The surfaces of self: Fashion as aesthetic-medial complex
The representation of the self, self-fashioning and self-design,
are of an increasing significance in contemporary society, across all income
classes and social strata. Developing from the raising importance of immediate
aesthetic self-decoration, by the means of pre-created segments of dress, is
a new ”profane creativity” (see Willis 1981, ”profane culture”).
Alongside advertisement fashion has turned into an area from which common social and aesthetic tendencies can be “read”, such as the differentiation and segmentation into the small units leading to the domination of ”sub”. The current aesthetic heterogeneity within the fashion sector is mainly shaped by hardware and software options of computer technology, which are employed for the design of prints, logos, labels as well as for the development of fibers, fabrics and cuts. Computers allow the mass-production of aesthetic variants and a quick alteration of designs, so that the industry can immediately react to actual tendencies. An instantaneous production of garments, with a minimized risk, is possible through the perfect simulation of results before actually producing something and through technological instruments which allow to plot patterns directly on the fabric. With the help of new media, fashion industry can react to the continuing individualization process in society. Even the smallest consumer group and niche market can be served with variants of fashion. Articles can be produced directly on the basis of consumer feedback, as practiced by the Swedish chain store Hennes & Mauritz: Scanner tills register all bought articles including the information about color and sizes. The data is then immediately transferred to the production sector. At the end of the road we have the quick and profitable production of global and at the same unique ”originals”. These developments result in made-to-measure for every-body, when in the future individual body-maps will be constructed by electronic body-scanners (as already practiced by Kaufhof and Centro in Oberhausen). Made-to-measure clothing also in the field of casual clothing and basics, such as jeans or trainers, will be normal. It is already possible to get a personal pair of Levi’s or to order individually fitted Adidas via a digital system for foot measuring.
But the side effect of fashion’s digitalization and individualization is a rather hysteric and metastatic supply, consisting of a compulsively aesthetic plurality of colors, symbols, shapes and eccentric high-tech fabrics, which on the consumer’s side demand an increasing selection competence. Negatively as well as positively, youth fashion is quite exemplifying for this subtle differentiation within the clothing sector (clubwear and streetwear, especially so called ”casuals”). Youth styles are marked by a particularly creative and communicative potential. The vestimentary forms of youthculture’s expression demonstrate style strategies which can be compared to artistic practices, like bricolage in analogy to collage, ready made or decollage. Youthcultures develop a complex symbolic system.
Fashion is an aesthetic phenomenon of growing importance. In the 1990s fashion broadens the designers’ field of practice and interferes intensively with the arts. And this is not only since photography is in a process of new orientation or consolidation, due to new digital possibilities, and discovers fashion as a preferred aesthetic area.
However, this essay will not put forward a chronology of fashion in form of a history of costume or haute couture. The difficult attempt of following the ”fluid imagery of fashion” (Hollander) at the turn of the millennium, demands the concentration on a rather small, though non the less complex section: namely, as indicated above, on the actual youth culture of techno and house. Emerging by the middle of the 1980s, this youthculture is paralleled by the development of new segments and variants of fashion, like “clubwear”. The style consists of a heterogeneous agglomeration, an accumulation of highly diverse elements and epochs. Its technique is similar to those of the digital age, incorporating via digitalization all analogues means of style. Due to the high absorption there exist no pure forms and no arbitrarily contingent appearances, in fact nothing like an ”anything goes” eclecticism. The techno and house-scene represents the end of the one-dimensional and homogeneous styles: It causes the confusion of uniform styles, which still exist among certain youthcultures like heavy metal and gothics, but their destruction has already been introduced by punk.
Through the concentration on this contemporary youth-culture, their fashions will be put in the center of interest, so that their various styles like club-, street-, sports- and workwear can be analyzed in depth with respect to their socio-cultural and aesthetic implications.
1. Fashion and the dialectics of commodity society
Fashion, and youth fashion in particular, is categorized as ”profane” or ”common culture” (Willis 1981). It is due to their generative dependency that they seem to be particular fatefully subordinated to the apparent, transient, untruthful, commercially volatile as well as to manipulation. Therefore, on first sight, fashion apparently corresponds to the prejudice of capitalistic exploitation.
”Fashion is not a natural, original component of human society. It cannot be explained by the driving forces of differing zeitgeist. Emerging during the process of the social division of labor …. in bourgeois society fashion became the instrument of exploitation. It serves an increasingly intensified manipulation of conscience and the control of the working classes’ desires.”
(Curtius/Hund 1975: 21, 33)
Especially in the echo of the late 1960s students movement, fashion is reduced to an instrument of social and sexual competition. Adorno, who laid the foundations of the critique of capitalistic commodity society with his essay on the culture industry (Adorno 1989), which is mainly interpreted in a rather one-sided mode, emphasizes the absolutely necessary function of fashion as an complementary element to art.
