspiration of style for women today.

'Twiggy' in the 1960s

The Sixties mod look became a collective identity between the consumers who pursued this trend. Hundreds of women began shopping at Mary Quant[18] and the Biba Emporium[19] based on the looks promoted by Twiggy and the related fashion photography. The success of the miniskirt in particular stands testament to the longevity of these trends and the fashion photographs that inspired them. In 1993, Lutz and Collins acknowledged, “…a magazine photograph is ‘a dynamic site at which many gazes or viewpoints intersect’…”[20] Therefore, consumers many draw on parts of a fashion photograph as inspiration towards what they see as their own individual look and identity. The women who followed the Sixties’ mod look may have done so after looking at photographs of Twiggy in a miniskirt, but at the same time have felt that they were inventing their own personal look, in keeping vaguely with the current trend but not duplicating it directly.

In answering a questionnaire on the subject of the influence of fashion photography on our collective and individual styles,

“Some women suggested that fashion photographs should be viewed as a form of art and fantasy rather than as representations of fashion: “It’s like a dream, because you know that 90 percent, probably 98 percent of the clothes are unattainable.”

However, one woman admitted she was susceptible to trends: “I think if you’re flipping through a magazine and you continually see the same type of outfit on different pages, you might, I might try to alter what I’m wearing. Because you see it’s like a new trend.””[21]

This research shows that although many women realise they may never duplicate the looks they admire in fashion photography, they may still aspire to do so. In other cases, they may be influenced ‘unconsciously’, and might “be inclined to wear a particular combination of clothing, without remembering the source of the idea.”

We may conclude from all this, that fashion photography holds an enormous influence over what ‘we’ (as consumers) wear on a day-to-day basis, whether we make a conscious effort to do so or not. The majority of us probably perceive ourselves as individual dressers, even as pioneers of style in our own social groups, rather than admitting to following a collective identity. The psychological impact of constant media throwing fashion, celebrities, trends and the ever obscure pursuit of ‘cool’ as us every day, may affect our choices far more than we are willing to admit. Yes, perhaps it is ‘obsessive’ that Elizabeth Hurley sees six raisins as a gross battering to her ideal diet, but can any of us honestly say that we have never looked at a picture of her and wished we could take the clothing or even a body part and swap it with our own?

Ultimately, what is truthfully going through out minds is probably this, a quote from a white undergraduate interviewed over the impact of fashion photography, spoken in a sudden burst of honesty:

“I know I’ll never, never be able to look like her, and it really pisses me off.” [22]


[1] “Fashion and it’s Social Agendas” –Diana Crane, 2000. p 205.

[5] “Fashion and it’s Social Agendas” –Diana Crane, 2000. pp 202-203.

[7] http://www.diet-blog.com/archives/2005/01/30/is_being_thin_really_that_great.php

[8] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2124939,00.html

[12] http://www.antiapathy.org/socialexperiments/index.php?i=32

[13] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3086669.stm

[15] http://www.twiggylawson.co.uk/biography.html

[17] http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/filmography.html?p_id=72246&mod=bio

[18] See picture reference: http://www.maryquant.co.uk/imgs/page/shops/par_shop.jpg

[20] “Fashion and its Social Agendas’, Diana Crane 2000. pp 209-210.

[21] “Fashion and its Social Agendas.” Diana Crane, 2000. p 214

[22] “Fashion and its Social Agendas.” Diana Crane, 2000. p 215

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Another reccommendation, for an astute introduction into the translation of Rockabilly American subculture in Asian countries – particularly Japan. Found on ‘Appears’ blog.

Selected quote:

“…if Jennifer Greenburg is anywhere near succinct in her remark that rockabilly is “a subculture of people who mostly turn away from the horrors of contemporary American culture to focus on family, friends, music, and culture,” then perhaps the topic is worth further examination as it applies to a particular non-American culture (even beyond the idea that America’s influence is so expansive as to essentially make it everyone’s culture)” Appears blog, May 5, 2010.

Find the article here:

http://appears.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/subculture-american-alternatives-in-east-asia/

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(October 2007, Catherine Lucas)

‘Uniforms’, as a subdivision of clothing categories, are continuously and obviously present in our daily lives. School uniforms may be our own personal experience of uniforms, followed by those worn by the public services such as the police, defence services of the military, and even up to and including hospital workers, shop assistants, and the ‘business uniform’ of the suit worn to the office. However, uniforms are present in many less defined areas of our clothing decisions. Using theories of semiotics, we can begin to understand how our conscious (or unconscious) decision to wear black clothing, for example, may link one’s appearance to that of the goth, without comprising a set uniform, but by taking clothing as a signifier of non-verbal messages to extend an idea of a ‘uniform’ of a certain ‘social group’ towards others.

