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Uniform Madness? (Fashion Conscious: A Column)

May 2, 2016

(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.

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Gucci, Spring/Summer 2016.

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.

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Rebecca Minkoff, Spring/Summer 2016

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.

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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.

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Karl Lagerfield’s recent eco-fashion collection for Chanel.

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.