(photo: Model Aamito Stacie Lagum modeling Marc Jacobs at the designer’s Spring 2016 show).
by Dominique Michelle Davis
In a recent discussion with a close friend the topic of appropriate dress attire was debated. I took personal offense to the attire worn to a business casual event and said as much, which got my gears grinding about the inception of formal dress codes and the purposes behind them. I went to my Emily Post book and scanned a few articles about western and eastern dress codes and the class and social status that dress can portray. There was clear evidence of a haves and the have not’s formation in the writing there, so it imagined people as being either wealthy or poor. Are we seeing a reduction in dress due to a reduction of the middle class? Or is it pure rebellion against restricted social structures that pre-approve style trends?
As a person who questions all forms of conformity within society I really had to think about why this particular issue bothered me so. I saw my friend as an extension of me, which was something (his attire) and someone I couldn’t control. I took personal umbrage because I knew that he was aware of the rules and chose not to oblige, yet, I choose to break dress code rules as a way to establish individual style and personal preference all the time.The great thing about people pushing back against codes of appropriate dress is that it encourages individuals who choose not to follow traditional and conservative paths of dress to the work of developing cultures and norms off the beaten path, something that could also then extend into their pursuing career fields and environments more accepting of their individual expression (or perhaps even changing the sense of what is and is not appropriate dress in some of those more restricting and conservative fields).
The free spirit and conservative conformist within me polarizes my thoughts and led me to a temporary state of confusion and concluded with why do I even care how another person chooses to dress? I know from personal experience that I loathe when people try to dress me in what they deem to be appropriate for the context or setting, but sometimes it’s just easier to get along and go along than to stand my ground on the issue. Some battles just aren’t worth it. Some days I wish I could just go to work in jeans and a t-shirt. It’s not as if my intellectual capacity is in any way affected by my outward appearance. SO again, why was I so bothered?
The answer for me, and for many, is that what has been impressed as acceptable has molded my view for dress codes to be in alignment with venue and social settings. Deep down I admired my friend’s ability not to care about what other people think, yet his choice to choose that setting to make a point to be an individual had me less than pleased. My ability to recognize my conformity to rigid social structures of dress has helped to create a voice that I never knew could coexist with following a set of rules imposed against what some may call free will. It is important to also consider, put simply, that these rules are often in place to create new structures for disciplining people on the basis of their identity – especially gender, sexuality, race, and age – and that this too is reason to be very critical about too while also investigating our individual belief systems about dress codes. That is, what is the underlying statement or implication for statements we make about the dress of others particularly as it relates to systems of oppression, marginalization, and injustice?
In 2016 where the rule stands to be there are no rules, or moving further along those lines, do dress codes even still exist? And when is it ok to make a fashion faux pas? Kanye West’s recent display at the Met Gala speaks to previous writings by Dr. Eric Darnell Pritchard in an essay for Ebony Magazine called “Who Gets to Make a Social Fashion Statement?” In some respect, lending credence to artists who have created a platform have the ability to make socially conscious or unconscious statements with dress is a win for everyone as it disrupts rigid belief systems of propriety that limit who can and cannot transgress in everyday life.
I am in no way in support of the blue eyed contacts Kanye wore to the MET Gala, or even suggesting that Mr. West was making a socially conscious statement, but one does have to question why he chose that venue, that setting and that platform to make a world debut of a clearly statement on representation and race by wearing blue eyed contacts after creating recent songs such as “Black Skinhead” and “Blood of the Leaves,” I’m just saying. I’m really interested in understanding his thoughts with his latest fashion statement and how it, as an example, might inform my larger comment here about social spaces and appropriate dress. Kanye’s introduction to the black skinned blue-eyed West was probably the most appropriate place to display his break. Maybe he actually knows the Bluest Eye and will enlighten us in his new album; title yet unknown.
Dress codes, and a lack thereof, ranging from white tie to grunge all fall within an economic class, and in many cases a performance of race, that has been normed by those included to be an inclusive safe haven. I think about a quote from Emily Post, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” Fashion, personal style and dress codes create an outward outlet for freedom of expression, which also has the ability to offend our delicate sensibilities when it doesn’t align with constructed worldview that we’ve created. In this respect we see how the feelings of others can be both something that liberates, but also in the case if dress codes, can constrain and regulate people across difference and individual as well as communal modes of style for expression. Kudos to those who create their own lane, it takes courage to break the mold. Just maybe give those of us who aren’t prepared a heads up? Even if you do not give a heads up, there always seems to be a code to be included regardless. The code when you are breaking the social norm is you are not to be trusted because here comes trouble. It is worth it to think about what that response to dress code transgressions mean and what effect they have for the transgressors and also the transgressed.