In fashion, the model function of the elder generation has played out. Regarding style and taste there is now a mutual influence, whereby in questions of lifestyle the youth is often perceived as the ideal model. Thus, fashion turns into a process of a retroactive socialization (Baacke 1988: 58). Adults use subcultural impulses in their dress, often to give themselves a youthful flair but also to integrate the visual trouble-makers socially. In the 1990s “street credibility” and authenticity (“authenticity as commodity”, Polhemus 1994: 8) are significant values the diverse generations strive after: “...`Western culture´ was most at ease and most recognizable within grand interiors. Today, as high culture, it is the litmus test of `street credibility´ that is crucial.”
(Polhemus 1994: 6)
For young people a piece of dress has a highly symbolic value, especially when it provokes direct conflicts with other generations. However, in the 1990s no garment can make a statement as provocative as the zoot suit in the 1940s, which rebelled against the strictly regimented wartime fashion and the rationing of fabrics. The zoot suit, as it was worn by Cab Calloway for instance, was unpatriotic and illegal. As an offense against governmental rationing of wool fabrics, the zoot suit embodied an excessive waste of material in a prime and extravagant form of “over-size” fashion. (In 1942 the War Production Board stated that wool for suits must be reduced at 26%, see Polhemus 1994: 19). The voluminous balloon-trousers, monstrous shoulder pads, jackets with knee-length and over-dimensional chains for pocket-watches were at the same time a definite rebellious comment against the suppression of certain ethnic groups:
“The zoot suit as a refusal a subcultural gesture refusing the manner of subservience African American and Mexican Hispanic”
(Polhemus 1994: 18).
Addressing the discriminated
African-Americans, the zoot suit should signal “I got it made” (Polhemus 1994:
By the mid-1970s the punks call their clothes “confrontation dress”, an aggressive challenge to the traditional dress-order in the era of Thatcherism. Despite of this signification and despite the martially spiked gear, in a closer examination of dress the aggression seems to be rather aimed at self-violation: In contrast to the sharp and tight fitting clothes of skinheads, punk-gear offers more a surface for grasp and attack. However, in the 1990s urban dress communication, between the diverse fashion generations, is on the side of the youth no longer determined by shocking extremes. Instead of particularly extravagant dress, the techno-scene provokes rather by a narcissistic and hedonistic expression and by scene-specific practices like drug consumption and endless dancing. They signal, that art’s avant-garde tactics of shock are passé - also for the youthcultures who entered into the heritage of the artistic bohemia with the aesthetic human being or the dandy of the 19th century (Mattenklott 1987, Riewold 1986). Apparently spectacular forms like cross-dressing, fetish or extreme body-practices like piercing, are inner principles of the style, though they are now not only a normality in the house or techno-scene. Men as female models are also popular in haute couture (like the transvestite Ru Paul), ordinary bankers have tattoos and they love latex bed-sheets. In the 1990s it is the transfer of the images of youth lifestyles to the world of models that is shocking, no longer the youth themselves. Apparently, the hegemony of youthcultural images is diminishing since shock-images are produced by the media and by the fashion industry’s image-machines, just to remind of the Benetton campaigns or the heroin- and death-chic. But nonetheless youth fashions continually open up niches, in which adults cannot or do not want to follow (as they actually do in the case of sportive clothing). The 70s revival in the context with club culture seems to be the one and only opportunity of deviation. During times, when everything is hip and up to date, the recourse to elements of 70s fashion remains incomprehensible to the generation who has originally worn the past fashion in their own youth. Basically this is valid for a number of revival phases. However, the decisive distinction is, that those who are today between thirty and forty, perceive themselves in the 1990s still as young. But they are confronted with teenagers and twenty-somethings who are really young - so their citation of past fashions destroys the illusion of lasting youth.
Fashion topology: Superficiality and morphology
In the 1990s dress mutates to a carrier of pictorial information. To decode a content gets increasingly difficult, because of the depreciation of compulsory symbols. But despite of the change in poignant symbolism, symbolic cores can still be traced. Thereby the representation of the self is more and more confined to the presentation of marked and lettered surfaces.
The covering and uncovering of the body can be understood as a kind of self-wrapping. This “character-branding” is comparable to the surfaces of products (for example cartoon heroes on food packages, see Wippermann 1995). Towards the augmenting iconization, “neutral” and standardized forms of dress, so-called “basics” like t-shirts and sweat-shirts, are particularly suitable as carrier-objects and matrix for written and pictorial information, because their smooth surfaces show no disturbing elements like buttons or plaiting. The surface design, like graffiti “characters” on a hooded sweat shirt, characterizes the appearance of a garment. The visual variants of a brand, the label inside and outside a garment, rise to a highly important design feature.
