Fashion Innovator Attacked, What it Means to Us?

Today’s CFP for a subcultures conference reminds me that I wanted to briefly comment on the recent physical attack on Philip Sallon, famed London style innovator, expanding minds from the 70’s thru today on what is fashion, style, costume, and humor. He is certainly someone that would be a perfect candidate for Lisa’s (and my) column Anarchists of Fashion.

Witnesses to the attack seem to feel it was homophobic hate crime, but an added note from Boy George and others is that it was perhaps motivated by Sallon’s physical appearance. Friend and colleague of Worn Through Ted Polhemus hipped me to a related case where a young Goth couple were brutalized to the point of the woman’s death.

Having recently completed my dissertation on punk dress in the workplace, for years I’ve been engrossed in the idea of where subculture fits into the wider spectrum of society. My findings did show that there may be an increased acceptance for nonconformists of late. Findings also showed the subculturalist’s willingness to accommodate in order to comply with social mores when they were attempting to achieve some other goal (hiring, promotion, workplace respect, etc).

But, a key finding was that the desire to express a subcultural identity, be it through blatant or subtle cues, was not impacted by varied demographics, including gender, age, and occupation. Very little dampened the ideology of the subcultural participant (in this case Midwestern US punks), and it was not extinguished with time or outside influences.

Reason: subculture (again, in this case punk) is still vastly important as a reaction against negative attitudes that are intolerant of difference. I could go on for miles about this (which I guess justifies the intense student loans I’m paying off from my studies).

But really, I just wanted to note two things: First, how these cases of violence reinforce the obvious to those of us within the field of the cultural study of apparel, that it is a highly worthwhile pursuit. The visual is a dominant manner in which we communicate nearly everything, not to mention, judge and react to one another. Thus increased understanding of the role of dress in culture is significant, so anything we as professionals in the field can do to continue to increase its impact, is crucial. So many outside of the field have said what I do is so esoteric, or cool, or odd, or unusual or other manner of saying “never thought of that as a line of study/work but now that you explain it it makes perfect sense.” Whether it’s exhibits, books, documentaries, journal articles, blogs, whatever you can do, continuing to get material out there increases awareness and understanding which ripples around. Academia needs to re-evalaute its devaluing of cultural studies within dress, since it has back-burned it to design and retail to the point of nonexistence at many schools, and whittled it down to minuscule at others.

My second, and related thought is that it always suprises me how few dress scholars look at subculture and nonconformists (call the study what you like). Also, how the work of those that do is sometimes thought of as the quirky stepchild of the broader study of historical high fashion or pop culture, rather than as a viable component of our field. It is important to document, analyze, and reflect on subculture and other “outsider” forms of dress and they are the other side of the coin per se. To me, it’s almost useless to study mainstream fashion and high fashion without knowing more context, and subculture is a substantial part of that context. The so-called boundaries of mainstream fashion or runway fashion, only make sense as part of an overall estimation of societal values what fits within or outside of said rules and roles.

So, that’s my rant for the day. I was just so saddened, and sickened, learning about the attack of someone who I have long admired for his fashion bravado, and it brought me to reflection about this choice of profession.

Comments are encouraged.

The image was pulled from the blog Disneyrollergirl and the photographer was Boy George. Thank you to them.

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  • Kat April 11, 2011 05.33 pm

    Wonderful post Monica. I hope it encourages more people to study the cultural connection between fashion and discrimination, because I think we can learn so much about ourselves that way. So many people judge others based on their clothing alone when really, we never know the white supremacist under the three piece suit or the gothic-looking mother-of-three. Great piece.

  • EmilyKennedy April 12, 2011 01.51 pm

    Excellent post. Working on my cultural sociology MA about fashion bloggers, the points made here are my rallying cry: YES, what we wear does matter, and NO, we’re not shallow for studying it!


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