(above: Eco-conscious haute couture look by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel.)
by Dominique Michelle Davis
Over the past few weeks I’ve begun to read Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul by Dr. Tanisha Ford, and reading Glamourtunist editor Dr. Eric D. Pritchard’s recent post of “Dissonance, Denim and Social Change,” I began to wonder about the origins of uniformed apparel as a sense of belonging to an outfit or organization demonstrating solidarity among its members. This brought my thoughts back to my very first “Fashion Conscious” column, when I learned and wrote about the first known fashion designer to create his own fashion label which was a break from societal norms placing him on the vanguard within the fashion industry.
In thinking about what keeps fashion current and moving forward are the artists that are willing to take risks and break from the traditional molds to present a different view for consumers. This could include incorporating political messages or an affront to societal rules by redefining hemlines, incorporating traditional and cultural ethnic inspired prints, color contrasts and mirroring nature. The Gucci spring/summer 2016 show perfectly exemplified breaking out of the mold and uniformity along multiple lines, especially mixing colors and prints on clothes and accessories in gloriously wacky ways.
I also think about the cliché term that history and fashion repeats itself which brings me to one of the current fashion trends forecast for this spring and summer which is 70s inspired suede and fringe garments. We’ve seen the look presented in the 2016 collections of designers Jonathan Sanders, Alberta Ferretti, Rebecca Minkoff and Olivier Rouesteing. Historic recurrence is thought to be the repetition of similar events in history.
Staying in line with what was happening in the 1970s we could draw a few parallels to the current state of affairs in the decade of 2010. In the 1970s films like “Rocky” and “Star Wars” were released and the rise of technological advances saw of the first commercially available game being released. In 2015-2016, “Creed” and “Star Wars VII” were released and we see the advancement of social media networks such as Instagram, Snapchat and Kik.
Reviewing the political climate of the 1970s in comparison to the current state of affairs it is interesting and noteworthy to mention how the people continue to use threads as a method of communication to advance social change.In politics, the second wave of the feminist movement grew celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the 19th amendment to the United Stated Constitution which also saw the Women’s Strike for Equality and other protests as well as Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister in the United Kingdom in 1979, and of course in 1972 Shirley Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
In 2009 the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed and in 2016 Hilary Rodham Clinton is running for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination for President of United States. With this in mind I think of Karl Lagerfeld’s recent eco-conscious haute couture collection for Chanel to be mindful to use repurposed materials and bringing an environmentally conscious collection to the forefront for consumers and fashion elite alike.
Dr. Ford and Dr. Pritchard shed light on how apparel was used to help bridge the advancement of blacks across the African diaspora and promote social change. Apparel has long been used to show solidarity in wardrobe uniformity across political structures to showcase party allegiance. The use of colors, and structure and likeness of uniforms creates and promotes cohesion and at the very least the appearance of harmony and conformity. Individual breaks and/or the use of uniformed apparel to break from rigid or traditional norms attempts to cause a disturbance to what has been understood to be acceptable. The ability to have free will and choice of how to appear clothed in public can be liberating and maybe evening therapeutic for a sense self expression. The use of apparel throughout history can be viewed as having multidimensional in its approach to represent a structure, a movement or a creative vision to spark a conversation for change.
by Eric Darnell Pritchard
Recently I visited the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (“FIT) and took in three of their most recent marvelous exhibits on fashion. All three were spectacular, but the one most exciting for me was “Denim: Fashion’s Frontier.” Just the week after I saw this exhibit I was scheduled to do a series of lectures on fashion and style and activism in a course I teach called “Black Freedom Movement Rhetorics.” One of the lecture was going to focus on denim in order to provide some foundations for an article I’d assigned to my students (more on that later).
The FIT exhibit did not disappoint by any means, and provided lots of great historical context and details about fashion design, marketing, and cultural meanings of denim. All of this proved to be very useful to my lecture and my student’s discussion of the lecture and readings. What follows are photos and my commentary on the exhibit mixed with notes and additional photographs from my course lecture. It was truly a great exhibit that I highly recommend; one that helped me to seamlessly integrate fashion and style into a history of dress as rhetorical activism as enacted by various social movements, and especially within the Black Freedom Movement.