The wearer’s identity is mediated as a surface impulse, realized through the “right” combination of the “right” labels, as manifested in a description published in the techno magazine Raveline:
“You’ve had short hair, a brown, checked wrap-skirt, Stüssy t-shirt, DUB hooded shirt, Airwalks and a silver wristwatch ...”
(Raveline, September 1997).
In the 1970s labels were still rarely printed or embroidered on garments. The imprinting of t-shirt extends in the 1980s. The first examples in youthcultures are the fan and tour t-shirts, showing on the front the admired stars. They can be purchased on concerts and in record shops. Writing and lettering turns into an important means of design, alongside motives like characters, cartoon figures, faces of rock heroes and their logos,.
Printing as surface design produces a new segment of casual clothing, for which the cut, in the sense of “depth-design”, is of less importance. By the right reading of the visual information, the label or drawing, individuals can be classified according to specific styles. This is especially valid for actual youth fashions: here only the decoding of visual messages can lead to expertise and insider knowledge, but not the knowledge of specific textile techniques and features, like the cut, a valuable fabric or a sewing detail. An individual’s self-localization is made easier by the surface, it can be expressed very concretely in characters and images. On the observer’s side this demands a growing competence in differentiation. By reading and decoding the commercial signs and their combination, young people are able to localize and characterize others at first sight. Apart from label and surface design, the standard cut of “basics” is another possibility for a meaningful differentiation: namely the size. In contrast to the European size-system, the American sizes S, M, L and XL are quite restricting. Youthcultures prefer the extreme sizes XXS or XXL to enlarge are reduce their body size. Dress forms the body and influences the habitus, even common garments like jeans, which are nowadays common across all age-groups.
“A circumstance, which divides the own body literally into two independent halves, one up from the belt-line, freed from dress, and the other down from the belt to the ankle, organically grown together with the garment. (...) Jeans forced myself to control my movements, they made me more civilized and mature. (...) Clothing, as it is forcing an outward appearance, is a semiotic mechanisms or communication machine.”
The tight and figure accentuating dress turns into an armor and dress-machine, which forces to transfer the way of living to the exterior and to neglect inner life and thinking (Eco 1986: 75).
Youthcultures play with the possibilities of widening and narrowing body boundaries and with the construction of differing body silhouettes. With the Twiggy-like fashion the 1960s produce a childlike body silhouette, which lengthens the legs and shortens the upper part of the body. In the 1970s bell-bottoms and plateau-shoes accentuate calf and feet in contrast to a narrow upper body. The mohican of the punks or the dreadlocks of the rastafaris cause a pointed enlargement of the head (Hebdige 1987). In the case of punk the shape of the head stands disproportionate to the reduction and negation of the body with rather tight-fitting clothing. The extension of the entire body-silhouette into a threatening gesture can be seen among hiphop. Thick and bulky materials, like multi-layered fabrics and big, over-sized down-jackets function as a deterrence of possible enemies and opponents. Of course, the original interpretation, that the wearing of numerous weighty dress layers, even at warm temperatures, indicate a fear of sickness or old age, is here not valid (Lurie 1981: 47). The principle of the over-size look makes clear, that youthcultural fashions are not aimed at functionality.
Fashion morphology is - apart from shapes, cuts, big and small proportions and the interrelations of diverse clothing pieces - determined by diverse layers of clothing. There is a new relation of “inside” and “outside” emerging through changes in the order of dress-layers, by the inversion of garments or by holes that uncover further dress-layers or naked skin. So the attention is drawn to the diverse forms of intended interruptions within the single dress-layers. Tears and holes are specifically destructive dress practices. Unfastened buttons, zippers or apparently too short garments (Wright 1994) are more incidental, unintended signs. The opening of dress is based on a kind of figure-ground relation. The kind of the blank, uncovered part defines not only the respective garments, but the entire ensemble.
In youthcultures bare parts, cuts and omitted dress have generally a meaning of an offense against the “normal” order of common dress layers. The history of youthcultures starts with the reduction of underwear or rather its growing visibleness: In the movie The Wild One, Marlon Brando wears a white shirt, a piece of underwear the youth turned into outerwear (Krüger 1985). During the 1950s and 1960s especially the female youth had to wear quite uncomfortable and weighting dress layers: a complete set consisted of bra, panties, shirt, petticoat, bodice and suspenders. The visibleness of a piece of underwear was regarded a personal disaster, for example when the petticoat was showing underneath the skirt (Rutschky 1996: 148).
During the last decades, the most intimate layers of clothing became more often and more extensively visible in youthcultures, shrinking finally to a minimum in the scenes of house and techno: Female outerwear consist often just of underwear like light tops, bras and shorts, the male upper part of the body is even entirely bare. The reversal of inner and outer layers of clothing and the loss of the original meaning of outerwear reaches its peak among punk. The tears and holes in the outfit of the punks display pale, naked skin and underwear. Beyond this, a special field of underwear, namely fetish gear, is brought to light, too - mainly initiated by Malcolm McLaren’s and Vivienne Wetswood’s boutique SEX, situated on London’s King’s Road.