To understand this idea of simulated uniformed dressing, one must first address the idea of semiotics, which cultural theorist Umberto Eco defines as “concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign.”[1] Clothing acts as one of the many social signifiers with which we visually convey information about ourselves to each other. According to the semiologist Roland Barthes, who used theories of semiotics and applied them to fashion, “for any particular object (a dress, a tailored suit, a belt) three different structures exist, one technical, another, iconic, the third, verbal.”[2] In terms of fashion, media and social informers are used to determine the visual language that certain clothing conveys. This links back into the idea of networking social subcultures, as we may give a certain meaning to a specific garment according to the social subculture we come to identity it with.

The same idea can be applied to uniforms, in that a school uniform, for example, is specifically formulated to convey any number of meanings. A school uniform does not, merely tell outsiders which school the wearer attends, but is also designed to give an impression of the school’s educational status as an institution, and also to give an impression of the social ‘sector’ it takes its target students from. For example, a school uniform worn with a blazer and tie may be intended to portray a sense of middle class elevation, and also hold the school up as one which encourages smart dressing and through this angle of presentable appearance, one which inspires good grades and polite social conduct. The origins of the school uniform began in Great Britain, with many older schools still embedded in military roots[3], particularly boys’ schools such as Eton College[4] and Gordon School, and remains a tradition for many schools sharing this background despite becoming co-educational and dropping their fees after ‘modernisation’, such as Sir Roger Manwood’s School. The traditions of many such schools continue to incorporate a cadet force and draw their uniforms from this influence, although for most schools full military regalia are only worn for parades or on ‘founding’ day.  

Our social obsession with identity, our desire to fit with the crowd yet simultaneously assert ourselves simultaneously as individuals, is at the heart of the idea of fashion, as the social signification of the clothes we wear is used to assert different ideologies every day. With some very standardised uniforms such as school uniforms, individuals may often feel that their ability to assert themselves in an individual manner is being quashed, however where we assert ourselves to less regulated uniforms of our preferred social groups, we may feel that we are allowed to express ourselves more freely. According to the theories of Joanne Entwistle concerning the ‘dressed body’,

            “Not only does dress form the key link between individual identity and the body, providing the means, or ‘raw material’ for performing identity, dress is fundamentally an inter-subjective and social phenomenon, an important link between individual identity and social belonging.”[5]

What we wear is chosen whether consciously or not, to reflect our social or intellectual aspirations. Where such cases may arise that we wish to assert ourselves within a particular or preferred social group which is ‘not our own’, this dressing may cause a subversion of our own identity, taking on the characteristics of a ‘costume’ or social disguise. Uniforms, whether consciously constructed in an obvious manner for school or work, or unconsciously in order to signify a social ideal, allow us to construct our own identities; identities which may easily be altered by simply changing our uniform to that of another social arena.

Calefato extends on this idea; describing an example of a specific scenario where we may see another outside of the ‘uniform’ we have become accustomed to associating them with:

            “We have all chanced to meet… someone we normally see only at work, hand haven’t recognised them immediately, since they were dressed (or undressed) differently …with a soldier…we are used to seeing [them] in uniform, and so we don’t recognise them in ‘plain clothes’.” (2004)[6]

Our daily uniform becomes synonymous with how we are placed in relation to others in such a strong way through the semiotics of clothing, that to be parted from this ‘identity’ becomes a potentially shocking experience. Many of the subcultures we are identified with can trace their fashion statement roots back to an injection of military uniform styling.

In addition to forming the basis for what we can now recognise as the source of the school uniform and workers’ uniformity of dress, leading to the integration of more recognisable ‘uniforms’, military uniforms remain the most obvious examples of strict uniforms in our society. Although the dress codes of our many subcultures adopt variations on a uniformed identity, elements of military dress are seen throughout many of these arenas and across the fashion spectrum, providing the inspiration in cut, design, silhouette and even self-comportment. This essay will explore elements of military dress and how they have influenced fashion in recent history.