Among the first looks you see entering the exhibit is of men’s blue brushed cotton denim trousers from about 1840, and a woman’s blue denim jacket from about 1850 which would have been worn for work:
What this was helpful in illustrating in my lecture was the ways in which denim was/is often described as a textile gendered masculine, when in reality it was featured in women’s clothing in the 19th century just as it was with men’s clothing. Also, that the denim look here was specifically used as a jacket worn for work also points to the evidence of women working in the 19th century, and in the case of this outfit work that was performed outdoors. This too corrects another point of historical information which are histories that do not acknowledge that women did work at this time, inside and outside of the home. And, as the exhibit pointed out, the women’s look is in an hourglass shape which was in fashion at the time, and so the denim look was functional but also on trend even then. Thus denim was, even in the 19th century, being employed as a textile that was stylish.
The focus on function and fashion is also evident in the look above, which was a women’s “walking suit” made in striped off white denim from about 1916. It too followed many of the trends of the day, including the skirt length and high-waist on the jacket.This is not the depiction of denim we see in everyday parlance for many decades now.
The idea of denim in people’s minds are those produced by Levi Strauss & Co. (Levi’s) – patented in 1873. This is style that has held reign on the market ever since including many years of cultural references as a symbol of Americana, leisure, and “wild, wild West” Cowboy-masculinities:
Denim was also associated with clothing housewives for convenience of daily work, such as the iconic 1942 “Popover” dress from designer Claire McCardell:
And, as all fashion is political, denim’s politicized story is in histories that show it as being worn by off-duty officers in WWII and the symbolic “Rosie the Riveter” which became symbolic for American women’s empowerment in the war years, ymbolic of work, independence, grit, and feminist sensibilities intersecting labor and dress:
A cultural symbol, however complex, that has lasted. Just ask Beyonce:
It are these critical moments in our a world visual archive that has helped denim to endure with positive connotations, as has advertising that are now seared in our minds like this ad from the late 1960s:
Denim became more controversial when, in the 1950s, it was considered disrespectable largely through its association with the teenage spirit of rebellion such as in films like James Dean’s “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Since this period denim “has been dominated by countercultural and street-style associations.” For example, the 1960s hippies
or the genius and always chic Jimmie Hendrix himself:
In the 1970s, Denim goes high fashion, appearing on runways of top designers like Yves Saint Laurent and others who “treated it as a luxury fabric.” And by the 1980s: variations on denim “finishing” techniques like acid-washing (which is back on trend), fading (which never seemed to go away, actually). Also return to roots of how denim was employed as Americana symbol, such as Ralph Lauren’s 1981 “Prairie” collection. Brooke Shields’ Calvin Klein adds were the most visible of the time.
And by late 1990s it is a luxury item, that we now see being capitalized on everywhere by so-called “premium denim” lines like 7 for All Mankind, Lucky Brand, and fast fashion companies like H&M.
In my course, my students read an article by Dr. Tanisha Ford, a historian and assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The article titled “SNCC Women, Denim, and the Politics of Dress,” is a portion of Dr. Ford’s recent book Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul.
We focused on this history about the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) women and denim as one moment in the history of the Black Freedom Movement wherein Black women civil rights activists wore denim and engaged in other choices around their fashion and beauty that challenged expectations of respectability and propriety circulating within Black communities, including among other activists, at that time. Part of what this enabled them to do is to employ fashion as a tactic of building community with the working class Black people they were organizing in the South. Another was that it demonstrated the intersections of fashion and power as the women acted as agents of adornment toward the ends of social change in their times.
Two of the SNCC women the article discusses were sisters Dorie and Joyce Ladner, pictured here wearing their denim at the March on Washington in 1963:
The choice to wear denim overalls, Ford shows, was an important aesthetic departure from the “Sunday’s Best” style encouraged by many Black civil rights leaders who were mindful of how Black people and their allies would be (mis)represented in their struggle for civil rights, and denim overalls was not among the sartorial acts that would be seen as acting respectably. Thus, the Ladner sister’s wearing denim to the March on Washington was a radical choice in the midst of an already massive moment for social change.
The prevalence of denim is evident in this iconic photo of writer James Baldwin, Joan Baez, and activist James Forman wearing denim at the voting rights March in Selma in 1965:
And the ways denim narrativizes some of the oppositional arrangement of fashion choices in the civil rights movements was mirrored back in the recent Ava DuVernay film, Selma as seen in the photo of Tessa Thompson and Common in the film here:
Overall, Denim: Fashion’s Frontier, historical studies like Ford’s and other works on the history of the textile correct the historical record that centered radicalized and gendered interpretations that obscure “the variety and breadth of denim’s history” (FIT Museum). Such interventions demonstrate, as anthropologists Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward argue in their study about the role of jeans in everyday use quoted in the FIT exhibit description, “Jeans seem to have taken on the role of expressing something about changing the world that no other clothing could achieve.”
