Friday, April 8, 2011

Film Costume: Cleo From 5 To 7 (1962)

By Justina Lee

"Cleo From 5 to 7" recounts the two hours before the French singer Cleo, believing that she has cancer, obtains her medical reports. The movie touches upon death, upon existentialism, upon despair, yet it also begins with a stunning costume: the attractive Cleo in a body-hugging, polka-dot dress. The silhouette is decidedly feminine: form-fitting above the waist, it accentuates Cleo's hourglass figure. The femininity of the costume echoes with the movie's questions of the perception of women. Throughout the movie, Cleo is eager to look her best, as seen from the ubiquity of mirrors. As she notes at the beginning, beauty defies death. The glamor of the costume thus empowers her as she confronts death.

From the waist below, the dress has A-line shape. As she walks down the street after hearing the tarot card reader's ominous revelations, her skirt flutters in the wind, almost as if she is in flight. This image is reminiscent of Cleo's earlier remarks on beauty when she compares herself to a butterfly. Indeed, with the polka-dot pattern and the fluttering skirt, she resembles a beautiful butterfly flitting through the city.

The polka dot pattern was also especially popular during the 50s and the 60s. The choice of this pattern can also be reflective of Cleo's desire to cling onto the present as she contemplates her imminent death.

But ultimately, below this glamorous costume lies the question of the meaning of life. Do we live to impress others with our beauty? Does beauty mask our inner selves? The costume effectively communicates these questions.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Film Costume: My Fair Lady (1964)

By Sydney Kipen

The costume designed for Eliza Doolittle, designed by Cecil Beaton, is illustrative of high society fashion in the early 1900s of Edwardian England. Following her transformation from a Cockney, low-class member of society to a high-end member of the "leisure class," Eliza becomes the epitome of high fashion. Her dress, when she attended the famous Ascot Racecourse (horse races), embodies the qualities of upper-class society with long and elegant lines and a slight release of the corset and bodice. The lace, large broad hat, sash and belt to accent the small waist, high boned collar, and brushing of the floor of the dress all demonstrate early 20th century European fashion tendencies. Eliza's dress effectively communicates the transformation of her character to member of respected, high society and her role as a woman of status. The dress worn at the Ascot Racecourse demonstrates a sense of power dress and how transformation of one's clothing, and speech when she opens her mouth, can change others' perceptions and interpretations.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Film Costume: Australia (2008)

By Valentina Franco

The costume for Lady Sarah Ashley, was designed by Academy Award winning costume designer Catherine Martin. The movie is set between the late 1930�s and early 1940�s, and Lady Sarah Ashley, who is a very proper English woman, is perfectly and exquisitely dressed throughout the movie regardless of the places she has to go. When she goes to Australia to make her husband sell his cattle station, she continues to wear her high-end clothes even in an environment that is a lot more primitive and that doesn�t have the same social atmosphere that she is used to. Her way of dressing , which is so perfectly planned and perfect in every detail, undoubtedly gives her status and a power that is aligned to her being the owner of the cattle station in Australia. She is extremely elegant and feminine in her way of dressing but she also utilizes some of the masculine elements such as blazers, ties and hats throughout her stay in Australia perhaps to reaffirm her position in a society that as a woman didn�t accept or respect her so much.

Film Costume: The Proposal (2009)

by: Christine Lee


Sandra Bullock's character, Margaret Tate, is extremely strong-willed and powerful in the position as editor-in-chief. Consequently, her wardrobe matches this position. Cate Thomas, the costume designer, dressed Bullock in a power suit but with a twist. Instead of pairing the suit jacket with pants, she paired it with a form fitting skirt that is still conservative and fits within the business sphere. So while the suit still aligns itself with power and respect, it enters the terrain of feminine identity with the skirt. The suit was worn, usually by men, as a symbolic representation of power. That she is a woman wearing a customized suit for women, is extremely powerful. Although, it is quite common to see women in the modern era wearing suits since gender equality is prevalent an d accepted. This costume also helps to emphasize the characteristics that she possesses. She is uptight, contained, and controlled, but for reasons that are disclosed throughout the movie. Conclusively, this costume represents power but also oppression. And we see Margaret Tate being free from this "oppression" at the end of the movie when she decides to forgo the whole suit and instead dons just the skirt part.

