Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Social Revolution & Opposition

by Kasha Cabato

Alexander McQueen, McQ campaign using May 1968 images, F 2007

Malcom Barnard - Fashion as Communication, "Social Revolution"
Context: 2002, US and Canada
Terms: Revolution, Reversal, Refusal, Punk, Hip-hop, etc.
Type of Article: Explanatory
Summary: In Chapter 6: Fashion, Clothing, and Social Revolution of Malcolm Barnard’s Fashion as Communication, the author examines the “various ways in which fashion and clothing may be used to contest and challenge class and bender identities, as well as the relations of power and status that attend those identities”. He states that there are two ways in which fashion and clothing are used as resistance: refusal as the attempt to step outside of the offending structures and reversal as the attempt to reverse the positions of power. Barnard then questions the “trickle-down theory” of fashion, or the view fashion is a result of the lower classes copying the clothing of the upper classes. Due to popular press and mass media, fashion is adopted by all classes simultaneously, so instead he argues for a “trickle-across theory” where fashion is adopted through a “collective selection”. In this sense, fashion is followed by those who wish to be in fashion, not simply by the lower class imitating the upper class.

The idea of a fashion revolution, a promotion by SHOWStudio, seems difficult as fashion is always in flux so must responses to fashion are considered opposition, as in refusal or reversal of codes

Barnard uses several examples of societal groups that used fashion as a resistance to the dominant identities. Jeans were used by a number of social groups to represent reistance, including artista in the 1930s and 1940s, bikers in the 1950s, and then hippies in the 1950s. However, ultimately jeans were accepted into adopted among all social classes and groups.

Above, jeans alone were the signifier of social freedom for Serge Gainsbourg, 1972

The Punk phenomenon of the 1970s used a DIY approach to clothing as a resistance to capitalism and the “conventional practices of high street or bespoke fashion” where music and fashion were “boring safe and produced by formulaic and packaged stars”. However, once again punk fashion was adopted by the capitalist system.

The style of Hip Hop is explained as a way of resisting and opposing the social, political, and economic system in America, including the slavery and unemployment of African Americans. For example shoelaces were not worn as a reference to the unlaced shoes of prison inmates and padlocks were worn on chains as an expression of slavery. Hip-hop fashion was almost immediately incorporated into dominant culture.

The dominance of men over women had been challenged in many ways, some being the “bra-burners” who did not wear bras or makeup, the “trouser-wearers” who dressed as men, and the “kinderwhores” who questioned female roles by both dressing promiscuously and child-like simultaneously. There is also the “good-lookers’ which is a male and female role reversal, when men are seen as sexual objects for women to look at. The adoption of Dior’s “New Look” can be seen as a resistance to a given set of meanings because women redefined the intended meaning of the de signers and incorporated it to mix the identities of two styles: dutiful homemaker and tempting siren.

Elizabeth Wilson – Oppositional Dress
Context: Chapter 9 of Adorned in Dreams(1985)

Above, Black Panthers united in oppositional militant clothing

“. . . Elizabeth Wilson traces the social and cultural history of fashion and its complex relationship to modernity. She also discusses fashion’s vociferous opponents, from the "dress reform" movement to certain strands of feminism. Wilson delights in the power of fashion to mark out identity or subvert it.”

There was a relationship in London between the British reggae scene and the punks as they played the same venues and the punks were making themselves visually different in part in sympathy for black oppression

Terms: Zoot Suit, Punks, Skinheads
Type of Article: Essay
Important Quotes
“styles are neither arbitrary nor necessarily a substitute for politics or engagement with the real world. Sub-cultural reinterpret conflicts of the wider society”
“Perhaps what is distinctive about counter-cultural, oppositional dressing as opposed to the direct statement of black identity . . . is the ambiguity of the former.”
“In the early days of the Harlem expansion, ghetto fashion seem to have expressed the desire of a particularly oppressed urban multitude for some joy and glamour in their lives, and counter cultural dressing is usually most distinctive when it expressed hedonism and rebellion simultaneously”

Punks aspired to be outsiders among people of African descent
Skinheads racism against people of African descent
Zoot Suits worn by African Americans in the 1940 “Zoot Suiters” were involved in riots with servicemen
“The zoot suit was defiance, a statement of ethnic pride and a refusal of subservience.”
In the 1960s defiance of white culture became more conscious and explicit with Afro hair and the “Black is Beautiful” slogan.

Above Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panthers and below model Donyale Luna and fashion design influenced by Caribbean and African fabrics

Summary: Elizabeth Wilson states in “Opposing Dress” that subcultures oppose dominate groups by what they wear, and some sub-cultural styles, such as that of Punks and Skinheads, are expressions of racism in society. The Punks wanted to be seen as an outsider s just as people of African descent were, and Skinheads shaved their heads and wore working class-like clothing as a backlash against people of African descent. African Americans developed their own oppositional style during the 1940s with the zoot suit, which was supposed to be a statement of ethnic pride. Servicemen stationed along the Pacific coast saw this form of dress as a “flouted rationing regulations” which resulted in race riots along the West Coast. In the 1960s defiance of white culture became more conscious and explicit with Afro hair and the “Black is Beautiful” slogan. The difference between counter cultural style and direct statements of identity is that it expresses pleasure and rebellion simultaneously.

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