Additionally, in winter, punk and new wave girls also wear long underpants, dyed in black (which can be regarded as early leggings) and long sleeved shirts taken from the repertoire of men’s underwear.
The significance of bare body parts, realized by short tops showing the belly or by the principle of smallness, is also widely spread among the hippies of the 1960s. Here not only underwear but also nightgowns raise into outerwear, as shown in the collections of Mary Quant, converting nightgowns into light summer dresses.
By the middle of the 1990s the hiphop b-boys let their baggy pants down to the knees, showing off their designer-underpants. Thereby they reanimate a traditional aristocratic and bourgeois principle of distinction: white undergarments, with luxurious lace showing out of the outer garments, indicated that one could afford a stainless, bright white (Rutschky 1996, 150). Now, instead of lace, the b-boys show the designer-label. However, the visibility of underwear also causes handicaps. Similar to the bondage trousers of the punks, the dropping of clothing leads to a conscious restriction of movement, resulting in a shuffling and rolling gait.
Subverting gender specific connotations, they unconsciously transform an approved model of the upper classes of earlier centuries: Because the restriction of the female body’s movement was a sign of conspicuous leisure, demonstrated by aristocracy and bourgeoisie (Veblen 1986: 144).
Since the middle of the 1990s a revival of body-shaping underwear can be observed. The 1970s emphasize the behind and repress the breasts. Big breasts are regarded a handicap, for a redemption of this natural misfortune the industry produces minimizing bras (Lurie 1981: 251). And the bra is despised as basically unnatural among the hippie generation.
Nowadays bras do not return as instruments of repression, but are used to accentuate the own body forms and to bring them in “right shape”. Push-up or wonderbra are bloodless corrections, which are (in Europe) still preferred to direct beauty surgery and silicone implants. Analogously, there are also body-shaping tools for men, like push-up underpants. In November 1996 Vogue recommends a corset to bring the body in the perfect shape required for the skintight fashions of 1997 and Hennes & Mauritz offers forming tights and underpants. In their function as invisible body shapers, lingerie has again a secret or mysterious meaning. And in the 1990s the whole scale of body images is possible, ranging from the silicon-tons of Lollo Ferrari down to the girl-like contours of Kate Moss.
1.3 Fashion principles
Apart from fashion-morphological categories also the basic sociological mechanisms, characterizing the circulation of specific fashion elements in society, have to be considered. They will be adapted here to the requirements of a youth fashion analysis. Polhemus adapts Simmel’s hierarchical model of class (Simmel 1995: 3) to youthcultures, namely the principle of “trickle down”. This means, that in a watered down version the ideas of haute couture “trickle down” to the mass-market. The way leads from the original, exclusive and elitist item to serial mass-production. However, the principle described by Simmel (Simmel 1995: 11) must be extended, as it is far too undifferentiated to describe developments in the working classes of earlier and contemporary time. As Angela Partington shows, members of the working class consciously make their own stylistic decisions and do in fact not strive after the compensation of a bad copy (Partington 1992: 145). As an opposing model, Polhemus adds the principle of “bubble up”, which introduces also the dimension of generation into the process of fashion. The tendencies of street fashion, developed by youthcultures, bubble up and rise into the state of haute couture. Zandra Rhodes’ adaptations of punk and Jean Paul Gaultier’s reminiscences of punk and new wave are good examples. In the 1990s a characterization via simple, linear mechanisms is no longer adequate to comprehend the complex interrelations between youthculture and the fashion sectors of adults. Rather the opposite, because since the 1980s youthcultures use also quite overtly the repertoire of haute couture. They expropriate visually salient brand logos and wear either copies of favorite designers or purchase the originals at any price (see Zeitmagazin on Japanese fashion victims, September 1997). Some of the couturiers are especially popular among youthcultures like techno and house, even though they do not offer special young collections (Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Helmut Lang). Therefore designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Walter van Beirendonk, the enfants terribles of the fashion scene, are positioned or move between the circles of youthcultures and haute couture.
Hiphop begins with the open and uninhibited citation and absorption of the elitist signs of haute couture, who have simple and prominent logos (the logo of Mercedes decorates necklaces, Gucci and Chanel logos are printed on t-shirts). The signs of unreachable wealth and power are exaggerated by a “blow up” technique. Already in the 1940s the zoot suit showed a similar strategy of overdoing and excess. So the members of the black hiphop culture appropriate signs and objects, which they are - in the eyes of the middle class - not entitled to. In the center of interest is less a parole like “consumption and enjoyment now” or “designer labels now”, but the message “I made it” addressed at the community. The citation of dream images and their transformation via strategies of hyperconsumption and hyperluxury, can be seen as a proof for the impossibility of this wish’s realization - due to the social reality in the black communities (see McLaren 1995).