I highly recommend checking out the FIT exhibit. Below are additional photos from the FIT exhibit of some of my favorites on display:
(ABOVE photo credit: from eco friend, a brain model made out of recycled denim).
by Dominique M. Davis
Ever wonder what causes your heart to skip a beat as you fight a damn near orgasmic reaction to the flyest pair of pumps, no wait, caged sandals, and the bag… the bag to die for paired with the perfect skirt and a lipstick that screams wear me NOW? The power of visuals is a powerful draw, presenting images that appeal to our senses and ultimately our desires. Marketing and advertising has a lot of influence in consumer purchasing behavior, but why and how? My interest in visual art and fashion as a visual art led me to do a little information gathering on visual art and how it influences or affects the brain and consumer purchasing behavior.
In my search, I went through some articles on neuroscience and neurobiology that provided insight supporting how visual art has real affects on the brain in both perception and cognition. How does this apply to fashion, beauty and the arts? As we perceive images we assign meaning or interpret data to discern and make informed judgments and/or decisions. Culture and society has a huge influence on norms and customs which can affect consumer tastes preferences and purchasing behavior. Integrate marketing and advertising to appeal to emotional states of mind and the power of visuals can become that much greater in influencing culture.
Fashion and beauty (whatever that may mean to you) has the power to empower and transcend norms and traditional customs by incorporating messages from all walks of life and cultures. In an editorial for Ebony.com entitled “Who Gets to Make a Social Fashion Statement?” Eric Darnell Pritchard cautions us to be more mindful of the inequality evident in what politicized fashion statements are readily accepted and celebrated, and which are targeted for dismissal or punishment particularly when they visually disrupt norms.
Fashion is a visual art form that can be a creative outlet of expression in a culture bogged down in norms and customs. The images that we see can trigger a multitude of emotions and sometimes call to action. I think about Karl Lagerfeld’s latest haute couture collection for Chanel during Paris Fashion Week 2016 which focused on eco-conscious couture. This high fashion couture collection focused on environmentally conscious fabrics keeping the integrity of couture and incorporating socially conscious and environmentally friendly messages.
The power of visual art has a huge influential factor on society and culture, fashion as a visual art has the ability to evoke thought, appeal to emotional content, and allow for creative expression while still serving a functional purpose of clothing the body. That’s a lot for one brain to process.
In general we found this year’s Academy Awards red carpet to be quite uninspiring. No one really blew us totally away, and in general many of the people you look forward to seeing on the red carpet weren’t even at the show this year. Also, the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations itself were repeated on the red carpet, as reflected in the fact that there were almost no people of color on the red carpet this year, and certainly none of our fashion faves. No Lupita. No Viola. No Salma Hayek. No J. Lo. It was very sad. We did manage to find some favorite looks from the men and women on the red carpet, and present you our Glamourtunists of the night:
Glamourtunists of the Night – Men
The always handsome Michael Strahan stunned in a tourqoise tuxedo. He wore a similar such tuxedo in bourdeaux at the 2014 Oscars.
Eddie Redmayne went for a classic black tuxedo, this one from Alexander McQueen. The texture of the jacket juxtaposed to the lapel and pants looked great, as did the tailoring.
Glamourtunists of the Night – Women
Olivia Munn’s coral stella McCartney gown had us at hello!
Saorise Ronan’s custom emerald Calvin Klein was a serious show stopper. The color of the garment matched her hair color perfectly, and the plunging neckline and shimmer was definite sexy, hollywood glamour.
This pleated, ivory dream gown by Valentino made Olivia Wilde a bell of the ball. The high-wasit line and peek-a-boo sides and cleavage baring top of the gown blended sexy and sophistication perfectly. The clutch was a bit too clunky for our taste, but everything else was perfect. Wilde’s hairstyle was also one of our favorite beauty looks of the night.
Chile’ we are NEVER surprised when mother Charlize Theron comes to shut down the entire red carpet situation, and yet we are always left with our mouth hanging open by how glorious she looks. Her look last night had the same effect. Flawless! Our favorite thing about this look was the beautiful diamond necklace she wore that create the illusion of a cutout panel given where it draped between her skin and the gown.
And last but not least, Brie Larson, the evening’s Best Actress winner in this cerulean, ruffle Gucci gown. The opulence of her very ornate belt is what elevated this look to such a big night without overwhelming the look itself. Well done, and congratulations Brie.
