‘The 1980s witnessed a dramatic change in our attitude towards change - and therefore towards fashion. Suddenly, to describe someone as ‘trendy’ was a put-down rather than a complement. Suddenly, anyone who reflexively jumped on the latest bandwagon - throwing out anything in navy blue because Vogue said that hot pink was in - was branded a ‘fashion victim’. Suddenly, someone who only a few years before would scramble to keep up with/ahead of the trends would boast, ‘I’ve had this for ages’. Suddenly, everyone in the know wanted ‘timeless classics’ - be they an undatable Jean Muir black cocktail dress or a pair of ‘original’ Levi’s 501s to be worn with ‘original’ Doc Martins boots and an ‘original’ Perfecto black leather jacket as worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One. In other words, fashion went out of fashion.
Not that the ‘Fashion Industry’ readily acknowledged this shift in its objectives and function. The fashion journalists flocking to Paris, Milan, London and New York still, by and large, sought to discern the latest single ‘direction’. But as the difference between designers became more and more pronounced - most evolving a distinctive and little-changing ‘signature style’ - the idea became increasingly more difficult to sustain.
What had happened was that the defining feature of dress had shifted from fashion, with its emphasis on constant change and singular ‘direction’, to style, with its emphasis on constancy and pluralistic diversity. (None of which, of course, made the clothing industry or designers any less important. Far from it. All that had changed was the function of their product: now increasingly defining where you were - your lifestyle, what tribe you belonged to - rather than when you were - that is, whether you were ahead of or behind the times.) pp. 25,27, 28
‘To jumpcut directly from the determined march of fashion to the polymorphous perversity of post-modern style is to miss out an important direction in the contemporary history of appearance - a direction that might best be characterised as Pre-Modern.
To put it in cinematic terms, before Blade Runner came The Wild One, with its vision of a world that is not fragmented into personalised parody but instead splintered into stylistically distinctive tribe-like gangs. The film is misnamed: these are wild ones, riding and dressing in unison, a collective that is more than the sum of its parts. It isn’t just the classic timelessness of the style (the fact that one can still find Bikers dressing almost identically to those of the late 1940s who are depicted in the film), but also the social functions of such dress (the way in which it signal ‘We’ rather than ‘I’) that identifies it as style rather than fashion.
Much more ancient that fashion, this tribal approach to appearance undoubtedly dates back to the earliest days of human existence.’ p. 37
‘By nature a tribal species, we increasingly find ourselves either individualised, or homogenised, undifferentiated and without a clear sense of community.
To fill the vacuum we have increasingly used style differences (of furniture, cars, interior decor, kitchens and cuisine, as well as appearance) as a marker of ‘people like us’ (PLU have/don’t have strip-pine kitchens, PLU eat/don’t eat sushi, PLU wear/don’t wear Levi’s 501s.) Picking up on an increasingly subtle and sophisticated semiotics of style - an encoding of deep, rich meaning within surface appearances, a dialectics of design - we have found a new way of cross-cutting the undifferentiated social mass to create a sense of community. Thus, while my grandparents would have been wary of inviting a non-WASP to dinner (but I would not), I would feel wary of inviting someone who wears a shell suit, drives a Suzuki jeep, eats chips with curry or has a home furnished throughout in Laura Ashley. (And if I just offended some of you, then this proves my point.)’ pp. 43, 44, 45
‘The present has become a remake of the past. (And thus, needless to say, ‘youthful rebellion’ becomes a most unlikely event - if not a complete contradiction in terms.)
This process of the snake eating its own tail - this recycling of our culture in general and of youth culture in particular - has begot endless ‘revivals’ and ‘retro’ cults. The former are especially prevalent within the world of (sic) ‘fashion’, where ‘The Mods Are Back’ or ‘The Return of Punk’ alternates with nostalgic revivals of entire decades in quick succession.
It is in the nature of fashion (arguably it is its ‘job’) to undermine original meaning - transubstantiating ethnic styles, military uniforms, fetishistic perversity or the visual identity of youthful styletribes into ‘just fashion’. . . . Fashion has reduced whole decades - the 40s, the 50s, the 60s, the 70s - to a visual shorthand that possesses no historical roots: aesthetic codes bereft of (or, to think positively, set free from) actual, substantive events, decoupled from both time and place. In fashion’s version of history, only fashion existed previously. Perhaps this was always so. But what really is remarkable is the extraordinary extent to which fashion today exists and moves ‘forward’ by recycling itself. Remarkable because, in doing so, it defines itself as anti-fashion - blatantly undermining its intrinsic message of perpetual novelty and progress. By its own rules, yesterday’s fashions should be a worthless as yesterday’s newspapers. Yet by its own practice, ‘The Future’ is an edifice built of old, long-discarded bricks.’ pp.75-6
the beginning there was style. Invented by our earliest ancestors some 100,000
years ago, this approach to transforming appearance served to mark out the
boundaries of each tribe, to indicate differences of role and status within
the group and to emphasise the unchanging continuity of traditional ways
of life. Then, in the Renaissance with the birth of modernism, fashion was
born - demonstrating and celebrating constant change and progress. In the
last few decades, however, fashion has gone out of fashion and style has
re-emerged as the dominant force but, now, with the emphasis upon individual,
‘The fashion/anti-fashion distinction is concerned with changing and fixed modes of adornment respectively. Furthermore, changing fashion looks reflect and express changing, fluid situations of social mobility, while anti-fashion styles reflect and express fixed, unchanging, rigid social environments. For this thesis to have any validity, however, it is important to emphasize that, as regards both social and stylistic change, we are concerned not with any quantitative, measurable, objective rate of change, but rather with impressions, perceptions, assumptions and the ideology of change and progress.’
