Fashion

Streetwear, feminism and the comeback of ‘ugly chic’ in the Instagram age

If you scroll through the Instagram feed emerging as well as well-established brands, like Gucci or Prada,it is almost impossible to wonder: has ‘ugly’ become the new chic? From oversized jumpers to tees with catchy slogans. From Birkenstocks and ‘jesus sandals’ to unflattering sunglass shapes, and how could we miss Gucci’s excessive prints. ‘Ugly chic’ is having a moment. “Ugliness” is not a new concept in fashion and in this context it incorporates almost every idea from practicality to asymmetry to unconventional, unfeminine forms. Instagram definitely helps promote products that shock and awe the consumer with their unconventionality and many brands exploit this platform to forward their fashion ideology.

One of the most apparent ideologies of modern fashion is female empowerment and what Instagram shows us today is that fashion trends are trying to help us defy the male gaze. The women’s clothing, that our generation considers trendy, is no longer tailored to bring out feminine forms solely for the pleasure of the masculine eye. The notion that a modern woman is free to dress according to her own rules is not new. Yves Saint Laurent’s 1966 creation, Le Smoking, captured by Helmut Newton, depicted a woman puffing a cigarette and wearing a tuxedo. This was, in a way, the crossing of a cultural rubicon, a point at which women were allowed to adorn themselves in male clothing. Since then, fashion has gradually become more gender fluid and the desire to defy the male gaze is almost embedded in the industry. Today, designers, such as Demna Gvasalia and Gosha Rubchinsky scream rebellion, anti-sex and modernity whilst also blurring the line between high fashion and streetwear.

Fashion trends are trying to help us defy the male gaze

Demna Gvasalia’s status in the fashion industry was cemented in 2015 when he took over as creative director of Balenciaga. Alongside his directorship at Balenciaga, Demna retained his role at Vetements, a collective of seven anonymous designers. The buzzed-about brand represents the haute-couture take on streetwear. In an interview with Business of Fashion magazine, Gvasalia described the brand’s philosophy as a “conversation with ‘today’”. Vestment’s most important aim is to create clothes that women of the now want to wear to feel good, comfortable, practical, yet dictate contemporary style and a fashion-forward approach. The distorted forms, asymmetric lines and oversized jackets in Vêtements’ ready-to-wear AW 2018 collection represent the ‘ugly chic’ of present-day streetwear fashion, which is still perceived as couture. The metamorphosis of these two notions of high fashion and streetwear is undoubtedly revolutionary and subversive.

It is not just emerging designers that are trying to revolutionise the way we see fashion. Brands like Prada and Céline have prioritised interesting, rather than feminine shapes, bold colours and distorted forms over years. Prada’s latest shoe collection with furry slippers, futuristic gladiator sandals and the iconic wedge-heel derby shoes perfectly embody the concept of ugly chic. In order for these brands with hundreds of years of tradition to stay relevant in the modern world they need to retain the quality and remain dictators of style. And in order to dictate certain trends, every year there has to be something new. It is, thus, not surprising that ‘ugly’ is having a moment. Clothes have always been a tool of self expression and power: in the modern world such power for womenswear comes with the idea of feminism and female power. In order for clothes to provide such power and a sense of full self-identification they have to be a statement of independence: a statement that women are no longer dressing for men; a statement that the male gaze is no longer as relevant in dictating what we wear.

Clothes have always been a tool of self expression and power: in the modern world such power for womenswear comes with the idea of feminism and female power.

In the Instagram age where the image is so easily produced and extremely accessible, it has become important for fashion to shock, to stand out, to catch the eye that has seen almost everything. Unconventionality and ugliness are new and cool. Fashion no longer attracts the public eye with feminine forms and beauty. Social media has undoubtedly been instrumental in transforming the modern day fashion industry. Instagram is accessible to anyone and anyone can use it as a means to express themselves and, in a way, to make their own newsfeed their own runway. It defies the norm because anyone can become a style icon on their own terms by gaining an army of followers, with which comes recognition and popularity. Fashion is the media age is become more and more subversive because it is distancing itself from the idea that it has to dictate a certain style or trends. It is becoming more diverse and offers more opportunity for self-expression of female individuality and comfortable, effortless style. Maybe it all started with Coco Chanel and the female suit, but today modern fashion is a sign of progress society has made towards female empowerment and individual freedom. But the fact that we can still refer to as “ugly” and “unattractive” is also a sign of progress that is yet to be made.

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