What does radical clothing communicate? Seeking fantastic examples.
September 29, 2012 5:58 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in learning more about the idea of radical clothing as symbolic communication, and thinking about how that works today. Thus, I am looking for the most fantastic examples of communicative garments. For example, garments made from recycled materials, that might up, that are in unusual shapes, and so forth. I have found some of these already, but I don't really know what they mean--other than being novelties. Are there unusual garments that you think about a lot? What do you think they mean? Any leads would be most appreciated. If you would like to recommend books or movies about this sort of thing, that would be welcome too.
posted by mortaddams to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a classic: Dick Hebdige's Subculture: the Meaning of Style.
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:05 PM on September 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

There was an article in the local fishwrap, IIRC, about an overachiever high-school art student in Lake Oswego who'd made a beautiful burqa out of [something], recycled or something? I don't recall, and teh googles fail me, but if you can find it, it was really something to see.
posted by spacewrench at 6:19 PM on September 29, 2012

Lady Gaga's meat dress. A lot of her clothes actually.
posted by kellybird at 6:21 PM on September 29, 2012

Pussy Riot's balaclavas suggest guerilla warfare and revolution and play with anonymity, both protecting the identities (well, not really) of the collective members and suggesting that the message is more important than the individuals involves and that the frustrations and rage expressed against the government in their songs could be expressed by any Russian citizen.

The bright colors defy expectation, call attention to the youth and femininity of the participants.

Some other ideas for research I don't feel like explaining:
-Hankie code
-Ball culture, "Paris is Burning"
-Crossdressing, the laws about how many articles of clothing of the "correct" gender you had to be wearing to avoid arrest, "Stone Butch Blues"
-The epic rabbit hole that is Japanese street style-there's lots on the Internet, people will recommend Fruits a lot but I find it kind of boring, my favorite is a magazine for teen girls called Kera I buy at Kinokuniya in LA
-Skateboard companies typically attract really fucking good graphic designers. Seriously. I ride bikes, personally, can't get a skateboard to roll more than six inches, and I wish that cyclists had half the incredibly well designed and sick as fuck clothing products targeted at us as skateboarders do.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:27 PM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Dazzle camouflage fashion for evading the spread of facial recognition surveillance technology.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:17 PM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Two books, both a few years old now:

(un)FASHION by Tibor and Maira Kalman. Sort of a best-of for clothing and adornment from Colors Magazine.
Fruits by Shoichi Aoki. Tokyo teen street fashion from the 90s.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:13 PM on September 29, 2012

You could search for Octobriana, a strong female character who is physically fit and busty and typically wears a tiny bandeau barely covering her nipples instead of a more conventional shirt.

I believe I first read of this character on Planet Karen. I enjoyed her thoughts on how the scanty top helps make this a strong character. Unfortunately, I can't find direct links to any of that in the comic itself. But if you have the time to flip through the archive (or superior google fu), I highly recommend reading Karen's take on it.
posted by Michele in California at 8:13 PM on September 29, 2012

people will recommend Fruits a lot but I find it kind of boring


Before Lady Gaga there was Grace Jones. See also Jana Sterbak, Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic, 1987.

Cat Chow made a big splash a few years ago with her zipper dress, but i don't know what she's done lately and her website isn't much help.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:33 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clothes made from statement materials, e.g., Gold Amex Cards, Kermit the Frog puppets, thrift store stuffed animals, toilet paper, balloons, phone books, condoms,, etc. interest me for their cultural echoes and comments about the meaning of the events for which they were made (Oscars, proms, weddings, etc.): a prom dress made of condoms is inherently funny, as is one made out of diapers or bubble wrap. Sadly, some once-original ideas have become commonplace and the whole idea gets co-opted, as in duct tape prom dresses (now the subject of competitions to win scholarships), trash bag dresses or the aforementioned stuffed animal clothes.
posted by carmicha at 8:59 PM on September 29, 2012

Subculture: The Meaning of Style is essential. It is also uncommonly well written and quite short. It's a must!

I am eternally in awe of the people documented in Amy Arbus's On The Street. She was shooting street fashion in NYC from 1980-1990 and the range of personal expression is fascinating and inspiring.

For a modern take, the Humans of New York tumblr is killer. There's a wide range of folks represented, but a good selection of unusual and interesting fashion.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:21 PM on September 29, 2012

posted by travelwithcats at 3:01 AM on September 30, 2012

How about the anarchist bum flap, discussed previously on AskMe?
posted by daisyk at 6:52 AM on September 30, 2012

The great Alison Lurie-- whom I sometimes think of as our Barbara Pym-- published The Language of Clothes in 1981 (virtually antediluvian transposed to the maniacally spinning planet of clothing, perhaps) which explores "the semiotics of dress":
Alison Lurie, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, is our savvy guide and interpreter on this tour through the history of fashion. She provides fascinating insights into how changing sex roles, political upheavals, and class structure have influenced costume. Whether she is describing the enormous amount of clothing worn by early Victorian women or illuminating the significance of the long robes worn by aging men throughout history to connote eminence, her analysis is playful, clever, and always on target.
posted by jamjam at 10:03 AM on September 30, 2012

Abbie Hoffman's flag shirt?
posted by Orb2069 at 12:09 PM on September 30, 2012

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