The appropriation of brands proceeds contrary to the strategy, which can be regarded as a preparation to an expected and realizable luxurious life. For the US-preppies and yuppies the moment of expropriation or inadequacy, as far as age is concerned, plays no role. Here designer clothes are an anticipation of an upcoming situation, because the yuppies of the 1980s, or the popper in Germany, do not come from low-income backgrounds (Fischer/ Fuchs/ Zinnecker 1981).
Furthermore, youthcultures can be signified according to two contrary mechanisms: dressing up and dressing down. The new market segments emerging during the 1990s expand the functions and meanings of everyday-, work-, leisure-wear (dressing down) and evening wear or “sunday best” (dressing up). Now dress marks the occasion and not the other way around.
Dressing up and dressing down are commonly understood as class specific dress practices. “The rich can afford looking poor.” (Angela Carter quoted in McRobbie 1995: 151). As reality shows, Carter’s argument, saying that the black community and working class prefers dressing up whereas white and middle classes tend to dress down, is not precisely correct.
Immigrants and lower classes behave in a hyper fashion conscious manner and show off an over-fulfilling of a fashion-debit. Lower income classes tend to utilize more rarely militaristic attributes or clothing which stem obviously from the own work context. But regarding hiphop this must be relativized. Dressing down turns here into dressing up with casuals, work- and sportswear. Thus protective clothing, commonly characterized as plain and purely practical (Lurie 1981: 28) gets a new status.
Youthful work-, street-, and sportswear is a subversion of the dressing down principle, because one is dressing up with simple and functional garments. Sportswear is favorably worn because it has obvious functional elements, which are intended to protect the body during exercise. By stripping it of its original function and transferring it into a new context, sportswear gets an aesthetic intrinsic value. The variety of sports offers an increasing range of stylistic elements and there are many interdependencies between sports and subcultures (skater, surfer, inline, snowboard). In sportive subcultures dress has first of all a direct function: the breakdancer can optimize his headspin with particular caps and hoods, the skater has special trainers with toe-caps, which resist grinding. In the stage of popularization and extension of the style these clothes can also be seen among people who do not practice skateboarding or snowboarding. The growing significance of sports, following an American model, leads to a transfer of elements from one to another area: sports wanders into leisure wear. The sportive collections of Tommy Hilfiger and Helly Hansen are very recent examples. So alongside the blurring of boundaries between dressing up and down, clothes that is originally related to particular sporting activities are defunctionalized.
Youth fashions are always a combination of practical garments suitable to the style and its activities and disfunctional elements, appropriated from other areas, which can also be hindering.
Sportswear can be regarded as dressing up for leisure time. This is clearly differentiated from dressing down for leisure time, as practiced for example by certain people of the elder generation, who wear in their leisure time jogging combinations made of artificial silk in bright colors. Dressing down in youthculture must also be distinguished from dress regulations enacted from the top of white collar jobs: in the age of information technology they transform “dressing down” via (expensive) casual clothing for business, following the rule “dress up for dress down day”.
Dressing up and down can also be seen in the juxtaposition of new and used clothes. The elder generation regards secondhand clothing as “dressing down”, because the garments are old and used. On the contrary, nearly all youthcultures live on the repertoire of the past, supplied on secondhand markets and in charity shops. Since the 1980s there is a huge network of secondhand shops and rag-fairs (McRobbie 1995: 143). It furnishes the young with raw material for new styles (McRobbie 1995: 135). Also many wardrobes and cellars of parents have a promising stock of old garments, which can be utilized as new stylistic elements. In the 1960s the secondhand clothing of hippies is an intentional affront against the conservative clothing manner of the adult generation. It causes a revival of natural materials and clothes like sheepskin coats. Also old uniforms and model dresses are rediscovered. However, at that time the majority of people associates used dress with need, poverty and with rag-pickers living on the street - connotations which are consciously picked up by the youth. Nowadays the archaeological search for the traces and survivals of past fashions is widespread and has lost its disreputable character. Today a particularly exotic item from the rag-market is a prove of taste, knowledge and meticulous searching, but not a sign of social decline.
Generally, dressing up can be seen as an overemphasis or exaggeration of the existing dress code, which is realized for example by the distortion of proportions. Sufficient for the creation of an ideal style form (hiphop, teds, rockabillies, gothics, mods) are more or less conventional dress, also historic reminiscences (details are highly important) and a precise arrangement of the garments. A great importance is attached to cleanliness and a proper order of garments. Nonetheless, dressing up differs indeed from the habits of the elder generations, as hiphop shows. For the older people in black communities dressing up implies “sunday best”, whereas for members of the hiphop culture dressing up means cool tracking suits and sneakers. Therefore, dressing down in youthcultures aims at the destruction of existing dress codes. With torn clothes or “wrong” combinations they introduce new categories of order. In Alison Lurie’s understanding of dress as language, dressing down is here then synonymous with vulgar words (Lurie 1981: 8). Among the independent and sport styles, like punk, heavy metal, rockers or skaters, dress has to look ragged and worn. The history of many failures and hard training on the street must be engraved into the surface.
