Fashion

Americana in an Uncertain America

In the past few weeks there has been an influx of American-influenced clothes on the high street. There is suede fringing, double denim, cowboy boots and plaid. So, why is there so much plaid? Why are there cowboys and stars and little neckerchiefs everywhere?

Well, to try and answer this question I have scoured runway shows and studied political timelines. I have complied lists. I have, in short, investigated. And, as far as I can tell, this particular resurgence of Americana appears to have begun back in Paris a/w ’17 at the Balenciaga show which (it is important to note) took place mere days before Trump’s inauguration.

The collection, which was created by Gvasalia, focused on corporate office wear: jackets, button down shirts, ties. Pretty standard, right? But the proportions of the clothes were skewed, the jackets were cut too large across the shoulders, the trousers so loose they billowed around the legs and the coat sleeves so long the models’ hands couldn’t be seen. It was almost as if they were dressing up in their father’s work clothes and playing corporate make believe. Remind you of anyone?.. And, if that was not enough, it seemed as though the Balenciaga logo had been reworked to reference Bernie Sander’s campaign slogan.

The fashion world got a bit ~political~. A whole host of shows made reference to the state of the United States under Trump’s presidency.

If you enjoy a bit of fashion-based political drama (and I know I do) 2017 was your year.

Throughout the a/w ’17 fashion season there were countless examples of designers reimagining classic Americana style and reclaiming American national iconography. The ideo-political inconstancies in Trump’s America between traditionalism and conservatism and freedom, democracy and tolerance could be seen in the way in which such images and symbols had been subverted and repurposed.

there were countless examples of designers reimagining classic Americana style and reclaiming American national iconography

It was a way of challenging the unease and contradictions within Trump’s ideas regarding American patriotism and the visuals associated with that.

In New York one of my favourite things to possibly happen at any fashion show ever happened right at the end of Eckhaus Latta’s collection. They closed with a model with hair coiffed to resemble Trump’s ‘do wearing a knitted dress emblazoned with the words “IS THIS WHAT YOU WANTED” across it. It was a beautiful moment.

Also in New York, Public School, a collaboration of Maxwell Osborne and Dao Chow, known mainly for their street and athletic-leisure wear focused designs, made waves with their “Make America New York Again” red hats. Easy politicizing (but also maybe a questionable slogan seeing as Trump himself hails from Queens. Ah well…). However, they also experimented with wool plaid, corduroy, paisley and double denim- what appeared to be classic Americana (and actually not at all classic Public School) basics.

But the sleeves on the jackets had been torn apart and reconstructed, hems ripped, the clothes intentionally mangled and warped. Also, during the show a live version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” was playing. Later Chow revealed that the inspiration behind the show was the idea of borders and how they emphasize and can create societal division, xenophobia and nationalism.

Vaquera, a collaborative label between the designers Patric DiCaprio, David Moses, Bryn Taubensee, and Claire Sully, is known for taking inspiration from everyday life and the American ‘Dream’. The collection they produced for a/w ‘17 explored the juxtaposition of white collar and blue collar workers within America, and ideas of belonging (or not, and in who’s America?).

a symbolic reference to Trump’s America and a clear subversion of what Americana once represented

The clothes were reminiscent of uniforms worn by waiters, chefs and construction workers as well as referencing Tiffany boxes (a sneaky reference to that awkward exchange between Melania Trump and Michelle Obama during the inauguration, perhaps?), pearls and ball gowns. One of their most striking pieces was a flouncy dress made out of cut up American flags. Its long train dragged along the floor- a symbolic reference to Trump’s America, and a clear subversion of what Americana once represented?

This reclaiming and repurposing of American iconography was also seen clearly at Raf Simon’s debut show for Calvin Klein. The models walked down the runway in cowboy boots to “This is Not America” by David Bowie. There was also an instillation produced by Sterling Ruby exhibited which featured part of a shredded American-flag printed fleece. The Americana that was being presented was a warped Americana, reinterpreting symbols that Trump sees as synonymous with the American state, or at least his version of that.

Stars and stripes also featured at Tommy Hilfiger, Charles Jeffery Loverboy, and Engineered Garments. There were American flags everywhere actually. And cowboy boots (House of Holland’s bejewelled metallic ones were especially excellent). In fact, the a/w ’17 VFiles show in New York actually finished with Strateas Carlucci sending models down the runway as “fetish cowboys”.

It is subversive fashion. It is Americana when what America stands for, and wants to be, is unclear.  And I am here for it (and the kinky cowboys).

Originally published 12/10/2017 in The Oxford Student

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