Film Costume: Catch Me If You Can (2002)

By Elleree Erdos

This costume for Frank Abagnale, designed by Mary Zophres, is characteristic of 1960s pilot uniforms. Abagnale is a conman, characterized by his skill for deception�thus, his specific looks range from pilot, to doctor, to ordinary working-class man. Zophres captures the essence of each persona that Abagnale takes on through visual externalization. Abagnale�s clothing before he begins is life of deception is more lackluster, dull, and colorless; as he gets deeper into his false world of impersonation, his costumes become more extravagant and vibrant. This pilot's costume, in particular, gives Abagnale the power of social status, (which in turn offers perks such as attracting women, as illustrated in the image). The costume illustrates the power of the uniform to deceive by exuding a strong visual impression or fa�ade of status, as well as its ability to empower the wearer by building an image that instills confidence. When Abagnale wears a uniform that reinforces a persona with its established associations, he grows increasingly self-assured in his ability to deceive. Whether or not this power is legitimate, it is, at its core, an appearance of power that creates a self-fulfilling fantasy for the wearer.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Film Costume: Marie Antoinette (2006)

The costume for Marie Antoinette, designed by Milena Canonera, follows the styles of 18th century aristocracy, such as a fitted corseted bodice and full skirt. The poof is also important to the era. Here the specific look has light feminine colors, associating the character with womanly innocence. The costume represents the privileges of aristocratic power, using fashion as a form of conspicuous consumption to display wealth.

Film Costume: The Royal Tenebaums (2001)

The costume for Richie Tenenbaum, designed by Karen Patch, follows the styles of the turn of the 20th century when the male suit became casualized by the dot com revolution. The headband and wrist bands reference more casual sports wear and vintage elements. The sunglasses add mystery to the character. The costume represents the power of the consumer to mix styles in a moment of democratization of fashion.

Tattoos in Western Culture

by Sofya Gladysheva

Throughout history, tattoos in the West have by and large been reserved for specific subcultures that assert group identity through tattooing. However, tattoos have undergone a paradigm shift in the past 50 years as they began to find their place in the mainstream. Since then, this specific body art has evolved from its power to express group identity to its most contemporary power in the 21st century, the ability to express self identity and individuality.

When Captain Cook made his ground breaking landfall in the Pacific in 1769, he was the first to have real contact with the painted people the Pacific. Afterwards, it was �rediscovered� by Western subcultures The earliest subculture to claim tattooing was the sailors. Their use of tattooing was for group identification. The seafarers were united by inscription as a whole, separating them from the mainstream culture, but at the same time they differentiated amongst themselves by the types of tattoos they got. For example, those born before the revolution inscribed things like �independence� and �liberty� or a cluster of stars, while the younger boys focused more on tattooing their initials, maritime symbols, and less specific patriotic symbols

However, the most poignant use of tattoos in the last century is the Holocaust tattoos. In that context, tattoos were forced onto others as a mark of alleged inferiority.It is not until the 1960�s, when tattoo artists began to study fine-art training by looking at Polynesian and Japanese body art that tattoos began to be considered fashionable or artistic. Since then, tattoos have become swallowed up by fashion.

Kat Von D--powerful tattoo artist and female media figure

Rick Genest "Zombie Boy" in Mugler campaign and Lady Gaga's video.

Gaultier used temporary facial tattoos in his show.

If this is the case, have tattoos become part of what sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard called the �carnival of signs,� a postmodern world filled with floating and misunderstood signs where everything is reduced to mere participation in the fashion system? Even if we keep tattoos linked with their devious roots and define them as an anti-fashion, in post-modern thought the resistance to fashion is still seen as a participation in the greater system because fashion is self referential.

An important qualification is that while fashion maybe self-referential, tattoos are not merely observed in the realm of fashion, making them referential in other, more sober contexts, specifically �the self.� Since they are permanent markings on the skin, and not frivolous fabrics that have a fast turn-over rate, tattoos end up defining a person for a lifetime, not an afternoon or a season. In that sense they transcend fashion, and become part of a larger discussion of the expression of self and the inescapable urge to communicate through visual, and non-verbal ways.
There is clearly a deeper connection to getting a tattoo than simply following or negating fashion because if tattoos were only fashion accessories then only the end result would matter, and temporary tattoos would suffice.

