FRIDAY Fast Five: Fashion, identity and power (and Prince)

It may come as a complete surprise to no one that I love fashion. I find profound enjoyment and empowerment in aesthetics and development of personal style but more than that, I am endlessly fascinated by the history of fashion, style and dress which of course are all inextricably bound up in power, gender, race, class, politics and economics. I am endlessly interested in the relationship between fashion and power and how that flow of power can be interpreted in multiple of ways - as empowerment or oppression. And how the nature of that dichotomy can vary in scale from the small (personal) to the giant (structural), and how these are unavoidably connected. Baring all of this in mind I can never understand the argument that fashion, or thinking about fashion, is frivolous.

At its foundation, fashion is at once joyous and deeply flawed - if we held a mirror against its history it would so purely reflect the development of human creativity, expression, commerce, trade, exploitation, environmentalism, technology, celebrity...the list goes on and on. Every single item of clothing in your wardrobe tells part of the story of human development.

In this week's Fast Five I take a look at things that, in a very small and narrow way, attempt to express the complexity of this topic:

1. Fashion and its social agendas: Class, gender and identity in clothing, by Diana Crane

This book is aaaallllllll about the semiotics of dress (thanks Ane Tonga for that little gem!). Crane examines how fashion and dress act as markers of social classification, both enforced and chosen, to signify class, sexual orientation, culture, politics, lifestyle etc. 

2. The Fashion Industry by Yuniya Kawamura, Berg Fashion Library

This article looks at the schism caused by the industrial revolution in textile manufacturing, garment production, the development of fashion trends, dissemination,  and the rise of the fashion designer, and how it continues today

3. Women Fashion Power, The Design Museum

Designed by the world-renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, this exhibition brings together exclusive interviews, an immersive multimedia journey and unique historic pieces of clothing to form the most wide-ranging presentation of modern fashion ever to be shown in the UK. Discover how women from Dame Vivienne Westwood to Natalie Massenet and Princess Diana to Anne Hidalgo have used fashion as an important tool of self-expression and empowerment to build reputation, attract attention and assert authority.

4.  Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, Victoria and Albert Museum

What I wouldn't give to go to this exhibition. Undressed features over 200 examples of underwear for men and women, highlighting the enduring themes of innovation and luxury...Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear features over 200 examples of underwear for men and women, highlighting the enduring themes of innovation and luxury. 

5. The End of Fashion conference, Massey University, 8-9 December 2016

Now this I'm excited about. With the help of some really kickass keynotes, this conference will explore the landscape of fashion and identity in the age of mass media and digitization, the argument being that generally speaking fashion and personal style are no longer simple signifiers of social status, but highly fluid and personalised. The call for papers has gone out and the focus is broad. Among the themes are: The Global World; Style Resistance, and Identity; Branding and Merchandising; Film and Fashion; Art; Ethical Living...and more. Submissions are due 30th April.

So I obviously had to send us in to the weekend with Prince. Not only because of the devastating news that awaited us all this morning but because, well, fashion. He was an icon. A rule-breaker. A supreme talent who played with fashion and its fluidity. Who played with identity and blurred traditional gender codes. A pioneer. A Prince. 

A very early fashion memory for me was my Mother wearing: a blue boiler-suit style jumpsuit, a purple headscarf with shiny thread woven through it AND a quilted, purple tie dye vest with applique "Purple Rain" all over it. It's a wonderful, enduring memory of my childhood and probably a germinal moment in my relationship with fashion.  So, farewell sweet Prince...