Your dress waving in the wind.
This is the only flag I love.
- From Garous Abdolmalekian’s “Pattern”, in Lean Against This Late Hour
This is a sewing exercise.
Once I was in a high fashion second hand shop in Berlin, immersed in a fairy-tale atmosphere made of constructed drapes from a past designed in luxury. Two non-gender-conforming customers were trying on sci-fi Prada garments and declared it as “like wearing a utopia”. I got struck by that affirmation and since then I often wonder what hopes they deposited in that utopia, whether it was a luxury dream, the redistribution of wealth, fair labor, organic materials, the possibility - through looking different - of acceptance in society, or just being themselves in their continuous transition. In the same universe, Bezos and Musk will be sending the astronauts of the SpaceX mission dressed in spacesuits which fit as elegantly as tuxedos. The prototype was created by José Fernández, a costume designer who worked on many superhero movies, and the two astronauts will look like a mix between Star Trek and James Bond. The billionaire geeks will make their own privatized enterprise fashion, expensive utopias for the tribe of the future. I wish they could be the excluded.
I remember something clearly from my childhood: the cheap pieces of clothing composing my babysitter’s outfit, tender and intimidating. They indicated whether she would spend all day sitting at the desk helping me with homework, handling cooking utensils or walking my friends and myself in a park. Her clothes adapted to the texture of my daily schedule and activities, found in the folds around her knees and the crinkles of her sleeves. A subtle stain of cream on her knitwear unfolded the story of a clumsy snack, and the bitter scent of sweat the olfactory trail of those stressful moments when she had to scold me on behalf of my mother. Her fashion choices were dictated by the tasks of being a caregiver without substituting her, who instead - always dressed in tailleur - needed to take care of the family on the macro scale. Many years later, thinking about the possibilities of my own motherhood (and excluding it), from behind my screen while navigating the trends of the metaverse, I look at the meme-size format of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a white dress on which TAX THE RICH is sprayed as if it were menstrual blood. I think to myself, what a waste to stain with such a consensus-chasing-rhetoric, a thousand-dollar, haute couture dress. I bet many mothers would sell that garment to spend a bit more time with their kids.
While sitting on the S-Bahn in Berlin for a long ride to my office, people around me jumped in and out of their stations. Two bold ticket controllers dressed in the same bomber jacket featuring an aggressive bulldog stitched on their back, young professionals in sleek blue coats and trendsetters in python ankle boots. We are prone to believing that our identity is shaped also by self-determinism, but looking at the information emanated by people’s images, I ask myself if social institutions anticipate their fashion choices; they don’t choose, but are chosen by uniforms of belonging. Suddenly I couldn’t believe my eyes, in my same wagon there was one of the most radical philosophers of our time, who had made a fashion trademark of a turtleneck. In doing so he subracted himself from the perpetual run behind fashion and from the basic daily decision of how to present his image through clothing style. Nevertheless he was involuntarily a trendsetter for so-called intellectual fashion, a group of people who, influenced by his thoughts and sleek style, felt the urgency to appear as someone who questions and unmakes institutions. My mind was fooling me once again, as it happens when I see a turtleneck in the S-Bahn: I always wonder whether people know that what they are wearing is a fashion institution for institutionalized culture.
Detached Chain Stitch
In 2005 alongside the kicking off of the new century, heiress Paris Hilton presented herself at an event with a tank top on, which, echoing Maria Antonietta’s “S'ils n'ont pas de pain, qu'ils mangent de la brioche”, had printed “STOP BEING DESPERATE”, which became famous as a fake-news pendant of “STOP BEING POOR”. The iconicity of that moment, among many others of the jetsetter, still runs through mundane blogs and some melancholic tabloids, while international media are flooded by less self-referential images of war refugees. Once, a friend who used to volunteer in an asylum seeker center in Milan, explained to me that the first aid kit given to refugees left unsheltered on the streets would include clothes and deodorant. “Who would even listen or get close to someone who looked and smelled like poverty?”. The immigrants, undressed from their identity, are not allowed to choose their clothes, but need to adapt to a new aesthetic of Western decency. In the Italian capital of fashion, the dress code precedes the residence permits, as being fashionable opens the door to being a legal body. Only in 2021, while the refugee crisis was at its highest peak, Hilton revealed that “STOP BEING DESPERATE” was the original sentence featured on the outfit. Desperation, the feeling that leads to taking risks in order to change a bad situation, is what pushes the asylum seekers to fit in, but also moves those who are poor in spirit and need to make their image their only attribute in order to stand out. Desperation is not only a poor people's prerogative.
Spinning 360 degrees around the globe, we see the emergence of a new working class: the digital nomads. They are trackable by trendy sneakers and by the reduced dimension of the new generation of technological gadgets; their shape adapts to the high pace of neoliberalism. Aerodynamic, ergonomic soles for feeling like a sprinter, everyday flexible and comfortable and thin hard case Macbook to fit in a small purse to borderless moving between places, switching from the library to the laptop to the symposium, to the dinner, to the party, agile, chasing freedom, consumption and paychecks. Always moving around the city, but with wide-fitting shoes, another kind of nomad carries along their pilgrimages in plastic bags from one shelter to the other, swollen feet and ruins of a dignitary life. The homeless person can’t follow or make any trend, despite the fact that the condition of homelessness comes from the same occupational adaptation which fabricated the digital nomad: debt coated in performance. Chosen by the former, who rejects a stable shelter for the benefits of tech-decentralization, imposed on the latter for the sake of capitalism’s replication. Shoes and tech are always a matter of class.
Only rich people can’t be bothered by how they look, and how what they wear hurts. Yet they keep recreating clashing iconographies: going around with their IKEA bags labeled Balenciaga. But after all those stitches I am curious to ask you: how can we see both sides of the texture and sew change in social patterns before changing our own style?