At the same time the meaning depends on the receiver. Certain tattoos can hold a deeper meaning to those who associate with it. Nevertheless, when it comes down to it, tattoos have the most meaning to the individual. They commemorate a significant moment, a loved one, or an idea and become �body projects�. We can choose to mark up our skin in whichever way we want, and in that way it can mean whatever we want and remain indexical of so much more than a simple participation in the fashion system. In fashion that is not the case because we can only wear what is offered to us. Even those opposing fashion, by tearing their jeans for example, are using the fashion codes that already exist.

The tattoo gives power back to the individual by allowing him to express identity through a fashion item that is both aesthetically pleasing AND meaningful, which in our arguably postmodern world is a rarity�if not inconceivability.

Democratization of Fashion

Fashion has been associated with privilege and exclusive designs. With mass production, we can generally suggest that clothing is more available than ever, but abundance has not eliminated social differences. The images above and below were created for the Salvation Army in 2007 and intended to shock. The ads read �You wouldn�t be seen dead in them but for a homeless person they could mean the difference between life and death. Please donate your unwanted clothes to the homeless this winter.�

Society has shifted from the era of modern production, the industrial revolution through the 60s, to postmodern excess, the 70s through the present. While social differences still exist, we now have over production of goods which combined with other factors, encourages an eventual democratization of fashion.

The democratization of fashion:
-the increase in amount and accessibility for fashion goods globally
-the decrease in exclusive specialty clothing (haute couture) with an increase of ready-to-wear
-the decrease of fashion authorities and increase of media and many voices
-a greater mixing of class, gender and cultural codes, with a decrease in barriers like formal & casual.

Pistoletto, Venus of Clothes, 1967

The democratization is part of what Fran�ois Lyotard called The Postmodern Condition in 1979. He saw a social decline of metanarratives or absolute right and wrong authorities. The consequence is abundant opinions but a postmodern crisis of meaning in which all meaning becomes unstable and people no longer know what is best.

Postmodernity accepts multiple opinions and emphasizes identity politics. This reduces the power of one group or hegemony. However in fashion the diversity of points of view results in an ambiguity of signs in which something like the tux or suit is no longer tied to one gender, class, form or environment, meaning that it has become highly subjective what to wear in different circumstances.

The more democratic postmodern moment causes people look to media for the answers and direction of what is right or wrong. Above left Vogue states it can tell you the answer of "what to wear?" Media authorizes and legitimizes fashion forms and specific designers. Below people make sense of brands through their associations with media personalities.

Above reality television fashion, is it a true democratic forum for talent? What about the open forum of blogging? Below there is an overall increase of teen power with social media and their engagement in contemporary style expression.

Fashion and media come together in intertextuality. Simply, a fashion sign makes sense only if you also know the other sign through a fluency of media.

Looking to the street has increased with more democratization. Above left celebrity street photographer Ron Galella and right Bill Cunningham. Below street style magazine i-D by Terry Jones.

Above Japanese street style for Fruits and below contemporary celebrity street style with Blake Lively. There is a larger question of the "myth of street style," if what gets documented is the exception, fashionistas, celebrities etc, and not the real street.

Author Sophie Woodward found that most people think they are the exception and defend their unique style but on close examination most people are simply mixing mass brands with occasional vintage or unique items. Below street style has influenced professional fashion photography, left for Harper's Bazaar April 2011 and right for Reserved.

Above the Cole Haan Spring 2010 campaign featured real women shot on the street in their shoes. Below the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz and Yves Saint Laurent in 1995. There is a larger question if part of the democratization of fashion is simply its unveiling. The forces that held the power over fashion are slowly being exposed as the general public increases its power to influence fashion with a greater voice and visibility.