Youth fashions are essentially quite universal, showing no real differentiation of dress for particular occasions. A resistance of dressing up for a special situation bears not rarely potential for family conflicts. The clothing style is so closely connected with the representation of the own persona, that it is perceived as suitable for any context. Clubwear, however, is an exception, because it integrates various elements from street-, sports-, and workwear. Even though it is also worn in everyday contexts, it is primarily intended for the context of clubbing. Thereby the concept of dressing up sneaks back into youthcultures like techno and house, however, now it is a self-defined principle, regulated via style internal agreements.
“Plastic soul junkies”: The fashion of the techno and house-scene
Young people who belong to the techno and house scene regard themselves usually as individualists, they refuse to categorize themselves neither through style designations nor through particular models. This can also be seen in the fact, that many youthcultural fashion elements are no longer restricted to one specific style, but wander between the styles, like workwear or old school training jackets, which are worn in hiphop as well as in techno.
Since the beginning of this movement more then ten years ago, the techno and house-scene coexists in an authentic underground as well as an commercial mainstream. The symbolism which characterized the style in its time of origin, like the shrill neon colors is reproduced in mass. By the end of the 1990s a counter movement of producers, which grew out of the scene and always tried to escape commercial marketing, lay upon minimalism in form and color: Using plain, subdued colors and disclaiming spectacular and large prints.
To the untrained eye the techno and house-scene appears like an excess of a random eclecticism. In opposite to former styles, the repertoire for citations and borrowings has now obviously expanded. It will be the task of the following paragraphs to show, that dress in the context of the entire style follows particular rules and creates time-specific forms, which can be read as a comment to social reality.
The particularities of this dress style will now be worked out on the basis of the creative principles of the techno-style, which characterize the visual field as well as the field of music.
Essential techniques like transformation and modulation are less a break with the foregoing, or a juxtaposition of the disparate, but rather a creation of variants - with little but therefore very significant differences. For the production of variants Photoshop or Roland TB 303 filters present typical instruments for modulation. In the context of dress, modulation and transformation are mainly applied to brand logos, which are printed on “basics”. The brand logo is looped analogously to music and forms an invariant core. Size, color and fabric make up the differentiations from the original or from the brand logo expropriated via adbusting.
Another principle is artificiality: Sleeping and awake sequences are structured in a new order that ignores the natural rhythm or separation of life into day and night. The parole of excessive dance through runs counter to the bourgeois week schedule, allocating the weekend the function of rest and recovery. As the music is computer generated, it is artificial, too. The pitching of natural voices generate childlike tones, reminding of Mickey Mouse (as in gabber). Further hints to the synthetic as well as the technical can be found in the artificial childhood of the girlie-look, in dyed hair, wrong lashes, shrill neon colors and materials, like extravagant high-tech polymers in dress. There are actually parallels to the color ecstasy back in the first decade of the 20th century, when fashion, stimulated by the futurists, preferred colors with an artificial expression, such as violet, orange, purple and jade-green.
In the techno and house-scene nature always appears in plastic versions, like sunflowers or artificial lawn. The emphasis lies on special, man-made and chemically produced materials - heavy duty stuff - which is extremely durable, non inflammable and resistant to water, acid or oil.
Further principles are self-containment and stylistic hermetic in the culmination of events, the rave or club night. The spaces of the techno- and house-scene are like isolated laboratories, in which the various combinations of party people are tested to create the right “chemistry” for the night. This hermetic is also based on specific criteria of exclusion, differentiated according to dress-style. Like all other subcultures techno, too, claims equality within the style. But the postulation of equality functions only on a style intern level. In the moment of an event social differences, such as class and gender, are in fact deactivated. However, in advance to this, there are strict and steady selection principles regulating the entry. The door politics of the clubscene generates a different social order. Via the establishment of internal style hierarchies the scene is subdivided into a manipulative dancing crowd (comparable to the users of computers) and into a privileged producing elite: Analogous to computer programmers these are DJs and producers. In the market these internal style hierarchies are expressed by certain groups of commodities: The cd-compilation is targeted at users whereas vinyl pressings or the White Label are produced for the practicing DJ. Hobby mixer and Technics reproductions are aimed at the hobby-DJ and the original Technics SL 1200 Mk 2 is used by the professional. These kind of hierarchies are less expressed in fashion than in institutions like VIP lounges and VIP cards and face control or door politics.
