Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fashion & Power

Master of Lucretia, 1520 & Vivienne Westwood, 1998

What is the difference between clothing & fashion? John Flugel wrote a text called The Psychology of Clothes explaining that clothing protects from physical danger, such as wearing clothing in cold climates. But most people in all climates wear more clothes than they actually need. As clothing increases it becomes decorative adornment --- this is the transformation toward fashion.

13th century Crusades, Dolce & Gabbana SS 2008

Fur is a protective element but also embellished and decorative. The hat in general has become less protective and more decorative. Above left Kors, 2009 and right Chanel 2009.

Fugel states some of the first clothing may have been ornamental, as protection from immaterial dangers like magic or spirits. The use of adornment as luck or fortune is still practiced by some but it can also be just a symbolic reminder.

What are the conventional ways we think about socio-political power? Below are a variety of "Portraits of Power," by fashion photographer Richard Avedon. The DAR, Venice Ball, Young Lords of Spanish Harlem, Malcom X and Ronald Reagan all represent different expressions of power.

What does socio-political power wear? Below the G-20 in 2009 where suits dominate with slight national variations in head covering and draping. Women are in light colored suits except for the queen in a traditional dress.

Below Castro's signature look of a combat ready uniform is an unadorned general by other nation's standards but represents his political ideology.

“Among primitive peoples, it is reported, women’s private property generally develops later than that of men, and, originally, and often exclusively, refers to adornment. By contrast, the personal property of the male usually begins with weapons.” 
Georg Simmel, ‘Adornment’ (1904)

Georg Simmel was a sociologist who described fashion as part of civilized society, specifically an organizing force of the masses. He wrote that people use fashion to unite with others of the same class but to separate from those of a lower class. This class based approached can be seen also in subcultures who share values or even in the similarity of the military where medals distinguish rank.

Simmel also identified clothing codes and fashion codes. Clothing codes are those that stay constant such as a the male suit or uniform while fashion codes are those in constant flux season to season.

Simmel described that lower classes strive to dress up, imitating fashion codes. This is nothing new. In the 19th century, printed fabrics were first restricted to upper classes but as they became imitated the upper classes shifted toward solids. Below left 1872.

How can fashion express economic power? One manner of asserting economic power is conspicuous consumption. Thorstein Veblen's chapter of the same name from his book Theory of the Leisure Class, describes the process of pecuniary display.

Above and below images by Martin Parr, Embarrassment of Riches, Picturing Global Wealth, 2000-2010

Veblen's text has been criticized because he is not an economist and does not respect traditional class divisions. Instead he states there are simply those that work and those that do not have to. Those that do not have to work are the ruling classes, and their condition deems them together as the leisure class. Any of those that work simply aid and reinforce power structures and are thus in the servant class.

Below images by Jessica Craig-Martin represent two values of the leisure class, having service and displaying wealth in whimsical and useless ways.

Leisure is a value of time in which one can use the time to become cultivated, increasing in specificity of tastes. The leisure class values knowing the best in life, such as for men knowing speciality liquors and for women knowing styles for the home and fashion.

Above American socialite Deeda Blair in her home and below the film I am Love about the Italian leisure class and bourgeoisie.

Because the leisure class is in constant repose, work is only represented through displaying the work of others, as seen below in the Hermes saddle.

The value of excess is a more serious social concern that can be connected to the leisure class, commented on by Jennifer Rubell in her food installations from 2010.

1 comment:

  1. love the lagerfeld quote and evil eye rings!