Case Study: Jeremy Scott and His Power in Influencing Opposition to Fashion Norms

By Jennifer Liu

Fashion Designer Jeremy Scott

Jeremy Scott is a fashion designer that graduated from the Pratt Institute in New York. He moved to Paris in 1995 to make a name for himself in the fashion world and started his own line by 1997. First garnering attention for being �the Midwesterner� in Paris with a quirky and strong sense of personal style, Scott effectively and quickly put his name out in the fashion world with his distinctive style and opposition to fashion. He has evolved tremendously as a designer: from a new comer onto the Paris fashion scene mostly seen as purely entertainment and a break from �serious� fashion, now still holding to the idea that fashion is fun but also currently designing and collaborating with major commercial brands like Adidas and Longchamp, that have helped expand his name as a designer on an international platform and made his distinctive designs recognizable and understood on a global level.

Scott's 2011 line for Adidas

In Allison Gill�s essay on �Deconstruction Fashion,� she states that deconstruction should not be always be taken as a negative aspect of fashion, as it so usually is viewed, but rather that new forms of fashion are being explored and constructed through the different and new perspectives that fashion is being looked at from. However, because deconstruction and opposition are so usually looked at with negativity and intolerance, Scott�s emergence onto the fashion scene and the noise he was creating was not something critics took to in the most pleasant of ways. Fashion being a world of codes susceptible to change and redefining, is a place where designers have to constantly be �forming and deforming, constructing and destroying, making and undoing clothes� (Gill 491).

Wing Shoes for Adidas

Scott is doing just that, stretching the codes of fashion by asking what it is exactly that defines one article of clothing. For example, his Wing shoes for Adidas are expanding on the limits to what a shoe should be. Fashion is a more relevant art form that reflects the current cultural and social norms and codes and with fashion having such a quick turnover rate, it reinforces that codes are constantly changing: �In fashion, all signs are exchanged just as, on the market, all products come into play as equivalents... Fashion is the pure speculative stage in the order of sings (Baudrillard 467).� Hegemonies and values change over time and with Scott so involved in a lot of pop-culture during and contributing towards the redefining of codes, he is in a position where he has the agency to illustrate new social codes through fashion.

Jeremy Scott Line Fall 2011

According to Malcolm Barnard, fashion as an expression communicates �the idea that something going on inside someone�s head, individual intention, is somehow externalized and made present in a garment or an ensemble� and if Scott is able to create products that the younger generation wants, then he has the power to deliver it to them successfully even if they differ from the previous hegemonic ideas of what is acceptable in fashion especially since fashion may also communicate �a society�s social or economic structure, or... a culture�s values (Barnard 174).�Perhaps Jeremy Scott is not the most recognizable name in fashion by himself, but his number of sponsorships with such a wide range of companies, his cross-media dabbling and his highly recognizable designs that are uniquely his, Scott�s designs reach a large array of buyers and viewers, enough so that his designs and playing around with codes are making a statement and accepted by the younger generation of trendy people that he has legitimate influence on the fashion world. One does not need to be absorbed within the fashion industry in order to have power; power can come from the outside as well and it�s a great power when a designer�s ideas can work their way through society through fashion.

Clip: Jeremy Scott's Fashion Show on Fashion

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Myth of Street Style

by Michelle Marques

Sophie Woodward studied for a BA in anthropology at the Univeristy of Cambridge, and an MA in Research Methods at the University of York, She did her PhD in Social Anthropology (Material Culture) at University College London. She has worked in art and design schools, including Nottingham Trent University where she worked as a Research Fellow and Lecturer. She is also the author of Why Women Wear What They Wear. She is currently a Lecturer in Sociology at Manchester University. Her article �The Myth of Street Style� was published in Fashion Theory in 2009. It is based of a study called "Fashionmap" that she conducted in 2001 at Nottingham Trent University. Woodward take a sociological and research approach to her article.

Woodward based her article on a mass fashion observation (MFO) of young people in Nottingham. Through photographs and interviews she aimed to document various style groupings and their changes over time. She is also concerned with how looks are assembled by consumers in several different locations. In her research project she photographed how young people aged 18-26 dressed in Nottingham and also conducted a brief interview asking where the items the subject were wearing came from.

In her article Woodward aims to explain what the myth of street style is. Woodward defines street style as an "idea, phrase, practice, and image that can be located in numerous sites." It can be found in the street style sections of magazines, in outifits that are assembled and in exhibitions and academic accounts. Woodward is concerned with the interconnection of these elements which produces the meaning of street style.

