Tag Archives: feminist fashion

apocalypse fashion: embodying our fashion ideals

sketch by olivia horvath

page 1 of olivia horvath’s “the 2012 year of apocalyptic fashion” short zine

what a week for oversaturation of supposedly witty statements about important dates and potential end of days (for the record, this did make me chuckle). first came 12/12/12, then 20/12/ of 2012, and today is of course the last day on the mayan calendar. instead of grumping about the massive amounts of factual inaccuracies and assumptions people have been making in light of this , i decided to celebrate a fabulous zine by olivia horvath, which i was lucky enough to snatch a copy of before it sold out.

olivia and i have been online friends since the days of friends-only posts on livejournal, and i’ve always admired their talent and art. 2012 year of apocalyptic fashion is up there as one of my all-time favourites, and fits perfectly with my mission here at my blog – to talk about what we choose to wear from a critical perspective. olivia was gracious enough to let me interview them about this project, and shared some great recommendations… now that the world has not ended. enjoy!

another page from olivia horvath's 2012 fashion apocalypse spread

another page from olivia horvath’s 2012 fashion apocalypse spread

what’s the inspiration behind fashion apocalypse?

I wrote the comic “2012 Year of Apocalypse Fashun” last January, a few months after the eviction of Witch Club- a dreamy, hectic, hyper-intimate, short-lived queer youth warehouse space I moved to Providence to be a part of. The space was not without its faults but I think at its best it gave us this drive to explore and express the fluctuating and impossible parts of identity that get covered up in more organized and straighter space. The eviction was stressful and alienating and left me with a lot of despair, but also a desire to keep that powerful queer infiniteness I experienced there alive in my life and work.

I ended up moving by myself into a dusty windowless loft full of fabric and fake flowers and ballgowns and was watching a lot of anime on a broken static-y computer screen and biking to a college I didn’t attend in the middle of the night to do weirdo radio stuff with Katrina and I was simultaneously heartbroken and feeling this utopic potential. I was at this intense emotional crossroads, feeling super inspired by both my old and new roommates and collaborators (among many others- Katrina’s queer protective magic, Mindy Stock’s “aggressive, intimate” project Virusse, Muffy Brandt‘s unsettling and joyful neons, Pippi Zornoza‘s dark intricacies) and I was trying to make work that both glimpsed queer utopia and acknowledged inevitable failure. So “apocalypse fashun” has less to do with dressing for an actual date and is more about body transcendence and transformation, manifestation of the facets of ones’ self that seem (or are) impossible to physically manifest or to make legible.

what kind of differences are there between how you actually dress, and how you would dress for the apocalypse?

A lot of the way I dress and conceive of myself in clothing is tied up in identity, either in trying to be read a certain way or to be confusing and illegible. It’s hard to imagine solely dressing for personal fulfillment and monumental occurrences rather than strangers’ gazes.

fabulous

Lately I’ve been wearing a lot of black and gold and listening to a lot of music with chimes and twinkling synths, thinking about light hitting reflective surfaces and sequins and armor and stars burning out. I love the way that light scatters and flares and the momentary gorgeous but also distracting and potentially dangerous illusions that result from light being refracted. I have a lot of doomsday ideation and none of it is pleasant and it all seems very real and slow and painful, so I don’t love speculating about the apocalypse. But I like the idea of dressing for some sort of sublime transcendence, full of and reflecting light. Also into the idea of dressing for some crazy revelry where systems of oppression are toppled, which should involve extreme bliss and head-to-toe sequin armor.

olivia

do you have any advice for people who don’t dress the way they would actually like to, for fear of any variety of reprisals?

There are lots of factors that keep people from dressing the way they want to – employment, passing, shame, dysphoria, not being able to afford or construct yr dream garment, the threat of street harassment or physical violence. Reprisals can be very, very real. There’s not an easy answer to this question.

