A Taste Dictatorship

Courtesy of Fashion Gone Rogue: Valerie van der Graaf & Johanna Fosselius by Jeff Hahn for Tatler Hong Kong 2012

Imagine our head of state (be it Julia Gillard – *ugh* – or even Barack Obama) dictating state policies toward grooming, or better yet, how to be fashionable. Actually, not even how to ‘be’ fashionable, but what is expected, or even allowed to be worn in public.  Unbelievable, right? NO! For me, fashion is one of the foremost ways in which I express who I am. Not only elements of my identity, but perhaps how I am feeling on any given day. Fluro oversized sweatshirt with leather jacket? gangsta day. Colourful printed kaftan with layered strands of beads? bohemian/hawaii themed day (aka…I seriously need a holi-day).  Before reading Djurdja Bartlett’s book ‘The Spectre that Haunted Socialism”, I would have wholeheartedly agreed that attempting to control rituals of dress by a political state (without being driven by religious motivations) would have been impossible.  Yet, this is exactly what Stalin, and other socialist governments, tried to achieve by creating an unchanging style of dress from the 1930s, deemed socialist fashion.

A ‘House of Prototypes’ was developed, that, just like the ‘House of McQueen’ (or now, House of Gaga), produced fashion designs for a specific audience. However, unlike the fashion houses of today, this socialist fashion house created design prototypes for the entire population of the Soviet Union.  Despite being an unrealistic and unsuccessful venture, fashion moved beyond being an aesthetic, pleasurable act, to a means of uniting a country’s visual identity and political regime by creating rules of ‘good taste’.  Obviously this could not last as fashion is intrinsically tied up with the ephemeral, and being modest, restrained and ‘appropriate’ all the time is totally boring.  However, the fact that from the 1930s at least up until the 1980s (equaling 50 years for those who are math averse) fashion in the Soviet Union was led by a lack of information/inspiration from the West, the promotion of conventional aesthetics and limited access to materials was very surprising to me.

Part of me thinks that this whole idea of competing with the West by institutionalizing rules of dress through state run magazines is amazing and hilarious.  In particular, I am obsessed by a quote from a ‘cultural agent’ of the state during the 1960s named Zuzi Jelinek, who seeked to ban the production of “ugly orange coloured” fabrics. She incredibly argued that “customers would be forced to choose a nice beige color and would slowly get used to it…and redefine their taste so they themselves would be shocked by the idea that they could have previously worn something so ugly”. That is so cool. Now, if only Barack Obama would legally ban the wearing of UGG boots outside the boundaries of one’s apartment/house.

x becca

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