In the 1980s, female office attire centred around the ‘power suit’, and the concept of powerful dressing in the workplace. This apparent ‘pro-masculine’ aspect of female fashions took its inspiration from the power of elevated individuals in the military, seeking to inject women in the workplace with a similar sense of power. Boxy shoulder pads, for instance, emulated a masculine physique and encouraged a ‘powerful’ stature. Similar to the origins of the male office suit, the female ‘power suit’ was derived from these military roots, and echoed the political climate for the 1980s, in the UK in particular, under the leadership of Britain’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This was also apparent in popular television soaps of the time such as Dallas, or Dynasty .[7] Although these styles do not appear to look like military uniform copies, the design concepts they drew on heavily borrowed from this area of clothes design. The effect this had on fashion was to give women a newfound sense of power within the workplace and also in their own bodies as powerful symbols of economic and sexual iconography. This reference to the military continued into the early 90s even as the shoulder pads gave way to aviator jackets, which were derived from the uniform of air force pilots.[8] In a hint towards the Navy, blue jeans with crisp white shirts and blue blazers also made an appearance around 1993. A more recent return to the nautical trend was seen in summer 2005 on the British catwalks,[9] featuring a variation of takes on the integration of Naval elements into fashion design, from an almost fetishised femininity at Alexander McQueen, to more sombre attempts from Stella McCartney. 

Elements of fetish dressing in fashion are often associated with the influence of military uniforms, as are the origins of some gay subcultures such as ‘leather men’ in the 1950s. Films such as “The Wild One” (1953) starring Marlon Brando popularised leather jackets, which were “first used by German military personnel in the First World War (Farren 1985) and later by military personnel on both sides in World War II,” and had become adopted by motorcycle gangs and then into areas of gay fashion as a symbol of “a man in combat with all positive social forces”.[10] Leather jackets and in particular ‘aviator’ styles, continue to move in and out of fashion trends, as with other military influences. In a less obviously machismo manner, Dolce and Gabbana periodically incorporate military and nautical themes into their men’s wear collection through braid detailing and added components such as epaulettes to suggest a hint of uniform styling.

As a consequence of these earlier leather subculture adoptions, military influences began to filter down to subversive up and coming designers such as Vivienne Westwood, who designed her infamous ‘seditionaires bondage suit’ in 1976 “inspired by American military fatigue trousers and the motorcyclists Belstaff jacket. It was first worn by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols in Paris, and caused uproar. The trousers have a zippered seam under the crotch and a detachable black towelling bum flap, like a loincloth, and ‘hobble’ straps.”[11]. It was the clever adaptation of ideas alongside seductive but not overtly reputation-destroying subversive designs such as these that helped propel Westwood into success, and earn her a place in mainstream fashion. The essence of decadent military is a theme Westwood returns to consistently across her collections, such as the collection of parade jackets produced for her Spring/Summer collection of 2005.[12]  

In contrast to the popularity of military uniforms as the basis of sexual statements, they are also used on a political angle to promote peace, with a recent example coming from “Collection Bebe” in March 2007.

“The collection, designed by the astute couture hand of David Cardona, began with inspiration from the state of the world and how everyone is longing for peace… This season, Cardona explored the contrasts of war and peace. He juxtaposed military styles with edgy futuristic looks and used the structure of masculine tailoring to contrast the curves of the feminine form. It was toy soldier meets sexy little doll. Cardona said the collection wasn’t originally meant to be a political statement, but he and British stylist, Paula Bradley, ran with the theme… There were sleek, sharply tailored military officer coats… leather jackets … styled with white officer’s belts and gloves. “If clothing could only inspire peace that would be something amazing,” said Cardona. (March 18 2007, AM)”[13]

Contemporary fashion statements reflect the political state of the world. At the time of publishing, the above quote was written as British and American troops waged war in Iraq, and fashion allows individuals to express their own opinions of these political and social events. The idea of “everyone longing for peace”[14] is manipulated within Cardona’s collection not only as a fashion statement but as a social commentary, purposefully drawing on military influences to illustrate critical opinion on the world as seen by anti-war exponents.

The topic of war is one which will always be associated in some way with military-inspired fashions, and collections may not be as well received at that of Cardona. The below story reported in July 2001 stands testament to the use of militant imagery gone wrong and taken as an ill-favoured political statement by critics and religious groups.

Barbaro Treatment

THE Jewish community in Britain has rallied in condemnation of an Italian designer who made use of a swastika motif in a fashion show in Rome last week. Francesco Barbaro, a 26-year-old from southern Italy, argued that he was attempting to ridicule the slavish nature of fashion by dressing his models in military-style clothes daubed with the controversial Nazi symbol. “I wanted to attack the pretentious side of the fashion world and the fashion victim who is even willing to wear a tragic symbol like the swastika just to keep up with the latest fashions from the designer of the moment,” he told Reuters. But the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which understands that some designers will engage in shock tactics to gain media attention, has slammed his actions claiming that the swastika would always be linked to the Holocaust. “The use of the swastika is not only tasteless and offensive but it may also encourage racist and anti-Semitic behaviour by neo-Nazi groups,” Public Affairs Director Fiona Macaulay said. “The electoral rise of the far right in Britain reflects a Europe-wide increase which all ethnic and minority groups are monitoring with some concern.”[15] 

 
 

The shock tactics employed by Barbaro had a damaging effect on his status as a designer but also influenced contemporary fashion for the following season against utilising potentially subversive uniformed references, keeping areas of the armed forces which are generally characterised in fashion as less disruptive, such as nautical themes which become less threatening through a dominant colour palette of white, red and navy blue, which has a more psychologically calming influence due to our concepts of colour signifiers through which we associate colours such as white with peace and tranquillity.

Nautical themes and feminised Naval uniforms crop up periodically as a trend, generally for Spring/Summer collections, as a more accessible take on uniform trends. The temptation to plunge too far into the kitsch is one which is often fallen into, but at its core, the habitual clean lines and uncomplicated colours long associated with this look continue to ensure its popularity not only on the catwalk but also on the high street. However, there have always been some designers such as Gaultier who play with the ‘hello, sailor’ camp imagery derived from some Naval references, though these are generally met in better humour than Barbaro’s swastika offering.   

If the “imposition of uniforms and dress codes” is intended to “exercise control over the workers within,”[16] (Entwistle) then it is fashion’s purpose to release the worker, and break the mould of obedience. Even if there is a truth in the statement that we dress in a way that “may assuage… fear by stabilizing our individual identity,”[17] (Wilson, 1985) there are no rules to suggest that the fashion industry cannot shake up these identities we have cocooned ourselves in, even if that means a drastic reshaping of our common uniforms. The integration of aspects of military uniforms into our habitual styling allows for a more expressive comment on clothing and its sigification, whilst simultaneously offering the wearer a crutch of uniformity to cling on to.

Although some interpretations incorporating militant references have failed to meet the approval of critics and industry press, fashion’s love affair with the uniform of the armed forces continues to reinvent itself periodically throughout fashion history and continues to enjoy a strong status in recent years. The coded meanings embedded within some interpretations may remain open to further speculation and argued interpretations as their potency maintains its level of insight dependant on the political and social feelings current of the period. However, it is clear that as we look back on the progress of these trends throughout the 20th century and into the present day, the subcultures and social commentaries built around these trends invariably hold particular or significant insights into the continuously changing climate of fashion, pop culture, sexual and political awareness, and the semiotics of clothing as social and cultural signifiers.


[1] Umberto Eco, “A Theory of Semiotics.” Macmillan, London 1976.

[2] Roland Barthes, “Elements of Semiology.” trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith. Jonathan Cape: London 1967.

[3] http://www.archivist.f2s.com/bsu/Bsu.html

[4] http://www.etoncollege.com/default.asp

[5] Joanne Entwistle, essay: ‘The Dressed Body’. From the book: “Body Dressing.” Joanne Entwistle and Elizabeth Wilson. Berg, UK / US. 2001. (Sub-section: ‘Dress and Embodied Subjectivity.’)

[6] Patrizia Calefato: ‘The Clothed Body’. Berg, US / UK. 2004. p.23.

[7] http://www.fashion-era.com/power_dressing.htm

[8] http://www.fashionera.com/the_1990s.htm

[9] see catwalk stills at http://www.vogue.co.uk/Trends/Spring_Summer_2005/Nautical/slideshow.asp?Page=0

[10] Diana Crane, “Fashion and its Social Agendas: Class, Gender and Identity in Clothing.” University of Chicago Press, 2000. p. 182.

[11] http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/1231_vivienne_westwood/changing_styles_2.html

[12] http://www.telegraph.co.uk

[13] http://www.vogue.co.uk/vogue_daily/story/story.asp?stid=43798 Article by N. Jayne Seward.

[14] Ibid.

[15] 27th July 2001. Journalist unknown. http://www.vogue.co.uk/vogue_daily/story/story.asp?stid=853

[16] Joanne Entwistle, “The Dressed Body”.

[17] Ibid.

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