In addition to the social subdivisions in the scene, the individual tends to shield the body from external influences with special accessories and materials: Skintight, and partly impermeable surfaces like neoprene, latex, PVC and leather or objects like lollipops, dummies or gas-masks shut the body orifices and conserve the body like a mummy, delimiting it against a body-hostile surrounding. Keeping the body fit for the event, by saving its energy and temperature, similar to a diving- or space suit, is an apparently quite paradoxical practice, because it forces and intensifies the process of “radiation” and ecstasy caused by drugs and heat. For dancing excesses workwear is rather disfunctional, due to the solid quality of the durable and protective materials people literally wear themselves out in them (Beat Wyss 1981). This is similar to the flared worker’s pants, they do not only indicate a loss of functionality in workwear, moreover they present a direct hindrance for work and thus and a safety risk.
The reduction of sight through dark shades and protective glasses used for welding, the limitation of olfactory nerve and breathing via gas or dust-masks and the restriction of movement and dancing through bulky plateau shoes change the perception. This “material” limitation of perception runs counter to an “immaterial” mind-expansion achieved through chemical aids, like substances for inhaling (Wick Vaporup) and designer drugs.
This kind of dress generates associations, which lead far beyond the basic material level. Simultaneously, they are an imaginary protection against invisible “immaterial” dangers like radiation (laser or x-ray) and chemical substances (acids), but also a conscious exposure to risks: An expression for the effect of drugs is “Verstrahltsein”, a German world indicating radioactive contamination (one of the music styles is not only because of the tones of the 303 machine called “acid”).
Literal superficiality is the next structural principle, from which the two further principles “reflection” and “layer” can be derived. The entire clothing, even arm holes and lining, is designed on a surface structure via imprints, applications and layout. Here design reaches no longer into a deep structure. Specialized high-tech materials turn the bodies into reflecting and communicative surfaces - somehow positioned between billboard and screen, and moving between the color-walls of light installations.
Layers are also produced by mix and remix techniques in the endless tracks of sound carpets which produce overlappings and interweavings. Also the organizational structure of the style is set up as a layer. Labels, record as well as clubwear companies, represent with many sub-labels also a layered, non-hierarchical structure.
Layers in dress are produced by the connection and overlapping of particular time-specific elements, for example when the historic survival from the secondhand market is combined with futuristic high-tech materials. Layers are also formed, when numerous garments, like t-shirts, are worn on top of the other. Tied around the waist, like an apron over trousers, the prints are still kept visible. Clothing layers are turned upside down, when bras and skinny undershirts turn into visible party-dress.
Similar to the design of flyers layers are superficial, remaining two-dimensional. Emblems in the form of logos and brand signs are the only point of dress, which develops certain three-dimensional effects, for example in case of blinking labels or op-art structures.
Reflecting labels and neon colors correspond to the structural principle of radiation and visibility. The individual appears like a light-object. Shiny materials reflect the light and transform the body into a projecting surface, which sends simulated and even real light signals. Non-verbal forms of communication, like gesture in dance, send and receive signals, too. An exchange of information and energy becomes in techno highly visible through reflections: Dress is electrified by punctual blinking and turns the body into a temporal vision of light. This kind of metamorphosis is a sign for the voluntary transformation into an immaterial appearance, flying across spaces. Fluorescent objects, as a necklace or stick hold in the hand and laser-pointers reinforce this impression.
Material presence is alternately interrupted and accentuated. Communication with others is kept in distance and at the same time wanted. Due to their own transitoriness as a vision of light, flashing and reflecting materials are no paradoxical remedies against the fleetness of the body within the virtual space of the rave - but instead, they display the ambiguity of bodily presence in virtual spaces.
By the expropriation of objects and structures, the fashion of the techno and house scene produces a very disparate field of references, which refers to diverse areas of function in society.
The central area of reference, connected to all others, is the area of work. Its adaptation in workwear integrates also the forms of protective wear. They are durable and robust products, easily purchasable on the mass-market (Doc Martens, carhartt, Dickies) and which are relatively cheap in the U.S. When youthcultures discover these commodities for their styles, they often become expensive prestige objects. There are two contrary spheres of production visible, and with them the past and the future of work: The clean and sterile high-tech production of processors and microchips, a work in weightless respectively virtual worlds, with accessories like white gloves, and parallel the traditional field of craft, or rather machine supported bodily work, with heavy, bulky protective wear, gas- and dusk-masks and protective glasses.
Workwear visualizes the step from concrete to immaterial work. The reflector jackets of street cleaners, canalization workers, road workers and autobahn service or the boots of construction workers (like Caterpillar Walking Machines) promise the event of “real” bodily, though low paid and low valued work. Apart from its warning colors and reflecting applications, the jacket of the street-cleaner is especially interesting, because it indicates the discrepancy between the dying industrial work, high-tech work for a limited number of “elected” people and low service “Mcjobs”. But workwear can also be found among other youthcultures. In the 1980s new wavers wear roofer’s shoes, the hippies and the ecological movement use overalls and undershirts, the punks utilize worker’s boots with toe-caps made by Doc Martens. Also the flares of the 1970s, the so called Manchester trousers, originate in the area of workwear.