‘Fashion is not simply a change of styles of dress and adornment, but rather a systematic, structured anddeliberate pattern of style change.’
‘Those who in the 1960s thought that fashion was dead, that 'fashion is not fashionable any more', forgot that anti-fashion images in the context of the fashion system acquire a new meaning and a new mode of communicating that meaning. Hippy, Hell's Angel, peasant and worker styles, when worn by the fashionable, are no longer folk costumes or true streetstyle; they are part of the fashion system. The style may remain much the same – indeed, it may even be the same garment – but its significance has been changed drastically.’
‘Fashion is the natural, appropriate language of the socially mobile, those between rather than within traditional social groups. While symbolizing social mobility and change, fashion also symbolizes the social rootlessness, anomie, alienation and atomization which are the requisite and the result of this social change. Fashion's function is to represent and identify the social and cultural limbo of modern urban society, where more and more people are on the move between the lower and middle classes or the middle and upper classes, or within the middle class. Many of us find it difficult to identify ourselves socially. The old categories no longer seem to apply. Here is, and always has been, the spawning ground of fashion.’
‘Identification with and active participation in a social group always involves the human body and its adornment and clothing. Being a Nuba, a beatnik, a Hasidic Jew, a Hell's Angel or a hippy involves looking like a Nuba, a beatnik, a Hasidic Jew, a Hell's Angel or a hippy. Furthermore, as we said before, the particular style which each group adopts as 'our costume' is not arbitrary and is not interchangeable with the style of other groups: Hell's Angels could not dress like, for example, the Hare Krishna people and still visually communicate the ideology of the Hell's Angels, and vice versa. It is in this way that anti-fashion styles are appropriate social symbols. They state not only that 'we' exist (i.e. that 'we' are a group), but they also express symbolically what kind of group it is that 'we' are.’
‘But while some elements within the ‘fashion world’ have drifted into anti-fashion, fashion has been busy making guerrilla raids on the most unsuspecting anti-fashion groups to kidnap a booty of anti-fashion styles and ideas which can be fashionalized and, after a brief spell spotlighted by the glare of the ‘In’, discarded on the junk heap of un-fashion. It is important to underline again the fact that the conflict of fashion and anti-fashion is not between particular styles (e.g. Cavaliers versus Roundheads, Skinheads versus Hippies) or between different designers' ‘looks’ within a fashion season (e.g. Dior versus Balenciaga). Within fashion and also within anti-fashion, conflict is between image A and image B. The conflict between fashion anti-fashion, on the other hand, could be represented as the clash of images A, B, C, etc. (specific anti-fashion styles) and images A1, BS C1, etc. (that is, image A, etc. after fashionalization). The image itself need not change much: fashionable 'boiler suits' which appeared in Britain in the 1970s were, despite alterations in some cases, still essentially boiler suits as worn by genuine British workmen everywhere. The look of the garment remains basically the same, but the sociological, temporal and semiological-linguistic context of the style has been radically changed by its fashionalization.