I don’t have advice but I can share one of my coping mechanisms. I love creating characters (duh, comics) and when I’m most reticent to be seen and dressing feels impossible I try to put my gigantic, fragile Leo ego aside and attempt to play a character who embodies an extreme state (tight-sweater virginal, lesbian bed death, terrifying alien mother, boring ass str8 dude, actual baby???) That way, if I start to feel weird and looked at, it’s not about me, I’m not being scrutinized. I’m a vessel, I’m responsible for the delivery of this extremeness to the viewer.

most people have debunked the idea that the world will end on dec 21 2012. what are your thoughts on it, and do you have an outfit planned for that day?

My feelings on the actual apoc are best summed up by Ines Estrada’s comic about the apocalypse but the winter solstice is happening on the same day, so the date feels pretty important. A lot of my friends have told me they feel something stirring, some sort of change coming on, and maybe there’s something to it or maybe we all just agree that 2012 totally blew and are desperate for a new year. I don’t know what’s coming but I am certain it won’t be further stagnation.

Ines Estrada comic

Translated version of “Correcciones sobre el Apocalipsis”

In terms of an outfit… I work on the 21st and my job look is usually tender butch academic (black polo, black sweater, floral-faced watch, too-tight leather jacket, braids, babyface, crying to Rihanna in the parking lot) but I just got this black velvet dress at the thrift store and it literally hasn’t left my body since it came into my possession. It seems appropriate for the solstice, maybe I’ll fester in it a lil longer.
i hope you enjoyed reading these answers as much as i did! you can find out more about olivia’s art (and how to get your hands on it) here.  happy winter solstice!

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knowledge, power and “feminist” fashion blogs

gloria swanson, photographed by edward steichen in 1924

Gloria Swanson photographed by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair, 1924

these days i’ve been spending a lot of times with books. fiction, non-fiction, zines, and gorgeous picture books. re-reading ones that have been on my shelf for years, and starting ones i’ve been meaning to get to for longer than i’d like to admit. this weekend while visiting my friend marika‘s place, i poured over the copy of Objectif Mode, 1850 a nos jours she had taken out of the library. myself, ainslie, cat and simon turned the pages together, pointing out our favourites. the chapter for the 1920s began with a cropped version of one of my favourite photographs. i gasped, and said, “swanson! steichen! how glorious.” it didn’t have a caption on that page, so my friends were kind of surprised.

“how do you know that?” cat asked.

i laughed it off, mumbled something or other about how it’s just a random bit of knowledge tucked away in my brain somewhere… but how? and why?

i know it because i love it, is the short version.

i know it because i’ll always remember this image. because there’s something about early photography that pairs decadence, decay, the jazz age, art, fashion that will always be compelling to me.

i know it because i’ve seen many other photographers try to emulate what it is about this photograph that draws you in so much. is it steichen’s talent as a photographer? is it swanson’s gaze? is it both?

Gertrud Arndt, « Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 16 », 1930

Gertrud Arndt, « Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 16 », 1930

i also know these things because i am smart. because i am not just a passive consumer of photography, art, and fashion – i’m a fan. i take the time to inform myself, to remember details.

after finishing the book, i must admit i felt slightly disappointed. curious choices for images to define over a century of style. in the end, what i personally disliked about it was that it did not present the picture of fashion that i know and love. it presented the typical vision of fashion as one occupied by those who can afford to indulge in high-end couture, with more photos of runway models and movie stars than your average joe. a model can wear a dress, that is their job at the end of the day, but i’ve always been more interested in why someone might choose to wear certain garments, and how they wear them.

this reminded me yet again why i often feel alienated by the “fashion” world.

this leads to other things i’ve been asking myself about these days: what makes a fashion blog feminist. perhaps it’s because someone pointed out to me that when you google “feminist fashion blog,” my blog is on the first page of results. perhaps it’s because i’ve come across more than a few fashion blogs that describe themselves as feminist, yet i see very little/no explicit political content or discussion. or worse, a very second-wave version of what it means to be feminist.

a tweet posted on may 9th by julia that reads "if i could just have a feature that would let me read about fashion online without having to trudge through body hate bullshit, that'd be great."

