Anarchists of Style: Occupy Wall Street

Anna Wintour by aleXsandro Palombo

I’m in the middle of a protest!” my father called to report. He was walking the financial district; it was September 18, day two of Occupy Wall Street. Upon arriving back at my apartment, his description was somehow prescient.

The protestors seemed angry at everything, he said, summing it up as: “A bunch of good looking young guys who are going to get laid tonight.”

Occupy Wall Street is more than that, of course, even my capitalist father agrees. But the crux of his early assessment—youth and beauty—has certainly influenced media coverage. The predominant bloom of the protestors has lead to different angles of investigation. Some have asked: What’s the point? While for others, the burning question is: What are they wearing?

What are the attitudes toward protest style, and do they help or hurt what’s happening in Zuccotti Park? Is there really fashion anarchy at OWS? I took a closer look at the OWS narrative of style; at the various ways journalists have addressed it.  Here’s what I found.

Karl Lagerfeld by aleXsandro Palombo

From Street Style to Occupy Wall Street Style

Simon Doonan, Barney’s Ambassador of Style and the David Sedaris of the sartorial set, gallantly steps above the fray, gleefully advising Zuccottees, “Simplify your fashion message and the rest will follow.”

The rest, they argue.

The debate: When the New York Times offered a slide show on “What to Wear to a Protest,”The Telegraph’s Brian O’Neill quickly weighed in, calling OWS “a fashion show masquerading as a political movement”. O’Neill deemed the Times piece “unwitting side-splitting” and took umbrage at participant responses such as “I like the use of public space as a performative realm and I like the combination of bodies in space.” (He’s got a point there.) “I thought this movement was supposed to represent the return of working-class anger” he asked. The Huffington Post reported the kerfuffle between O’Neill and the Times. Later, contributor Kristin Knox struck back at O’Neill. “Just because it may be hip to protest, that does not make it hypocritical,” she wrote. “The conservative columnist and other critics like him have always looked to talismans of youthful protest, such as fashion, such as music, to underwrite and dismiss the whole enterprise, but this attitude, surely, is in need of revision.”

Zora Bowman, one of the "hottest people at Occupy Wall Street" according to The Observer

“So far, OWS is definitely not the sexiest revolution I can think of,” writes Bruce laBruce of vice.com.  “It may be a little late in the game to be playing the ‘We Are the World’ card.” laBruce wistfully recalls the “power of style” (but not the actions) of the Black Panthers and the Red Army Faction. “It’s easy to dismiss a bunch of unwashed, directionless ragamuffins chanting time-worn protest slogans… It’s a bit more difficult to dismiss someone who has a fistful of brilliant manifestoes and a manifestly militant, stylish posture.”

Suits for Wall Street

Suits for Wall Street would agree. Somewhat. It proposes that conversations about reform stop “because to them we look like a bunch of dirty hippies.” On October 15, it delivered 150 suits to OWS. Suited up, some occupiers headed into that day’s anti-war march. Some went back into the park, looking sharp. One guy asked someone out on a date. Another mentioned that she might go look for a job.”

So what’s really happening on the fashion “front”?

The strongest chronicle to date has been the work of Patrick Michael Hughes for DNA.com.  Full disclosure, Patrick is both a friend and a fellow fashion history professor at Parsons. It’s his professional knowledge that gives his assessment  power. “Directional pieces consisted of washed flannel, ankle boots and traditionally crafted scarves, not unlike the runways of the Fall 2011 collections of Dsquared2 and Band of Outsiders,” he writes. “Occupation fashion also included cagoule shapes (a lightweight hooded rainproof layer) spotted in the 2012 spring collections of Rag and Bone.” What’s more, “The boxy-minimalist and engineered looks for Spring 2012 already feel passé against this urban wave of street clothing.” Take that, fall sale racks!

Patrick Michael Hughes for DNA.com

Patrick Michael Hughes for DNA.com


Patrick Michael Hughes for DNA.com

The Future of Fashion or a “MacGuffin?”

Alfred Hitchcock had a phrase for an element in a story that ignited the narrative but then went nowhere, a “MacGuffin.”  For the director, the MacGuffin could be stolen jewels or an assassination attempt—but once the action started, audiences forgot about it and it faded to obsolescence. Will there be an original “tie-die moment” for our new revolutionaries—a look that will influence the children of our anarchists today—or will this fashion story dissolve into the bigger, more important, battle?

“The people of Occupy Wall Street are having their it-girl/boy moment and the fashion industry is listening, watching and responding,” writes Jacqueline Alemany in the Huffington Post. There’s no doubt the OWS pose will influence runways, but the protestors (like fashion itself) seem merely to be appropriating from the pantheon of fashion. As Patrick catalogued for DNA, influences are plucked from the 1960s through the 1990s, including anti-fashion, androgyny, steampunk and grunge. That’s a pretty big gamut of been there, done that.

On a personal note, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for free checking for all, and a fashion MacGuffin.

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