Adorned in Dreams

After a long week of art theory and it's inter-relation with fashion theory today I have one last extra extra long post that is littered with images to hopefully keep you interested in what I consider to be a read that is more interesting than every single book I was ever assigned in grade school. 

Isn't it strange that in the 21st century we have a lack of identity as a generation? The 1970s had punk, glam rock, ABBA; every generation has their "thing" and yet today we have this "everything-goes" philosophy that makes practically everything acceptable. What does this mean about us as a generation, as individuals, as a culture in today's day and age? I know nothing but it and embrace it with full force if you haven't noticed by now but I still find it interesting that this is really the first time in the history of civilization that we have had this sort of bricolage (a variety of things) of clothing. We dress ourselves in multiple generations, in false persona and genuine expression, in reality and fantasy. We adorn ourselves in dreams. 

 Recently I met a girl who has an incredible bricolage of clothing from all sorts of walks of life that I couldn't resist myself from borrowing for a photo shoot. Throughout this post you will find a variety of my pictures from that photo shoot and of the pieces that I didn't borrow from my visit to her humble abode. 
All of the quotes are from Adorned in Dreams by Elizabeth Wilson. 

“Reform dress, she [Stella Mary Newton] believes, was now no longer a moral or hygienic project, but had become a symbol of the wearer’s tastes and politics. You wore a ‘socialist gown’ not only because it was, you hoped, both attractive and comfortable, but because it proclaimed that you were. It is this shift from clothing as part of a social project to clothing as part of an identity that really launches it into its most ‘modern’ manifestations.” 

“One dimension to the history of fashion is the history of the individuals who created this world in which reality and fantasy mingle and become confused, a world in which we go adorned in our dreams. It is a world of microcosmic detail and of the grand gesture, of long term obsessions and love at first sight, of hysterical excitement and abject despair. For everyone clothes are compulsory. This produces two kinds of individual at each extreme of the spectrum: those who hate it all, who, were it not for social pressure, would not bother with the aesthetics of their appearance and who experience fashion as a form of bondage; and those who live it as compulsion, the fashion freaks for whom dress is a source of passionate interest, who are its addicts; ‘fashion victims’, junkies of the art of self adornment."

 "Secrecy—addiction—obsession: these words gesture towards our feeling that a love of fashion is not quite respectable. Halfway between hobby and ritual it is indulged in the ‘privacy of the home’, yet flaunted in the public world, is stigmatized by its uncertain status as not quite art, yet certainly not real life.

This division between the ‘authentic’ and the ‘modernist can be applied to many of the fashions…and especially to contemporary counter-cultural fashion. The hippie, for example would be ‘authentic’, the punk…’modernist’. The dandies, like the courtesans of the French Second Empire, were ‘modernists’—preoccupied with the creation of an image, not the discovery of the ’true’ self. The division suggests two radically divergent ways of seeing the world—and fashion—and two radically different kinds of politics. Is fashion dress part of the oppression of women, or is it a form of adult play? Is it part of the empty consumerism, or is it a site of struggle symbolized in dress codes? Does it muffle the self, or create it?”

Similarly with dress: the thesis is that fashion is oppressive, the antithesis that we find it pleasurable; again no synthesis is possible. In all these arguments the alternatives posed are between moralism and hedonism; either doing your own thing is okay, or else it convicts you of false consciousness.”

 “The belief that nature is superior to culture was enshrined within the Romantic reaction to the industrial revolution. Janet Radcliffe Richards, one of the few writers to have examined feminist attitudes to dress, suggests that underlying feminist contempt for fashion and cosmetics is a ‘muddle’ about ‘the natural person being the real thing’. She argues that feminists share what is actually a conservative view; that to try to ‘make the most of oneself’ is to create a false impression, somehow to deceive the world. Human beings, however, are not natural. They do not live primarily by instinct. They live in socially constructed cultures.”

BQWmcO on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

"The concept of social construction is based on the view that at birth a baby has the potential to develop in a variety of ways, limited to some extent by genetic heritage, but equally, or more importantly, dependent on the environmental influences that shape its experience and provide a comparatively favorable or unfavorable soil for growth. Many of the most important aspects of this development occur in early childhood. By the time we become adults, therefore, our capacity to choose freely is greatly restricted by the way in which our personality has developed. It is also equally restricted by external circumstances such as class, wealth, gender, age and where we live. Despite their apparent acceptance of this ‘social construction’ model, many feminists continue to discuss moral choice as though we were all free agents, as if they had never heard of the well-worn but sensible aphorism: ‘men make their history, but they do so in circumstances that are not of their own choosing.’ In the realm of aesthetics the very idea of ‘free choice’ is inappropriate; styles of dress are not dictated simply by economics or sexist ideology but are....intrinsically related to contemporary art styles."