… YES, I confess that I am totally just saying that because I want one of these gorgeous coats he showed in his Fall 2016 collection for New York Fashion Week, I already got a man. As for those extraordinary coats, here are the receipts:
On the strength of these looks alone Lam’s show was, by far, among my favorite of today (being edged out just a teeny, weeny bit by Public School because their clothes make me think a lot and I’m a fashion nerd). But to top off these already phenomenal looks, he also gave us this, and this, and that!:
Slayed. Annnnnd, scene.
Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne of Public School have a lot on there plate these days. In addition to designing for the label they have successfully built into a must-see, award winning fashion and style brand, the two also now occupy the helm of the legendary DKNY. In a time when many are lamenting the death of creativity in fashion as a result of designer’s being tasked with too much to do, these two clearly still have steam as we saw in their recent Fall 2016 Menswear collection that slayed the runway, and now their Fall 2016 ready-to-wear collection for NYFW.
What I love about Public School is that, even when fashion sticks to basic notions of gender identity and expression in terms of clothes, and the fashion house does play by those old rules in terms of having a separate menswear and womenswear show (which, to be fair, is actually somewhat recent for their company), the fashion house and the clothes they produce do emerge from an aesthetic that is agender. The payoff of this, besides the obvious gender radicalness of it all, is that they can play with color and texture in their garments, but above all with silhouette’s as the form and function of their designs don’t appear to constrain on the basis of rigid rules of gender identity and expression we find in most mainstream fashion houses and others operating at the top levels as Public School. For this show we see large ponchos, oversized trousers and jeans, and layers that work to conceal rather than convey particular attention to any of the markers much of fashion draws the eye to in an effort to distinguish those features that denote men’s clothes and women’s clothes and rigid notions of what femininity and masculinity are and could be in and through fashion and style. In sum, I appreciate the cerebral nature of what Public School does each season and this collection keeps that going.
Here are some of my favorites from the Fall 2016 ready-to-wear line:
I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again. Christian Siriano is one of the best in the evening wear game. The risks he takes with fabrics for evening, his use of color, his imagination that what one could wear for evening could be something more than just a gown but something more edgy and fun are among his strengths and what make his collections one to watch for me.
For Fall 2016, I am most transformed by his use of yellow. Yellow has never been a color I love, but in both his Spring 2016 collection and this latest Fall show, Siriano used yellow in ways that have made be a believer in this “Big Bird” couture. And I mean that in a REALLY< REALLY good way. The yellow wasn’t all the same, some verged on a more pale side, others vibrant, and at least one leaned very chartreuse. All of them, in my eyes, were by far my favorites from the collection and are among my favorite for NYFW so far, and I don’t know what to make of that as yellow usually calls up my shade button. Here are my favorites from among them:
I also enjoyed what Siriano did with so much knitwear for evening, and some that could also work for day. In addition to the yellow knit pieces above, there was other that really caught my eye:
Staying true to his strength and signature, Christian Siriano’s gave us so many dresses that gave so much life. Among my favorites and most “RCR” (red carpet ready) were these:
The only thing that says f*** the fashion establishment better than sex worker chic, is sex worker chic done through fabrics, separates, and styling that are the status symbols of said establishment. This was the Fall 2016 show of Alexander Wang, unarguably himself part of the fashion establishment, after a meteoric rise from his eponymous label to the head of legendary French house Balenciaga, and back. And so it was fitting that in his first show since leaving his Parisian perch, that Wang would give a collection that remixes those establishment symbols with his own signatures – especially that hardware – to make a clear statement that there was life before and after Balenciaga for him, and that fashion and style has a life that is bigger than the establishment and its symbols.
With this intention, Wang’s collection outfits a couture street fight in which the models looks prepare them for battle with the establishment: studded boots to kick its ass, stockings already ruined with labels emblazoned on them so one doesn’t have to worry about the running while they “fight the power.” Wang did struck me as the kind of thing Hedi Slimane has attempted to do at Yves Saint Laurent since he took over that house, much to the chagrin of many fashion critics, though the YSL customer seems to love it as Slimane’s work brings in lots of coins. Somehow, however, Wang’s approach went down a bit easier than Slimane’s grunge girls and Hollywood pilgrim looks at Saint Laurent. Maybe this supports the overall takeaway from Wang’s Fall 2016 collection: the taste and beauty standards of the industry that the establishment desires is no sustenance for the 21st century fashionista who insists on being and dressing free.
Here are three of my favorite looks from Alexander Wang Fall 2016: