Started on the 11th April 2011 - Blogging from a 20 year old Fashion Student

Friday, 9 May 2014

Fashion and Satire

Making fun of fashion? Never! 
Debating the notion of fashion and how satirical views have shaped and changed it, undermine, yet constantly reference social ideals and historical culture as means of our stylistic evolution.

Although there are obvious links between fashion and individual identity, one might create subsections within these two themes; class and the tensions between social hierarchies and individualism in particular. Fashion can be a means of portraying ones self, beliefs and taste, as well as even ones career or status.
   Social hierarchy in terms of fashion is extremely integral to the development of trends through emulation. Historically, the literal expression of social standing became mandatory as sumptuary laws were introduced in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, encaging ‘by legal means what individiuals might wear’. Meaning that, legally, fashion was a direct label indicating profession or social standing. This created tensions as the regulations that were reflected in dress began to break down and were the catalyst in fuelling the rise of the urban bourgeoisie. This early resistance to the laws regarding dress gradually manifested itself in the form of emulation as lower classes echoed styles from the upper classes, creating similar garments as a way of breaking free from their typecasting and in turn generating new, socially elevated, identities for themselves.

Tensions between cultural ideals and the lower classes manifested themselves as satirical views of society. As one of the most influential caricaturists of his time (the late 18th Century), James Gillray continues to influence satirists today. According to his profile on the Tate website, The Art of Caricature,  ‘satire has often been seen as the disposable art of an urban, commercialised culture, one of the plethora of consumer goods which are continually outdated and replaced by new offerings’, the writer talks about how, not dissimilar from many art forms, satire is a fleeting commentary that lasts no longer than the trend or subject matter at hand. This means that as with the consumer goods sold to society as a whole, satire is a momentary (albeit, more often than not, humourous) criticism. These criticisms outline the tensions between social ideals and the lower classes as, by making a mockery of those in power within society (the elite), the caricatures comment on the identity of class from an alternative perspective; simply perusing the archives of fashion advertisements or back issues of Vogue, we are given a slightly bias account of the fashions of the time.
   Satire provides means for interpretation of social ideals and therefore creates a more open and two-sided colloquy between fashion and class.
   Frequently satirised, the aristocratic subculture regarded as the Macaronis were a group of men who studied effeminacy. This caused social uproar as the identities of these men shown through their clothing, strongly opposed that of the more traditionally dressed Bourgeoisie. Referring to the work of Valerie Steele, noticed that of the Macaronis’ fashion, ‘many critics suggested that the Macaroni had ‘a good quantity of hair… for his head produces nothing else’, but one writer used a more devastating image that associated external appearance with internal corruption: ‘Their toupees imitate their high elevated thoughts, which, teeming with maggots of various kinds, display to the world their humour’. This is a form of caricature, varying only slightly from the artistic examples of James Gillray, showing that a written or spoken caricature is probably more powerful and subjective because of the reader/listener’s license to embellish.

Another example of satirical fashion (clothing satirising culture and society surrounding the wearer) was found in punk fashion. This subculture, originating in the 1970s, was heavily portrayed through fashion. A uniform corresponding to the punk mantras of resistance was created, extremely comparable to Duchamp's Dadaist 'ready-mades', the punk movement made fashion out of the most mundane daily objects such as a pin… a razor blade, a tampon - distinguishing punk as the movement of (un)fashion. The practice of elevating everyday objects became known as bricollage and was an easy and cheap way of punks adorning their bodies in a shocking and outlandish way (to the rest of society), commenting to the rest of society that having taste was not the be all and end all of fashion. 
Punk also made more noticeable links between fashion and historical culture. The image of a jacket worn by a member of the punk subculture in 1977, with the iconic symbols, not unfamiliar to members of the public, of the union jack and the swastika, shown side by side one another is unequivocally aimed to shock. This jacket is evocative and
references the Nazis. With the end of the Second World War being only thirty-two years prior to when this photograph was taken, the experiences were still ripe within a great deal of the older members of the British public. As the swastika is paired with the union jack, viewers are presented with the image of British patriotism, memories of a war that caused destruction and devastation within communities. 
   Despite the motto of “punk” being the notion of anti-capitalism and controversy, its visual representation was soon adopted by fashion designers; the political connotations dispersed and elements of the style are still widely used. In a sense, the exterior of the punk was plucked by designers and clothing lines, disassociating the fashion from the meaning behind it, satirising a subculture which had previously satirised the very elite who were being sold such designer garments. "Punk" has become more of a trend rather than a subculture with social antitheses. 

One may draw from more extreme examples of satirising fashion to create new identity by commenting on social division linked with modernity. In an interview written in Vice, the Comme des Fuckdown designer, Russ Karablin, referred to his
brand as a ‘kind of slap in the face to all the high fashion stuff they wear. You know, like calm the fuck down’. This reference to a “slap in the face” adds pungency to the already satirical play on words alluding to the famous brand by Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garcons. The brand Comme des Fuckdown has been popularised by the hip-hop band fronted by A$AP Rocky; an example of differing sects or the pop culture industry work together in unison, creating a new viewpoint and connecting with a new audience of both the two industries. This ‘clash of lifestyles’  means that fashion has become more unpredictable and has dissipated the old hierarchies of the industry, we are no longer accepting that we must be dictated to us regarding what we
wear, but instead creating our own rules with regards to identity and status; creating a Postmodern view on fashion, elevating both fashion and music industries with the connection of the designer brand. Simultanaeously lowering the tone of Comme des Garcons in this instance and therefore subjecting the brand to being questioned as to whether the price tag really does mean that designer labels elevate ones social status if other brands can satirise it and make it almost meaningless.

The conclusions we may draw fashion and satire are that the tensions have shifted frequently between admiring and emulating the elite.
   Historical and more modern examples of satirical fashion act as a narrative towards social views on fashion trends, in terms of how different classes (primarily the demographic who cannot afford high fashion) reacte towards followers of fashion who have the power to control their identities in a flexible manner. This dissipation of hierarchies have resulted in fashion that was far more ambiguous, playful and freeing. 

   Fashion design as a process and industry is naturally aspirational and involved with updating and changing identity, for the individual and gaining respect or power from others while being associated or accepted into a class or social group. 

No comments:

Post a Comment