one of the more specific reasons this question has been on my mind is because of last week’s extravagant fashion event. i wanted to see what people wore to the met ball last week. briefly: the met ball is when the top of the top get decked out to the nines in incredibly lavish clothing. here’s a more detailed description from the Atlantic‘s may 2007 article “Why Fashion Deserves its Place in Art Museums:”

Once inside, the 700 guests—actors and models, designers and socialites—will dine and dance and preview the museum’s newest exhibition. The occasion is the “party of the year,” the Met’s Costume Institute Benefit Gala. Co-chaired annually by Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, the party is not just a chance to wear and admire beautiful clothes; it’s a lavish and efficient fund-raising machine. Tickets start at $6,500 per person, with tables for 10 running as high as $100,000. Last year’s gala raised $4.5 million for the museum’s fashion department.

obviously, it’s one of my few typical “Fashion Elite” moments of awe. i generally click through a handful of fashion week shit, but it’s generally kinda low on my radar. the met ball, on the other hand? pure fantasy through and through, and i shamelessly love gawking at it. this year in particular featured an exhibition that is right up my alley: Schiaparelli & Prada (and wrote a bit about back in march). in my hunt for more photos of the dresses people wore, i visited sites i tend to avoid… and was reminded of why. i found myself rolling my eyes at the comments, and asking myself, really?

the comments on jezebel‘s “good/bad/ugly” met gala review are more about how skinny a model is, how much someone looks like a “drag queen” (as if that’s a bad thing?), and how slutty a woman’s dress is than about, say, whether or not it was an appropriate choice for a gala that lauds designer known for collaborations with surrealist artists, or how the theme of the gala this year was explicitly focused around conversations about feminist women.

the overall tone i got from the four or five websites i visited was one fraught with body policing (variations of the she’s too thin to show that much skin/she’s too fat to wear that dress/that colour/that style, usually coded in words like “flattering”) and left me headdesking. why so much vitriol when there were so many other potential things of substance to discuss? who chose to wear schiaparelli’s signature shocking pink? what worked, the over the top designs or the more demure ones? the hommages: well-done or too hokey?

i took to twitter and of course discovered i’m not alone in wanting to consume fashion (at least visually) without having to confront body hate and mean-spirited comments everywhere i turn. jenny zhang was briefly the fashion commentator at jezebel, and talked about her own struggles with facilitating that environment, as someone who identifies as feminist:

For a while, I was writing red carpet commentary for Jezebel, and I always felt too mean or not mean enough or not quippy enough or not discerning enough or too judgmental. It’s hard to write meaningfully about fashion! At least it is for me.

and i hear her. we fall into the trappings of “oh my god, she wore THAT?!” partly because it’s so effortless, but also because it’s so pervasive. it’s everywhere we turn. not only that, it’s ridiculous gendered, almost always heteronormative, often racist (if not completely whitewashed) – and overall unproductive and boring in my eyes. if you missed it, i wrote an article mapping out my feelings around those issues last year.

it’s so easy for me to feel as though i’m the one in the wrong, because i feel as though i’m in the minority. it’s easy to feel as though i should just accept that catty rude comments about people’s bodies are par for the course when it comes to talking about fashion. that i’ll always have to start conversations about my interest in fashion and art by defending that fashion can be art, since most people’s perception of the word “fashion” is a vacuous and mean-spirited one.

for me, framing my blog as a “critical take on fashion culture” is the most direct way i can challenge these notions. people know if they come to my blog they won’t see me writing about fashion in that way.

self-portrait by mccall johnson

i’m trying to remember why i write here. why i’ve been trying to create this space and foster dialogue around feminism and fashion for years. even though there are more and more of us these days, we still have to defend the very basic premise that you can be interested in fashion AND be a feminist. i’m really looking forward for the day we can put those conversations to bed, and move forward.

i should pride myself on my extensive knowledge of fashion and art, not laugh it off.  if i’m less worried that people will interpret my interest and affection for fashion as frivolous or anti-feminist, than maybe i can finally get to that point. let’s trade in shame for pride, stop being belittled and start being empowered. i’m done with the defenses. let’s keep talking about how to challenge oppressive ideologies we see operating in the fashion world we are already a part of.

recommended reading:

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