"Fashion is one among many forms of aesthetic creativity which make possible the exploration of alternatives. For after all, fashion is more than a game; it is an art form and a symbolic social system:

 ‘Once literacy and a rich vocabulary of visual, aural and dramatic expressions exist, then society has a permanently available….resource in which all the tabooed, fantastic, possible and impossible dreams of humanity can be explored in blueprint.’

This is a far more democratic view that the elitism of the radicals…who see consumer culture as nothing more than a ‘false consciousness’. 

Fashion acts as a vehicle for fantasy. The utopias both of right and left, which were themselves fantasies, implied an end to fantasy in the perfect world of the future. There will, however, never be a human world without fantasy, which expresses the unconscious unfulfillable. All art draws on unconscious fantasy; the performance that is fashion is one road from the inner to the outer world. Hence its compulsiveness, hence our ambivalence, hence the immense psychological (and material) work that goes into the production of the social self, of which clothes are an indispensable part. In this sense, ambivalence is an appropriate response to dress; and in this sense ‘modernism’ is a more adequate response than the ‘cult of the authentic’, since the latter allows for no ambivalence."

                ‘Take the example of nudity as it is presented in…the mass media’s discovery of the body and sex. This nudity claims to be rational, progressive: it claims to rediscover the truth of the body, its natural reason, beyond clothing, taboos and fashion. In fact, it is too rationalistic, and bypasses the body…and the true path of desire, which is always ambivalent, love and death simultaneously.’ 

This ambivalence is that of contradictory and irreconcilable desires, inscribed in the human psyche by that very ‘social construction’ that decrees such a long period of cultural development for the human ego. Fashion—a performance art—acts as a vehicle for this ambivalence; the daring of fashion speaks dread as well as desire; the shell of chic, the aura of glamour, always hide a wound. Fashion reflects also the ambivalence of the fissured culture of modernity, is only like all modern art in expressing a flawed culture. The dilemma of fashion is the dilemma of all modern art: what is its purpose and how is it to be used in the world of ‘mechanical reproduction’?  Where fashion differs from some forms of art is that whereas in some fields high art and popular culture have veered further and further apart, in dress the opposite has happened. High fashion has become to some extent demotic.”

“Like all art, it has a troubled relationship with morality, is almost always in danger of being denounced as immoral. Yet also, like all art, it is likely to become most ‘immoral’ when it comes closest to the truth. Utilitarian dress, like conventional ‘good’ clothes and academic art, expresses conservatism. The progress project is not to search for some aesthetically pleasing form of utilitarian dress, for that would be to abandon the medium; rather we should use dress to express and explore our more daring aspirations, while respecting those who use it to disguise personal inadequacies, real or imagined, or to make themselves feel confident or important. Art is always seeking new ways to illuminate our dilemmas; dress, however tainted a medium—from its association with the body and with daily life and behavior—nevertheless does this too.

Fashion is ambivalent—for when we dress we wear inscribed upon our bodies the often obscure relationship of art, personal psychology and the social order. And that is why we remain endlessly troubled by fashion—drawn to it, yet repelled by a fear or what we might find hidden within its purposes, masked by the enigma of its Mona Lisa smile.” 

Another feature of contemporary fashion is the way in which the eclectic mixing up of styles has become endemic. As Anne Hollander has expressed it:

                ‘A post-modern person, now one of either sex, has…learned that not only may disparate wardrobes cohabit one person’s closet…but they may be [re]combined…old denim and fresh spangels or pale chiffon and black combat boots are worn not just in quick succession but together. The new freedom of fashion in the last quarter-century has been taken up as a chance not to create new forms , but to play more of less outrageously with all the tough and solid old ones…[with] a pulsating tide of mixed references.'

“’Getting dressed’ in the modern world is a matter of bricolage, of the coming together of garments and accessories that we have usually not made ourselves, combined to create a finished ‘appearance’. Every individual is a walking collage, an artwork of ‘found items’—of perhaps something closer to a contemporary installation, changing as it interacts with its audience.”