FASHION AND ANTI-FASHION
‘Although fashion and anti-fashion are both forms of adornment, they actually have little in common. We can appreciate the specialised functions of each simply by examining two gowns which were in the public eye during 1953: Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gown and one from Dior’s 1953 collection. The Queen’s coronation gown is traditional, ‘fixed’ and anti-fashion; it was designed to function as a symbol of continuity, the continuity of the monarchy and the British Empire. Dior’s gown also created a stir in 1953, but then Dior had been creating a sensation since 1947, when he boldly launched the ‘New Look’, which defied cloth rationing in favour of longer, fuller, very feminine gowns. And each year Dior created a new New Look. In coronation year, he left behind his successful ‘princess line’ and captured headlines by shortening his skirts to 16 inches from the ground. Likewise, in 1954 Dior changed the ‘tulip line’ into the ‘A line’, and in 1955 replaced the ‘H line’ with the ‘A line’. In this way he captured the essence of fashionable attire: its function as a symbol of change, progress and movement through time. Like any fashionable (modish) garments, Dior’s 1953 ‘tulip line’ announced that a new season had arrived. Anti-fashion adornment, on the other hand, is concerned with time in the form of continuity and the maintenance of the status quo. Style and fashion are based upon and project alternative concept and models of time.’ pp.12-13
‘Changing fashion styles reflect and express changing, fluid situations of social mobility, while anti-fashion styles reflect and express fixed, unchanging, rigid social environments.’ p. 14
‘Fashion is not simply a change of styles of dress and adornment, but rather a systematic, structured and deliberate pattern of style change.’ p. 15
‘Fashion change occurs not only with reference to social change, but more directly with reference to the internal, structural organisation of the system of fashion. The introduction of any fashion innovation must respect and relate to the fashion changes which have come before. In this sense neither designers nor the fashionable are in charge and in control of fashion change. Fashion is running its own show and one can only choose to get on or get off the fashion merry-go-round.’ p. 16
‘With the exception of the unfashionable (those who can’t keep up with fashion change but would like to), anti-fashion [style] refers to all styles of adornment which fall outside the organised system of fashion change. The Royal Family wear anti-fashions, my mother wears anti-fashions, Hell’s Angels, hippies, punks and priests wear anti-fashions. [And, indeed, all those so-called ‘fashion designers’ who year after year crank out the same signature look are actually anti-fashion designers.] In no case is their dress and adornment caught up in the mechanism of fashion change, nor do they want it to be. Each wears a form of traditional costume - ‘our costume’ which should ideally remain unchanged and unchanging.’ p.16
‘Anti-fashion is threatened not only by the spectre of change, but also by the phenomenon of ‘fashionalization’, whereby traditional costumes are converted into the latest styles. Fashion briefly shines its spot-light of damning praise on one fixed anti-fashion style and then another, and leather jackets, peasant blouses, denim blue jeans and plastic sandals from Woolworth’s become fashionable. Fashion has always appropriated anti-fashion ideas, promiscuously but not indiscriminately, whenever they suited its appetite for change.’ p. 17
‘Anti-fashion images in the context of the fashion system acquire a new meaning and a new mode of communicating that meaning. Hippy, Hell’s Angel, peasant and worker styles, when worn by the fashionable, are no longer folk costumes; they are part of the fashion system. The style may remain much the same - indeed, it may even be the same garment - but its significance has been changed drastically. Fashionalization converts ‘natural’ anti-fashion style symbols into arbitrary ‘linguistic’ signs. That is, within the context of fashion, anti-fashion images lose their symbolic meaning and become - like phonemes in verbal language - arbitrary building blocks of the system of meaning that we have called fashion. In this way, anti-fashion images are incorporated into the vocabulary of the fashion language.’ p. 18
‘Anti-fashion is composed of numerous and unrelated body and clothing symbols. Fashion, on the other hand, is a unified system of arbitrary body and clothing signs. A woman who looks like a prostitute and is a prostitute is a walking anti-fashion style symbol. With her body posture, gestures, movement, make-up and clothing she pictorially represents (symbolises) what it is that a prostitute is supposed to ‘mean’. This anti-fashion image could not be arbitrarily exchanged with, for example, the anti-fashion image of a nun without converting both of these natural style symbols into arbitrary signs. On the other hand if, as frequently happens, fashion turns its attentions to the ‘Tart Look’ then someone adopting this look for a season, instead of conveying the message ‘I am sexually available’ is telling us ‘I am fashionable’. If this is followed by the ‘Innocent School Girl Look’ or the ‘Peruvian Peasant Look’ the message remains exactly the same.’ pp.18-19
‘In fashion, various looks are linked together as parts of a system in which meaning is gleaned from the structure: as with a join-the-dots puzzle, it is only when sufficient fashion images are joined together in sequence that a message becomes apparent.’ p.19
‘Fashion is an advertisement for the ideology of social mobility, change and progress, a message which is symbolised by the fashion system’s own mechanism of constant change.’ p.19
‘The conflict of fashion and anti-fashion is a battle of signs versus symbols. However, the systematic patterning of fashion signs over time spins out a thread of meaning with non-verbal sentences linked end to end to form paragraphs and whole volumes of fashion history. Thus, ironically, while particular fashion images are arbitrary signs, the structured pattern of fashion change is a natural symbol of social change.’ p. 19
‘The conflict of fashion and anti-fashion is not between particular styles (e.g. Cavaliers versus Roundheads), nor between different designers’ collections within a fashion season (e.g. Dior versus Balenciaga). Within fashion and within anti-fashion, conflict is between image A and image B. Fashion versus anti-fashion, on the other hand, could be represented as the conflict of images A, B, C, etc. (specific anti-fashion styles) and images A1, B1, C1, etc. (that is, image A, etc. after fashionalization). The image itself does not change much: fashionable ‘boiler suits’ were, despite alterations in some cases, still boiler suits as worn by genuine British workmen everywhere. The content of the style remains essentially the same, but the sociological, temporal and semiological-linguistic context of the style - and therefore its meaning - has been radically changed by its fashionalization.’ p. 27