Woodward begins her discussion with the origins of street style. She cites Polhemus' defined style groupings of the 1940's such as the "Zooties" in Harlem. She also references punks and their way of dressing as a "reaction against established mainstream fashion design." According to Woodward authenticity is important to street style. Most of the subjects of her research project (78%) were "keen" to mention that they shopped at alternative stores, charity, or second hand shops.

Within these interview the subjects also made clear that they thought the high street was "homogenized and inauthentic, leaving no space for authenticity." Street style begins as an innovative until it "bubbles-up into mainstream, becomes sanitized, and loses its subversive edge." Woodward mentions examples of this phenomenon appearing in publications such as i-D, and The Face magazine. An extreme example of this phenomenon appeared in Elle and Vogue when models were portrayed "wearing a fantasized image of The Real Thing."

Woodward also mentions the importance that the high street plays in street style. Woodward defines high street "by the possession of at least one fashion multiple, whether this a department store, or a standard chain retailer." While many of the people interviewed by Woodward expressed an opposition to the high street 51% of people were only wearing high street clothing and only 5% were wearing nothing.

According to Woodward the high street has made an effort to incorporate what is considered "alternative" into its stores by having a "Vintage" section which includes both genuinely second hand clothing and reproduced vintage style clothing. The companies of the high street know that consumption is "a key factor in the constitution of identities" and therefore this is their attempt to offer diverse ways for consumers to create an identity.

Woodward also spent time researching street style in bars. Her research showed that there was nothing "strikingly unusual" about the style found in the bars she visited. She found that even in the "alternative indie scene." There was still uniformity of items worn such as converse trainers, ballet pumps, skinny jeans and high-waisted belts.

At this point of her research Woodward found that the "difference" that is so desperately seeked by the individuals in the study comes "not from wearing an outrageous or novel style, but through how the items are combined, and most importantly where they are sourced from." Woodward argues that street style comes from the way in which ordinary people are able to differentiate themselves only slightly from others. The mixing of second hand items with high street ones becomes the way to judge fashionability due to a strong emphasis on where items come from and not just the look.

Woodward concludes by explaining that the myth of street style is not contained to one domain such as fashion magazines, which can be an "opposition to "real" clothing choices."
Modern day myths lack that idea that myths are "something to be aspire to or to be imitated."
Instead mythologized street style figures have become "something to be passively admired."
Street style cannot be simplified into being just the mix and match of an individual's clothing. The speed of fashion (fast fashion) ultimately does not determine the rate of which people change their clothing.


In order to understand the significance of, it is important to understand how the image of Vogue was originally created and how it has been transformed into something similar to that of a �brand�. It was founded in 1892 by Arthur Baldwin Turnure who created it as a gazette for high society and fashion only factored in when demonstrating the appropriate attire for different high society activities. It staked its claim as being a magazine about high culture, by reviewing books, theaters productions, the opera and the likes. The demographic that comprised the readership was mainly socialites and the wealthy elite class. In 1909 Cond� Nast purchased the magazine and transformed it into a fashion magazine, while still maintaining its appearance of being directed towards the elite class of society. Unlike before, the readers do not live the life style shown in Vogue, they mainly fantasy about it. The Vogue Paris website works to reach out to their readers in a more individual way by empowering the reader which in turns maintains the popularity of Vogue Paris and its authority in fashion.

The magazine originally had a section that displayed reader�s letters regarding their opinions on different aspects of the magazine. This public participation has been transformed to the online forum that appears on It allows active participation by the readers, by allowing them to submit photos of what they consider fashionable. It pretends to be a democratic process in which readers can vote on which ones they like and decide what goes on the Internet, but in reality the Vogue staff decides what to post online. Here Vogue creates what the theorist Haberman coined in the 18th century known as the �Public Sphere�. A public sphere is where private people actively provide their opinions in a public space, in this case the website. It creates a community amongst the readers and empowers them buy making the readers believe that their opinions concerning the fashion industry are valued by Vogue. By creating this unique relationship between the readers and the creators of the Vogue Paris website, it keeps people attracted to that particular fashion website. In this way the public forum both empowers the readers while simultaneously reaffirming the power of Vogue as the authority on fashion.

The Soir�es Section on the website, functions in a similar way that the online forum does. It is a section that harkens back to one of the original aspects of the magazine, which was to keep the elite class connected by showing snapshots of high society parties and the elite class that attended them. Today, this section is viewed more by the public that fantasizes about the world that the �elite� live in. This perpetuates the high society dream and contributes to Simmel�s point about the lower class practicing in imitation to try and appear like they are part of the �elite� class. It allows readers to see what the �elite� class in society wears and how they act. It allows the elite class to remain the trendsetters, which also demonstrates how not only do designers hold the power in the fashion industry but different people in society as well. These images give the reader a V.I.P. pass into a Parisian dream world that they previously had no access to and in this way it empowers the reader. One again this section is used to both reaffirm the power of Vogue and �high society� by seemingly empowering the readers/viewers.

The first two images demonstrates what the Soir�e section often includes. The "elite" class is often shown as being comprised of entertainers, models and socialites. Here Diane Kruger and Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are photographed at different parties and descriptions of what they are wearing are given to the side. This allows public to imitate their style , thus placing them in the role of trend setters and authorities in the fashion industry. At the same time , by giving the readers the chance to dress like the "elite" class and allowing them to view these parties, they feel more connected to the the content on the website and in the magazine.

The second set of images show what the online forum looks like. They appear to be normal girls who photograph themselves in their most fashionable outfits. By including photos of the general public it allows a greater amount of readers to relate to the content on the website. Allowing readers to compare themselves with the general public makes the high end fashion industry seem much more approachable since there aren't just celebrities taking part in it. Thus the readers feel more empowered to become the trend setters , when really they are being influenced by images that have been chosen by Vogue. Once again Vogue maintains authority while captivating its readers through self empowerment.

Japanese Street Fashion

by Emily Mann

Notes on Yuniya Kawamura's "Japanese Street Fashion: The Urge To Be Seen and To Be Heard"

Dr. Yuniya Kawamura is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She attended Bunka Fashion College, Japan's primary fashion school then went on to study pattern-making technology at FIT. She continued her education in the field of sociology to get formal training in fashion writing. She has a PhD from Columbia University and wrote her dissertation on Japanese designers in the French fashion industry. In 2004, she published the book The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion from which her article "Japanese Street Fashion: The Urge To Be Seen and To Be Heard" comes. The article takes a sociological and theoretical approach in discussing the relationship between the production and consumption of fashion.

She states that fashion emerges out of youth culture that is then commercialized by the industry into being "fashion" and that the youth culture, then, both consumes and produces fashion. Japan's economic recession that started in the 1990s resulted in an uncertainty and disillusionment with society that caused an ideological shift and the resulting breakdown of traditional family and societal values. Under this social and economic environment, Japanese street fashion became more creative and innovative as teens looked for more ways to rebel against traditional values and to challenge and redefine the notion of "fashion."

Shibuya 109 Department Store in Tokyo

Kawamura discusses the different subcultures of Japanese street fashion, using Dick Hebidge's definition for the term, noting that those in subcultures gain pleasure in feeling like they are being scrutinized and watched. The Ganguro is one such subculture that emerged in the mid-1990s. The word literally means face-black, or blackface, and those who wear these fashions dye their hair blonde or orange and have heavily tanned skin, intense makeup, and bright miniskirts or short pants and platform heel boots.

Ganguro subculture


The Gothic Lolita subculture has been one of the more popular fashion looks in the Harajuku Station area in Tokyo since 1999, when it emerged as a counter-reaction to the Ganguro style. The subculture can continue to be further divided with distinctive elements to the styles.

Gothic Lolita Punk Gothic Lolita
(Lolita fashion show in the Netherlands)

The distinctive looks constitute an externally visible group identity and a shared sign of affiliation. They communicate group ideas, intentions, and thoughts, but they are only functional when within specific locations. The styles portray a symbolic subcultural identity that is societally based, rather than politically or ideologically so. Kawamura concludes her piece by expressing that fashion is a collective activity that stems from the social relationships found in a subculture of shared norms and values. Their expression of such ideologies through clothing and fashion helps guide the professional designers to upcoming trends, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between producers and consumers of fashion. The article remains relevant today with our increased global consciousness and appropriation of other cultures. In addition, high end brands that take this look, like Comme de Garcons, represent that shift from consumer to producer and from street fashion to high fashion.

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