Beyond the references to industrial work, the symbolism of techno clothing is also taken from extreme situations like emergency, accident, catastrophe or dangerous substances - representing another specific work field. Concrete borrowings stem from the field of public security, police, fire-workers, first-aid doctors, national security and drug police. British and American elements are especially utilized, because of the more shrill colors. Catastrophes and permanent emergency are “normality” during an event, as the siren, the rave signal and terms like mayday show. Thus techno is a preparation for survival in extreme situations. The collections of Daniel Poole offer survival packs and jackets, enabling a person to wear everything directly on the body - in a sense of an urban support system.
Workwear gets a rather utopian character, when it refers to the future work in space. Visual ciphers from old science fiction novels and movies, and recently also from the Japanese manga comics, present here the main means of stylization. As “utopian dress” (Loschek) futuristic elements form a new direction in the fashion of the 1960s, alongside miniskirts and hot-pants: In 1966 Courreges launches silver space clothes, Pierre Cardin creates transparent boots and Paco Rabanne’s dresses are made of plastic rhombus connected with metal hooks. The movie Barbarella, produced in 1968, can be seen as a model for the space-look now popular in the techno-scene. It features Jane Fonda in artificial and at the same time seductive dress with transparent plastic holes. Television series give another, highly important creative input to youthcultural style creations. The techno and house-scene wears uniform-like shirts, as if they have jumped out of spaceship Enterprise or Orion.
Further visual formulas referring to future and extraterrestrial life, are all the emblems showing motives like stars and planets, rockets, spaceships, cockpits or the stylized head of alien Roswell. Furthermore, the literary figure of the cyber punk turns into a direct model of fashion. This is mainly because of his outlaw image and strive after autonomy, uncoupled from the hegemony of economic power. The punk parole “no future” is altered into “our future” - and the only option to maintain in a technologically dominated society is the appropriation of technology for own purposes.
Another area of reference is sport. Sport turns into work, into an endlessly perpetuating marathon. Sportswear is either directly appropriated respectively reanimated, like the blue Adidas jackets from the 1970s, or adopted in single striking elements, like stripes on sleeves. The collections of Fila, Helly Hansen and Tommy Hilfiger are highly popular because of the signaling character of primary colors and the pure shape of the brand logos. As outdoor garments they are made of simple, catchy forms and high-tech materials. Further areas of reference in sport are motorcross (like the trousers and jackets worn by Sven Väth in the middle of the 1990s) sailing (jackets and t-shirts), snowboarding (shoes and glasses), football (strips as loveparade t-shirts), skiing (old jackets from the 1970s) and skating (shoes and trousers).
It is remarkable, that especially the garments for outdoor activities are utilized. The use of this clothing is not really appropriate for warm indoor spaces and can therefore be seen as indicative for shifting outdoors into indoors. The exterior enters into the interior when world and public space are (via internet) connected with indoor spaces like cafes or clubs.
Fun-guerrilla and profanation: Military elements in youthcultures
Also military combat gear loses its function within doors. Uniform elements became very important style components in all post-war youthcultures (see also Poschardt 1998). McRobbie dates the begin of the utilization of military clothing back to the hippies of the 1960s. Actually, the youtcultural usage of uniform pieces goes back to the 1950s.
“Military uniforms were first found alongside the overalls and great-coats in army surplus stores and on second-hand rails of shops....theme in the counter-culture suggesting interest in the old, the used, the overtly cheap and apparently unstylish.”
The uniform is an extreme form of conventional clothing. Its original function is to impress or frighten the enemy during direct conflict (Lurie 1981: 20). For this reason uniforms are kept in loud and flashy colors until the First World War. Afterwards the aspect of concealment and camouflage is of primary importance. Military pieces of dress are chosen by youthcultures, similar to workwear, because of financial or practical reasons. Functionality and durability of materials play an important role. However, the camouflage aspect is here of less significance, instead the net of connotations, into which a military garment is woven, as well as its immediate aesthetic effect is highly important.
Military stands for a particularly strict order in society. With the use or appropriation of military accessories youthcultures express their opposition to society. The military dress is deprived of their “frightening dignity” by direct alterations like inscriptions, tears or the combination with rather contrasting garments, like underwear. Hippies marked their military parkas with peace-signs, symbols opposing militarism and the governmental authority. Inscriptions and badges desecrate uniform elements. Another strategy is to render them useless of their original function, for example by changing the colors of camouflage-suits. Violet, red or orange patterns no longer serve concealment and camouflage, instead they draw the attention to the wearer. In this they also refer to the military strategy of dazzling the opponent side. The intention of dazzle paintings (a protection paint for ships used in the First World War) was not to make the ships invisible, but to irritate and confuse the enemy’s perception.
It is remarkable, though not surprising, that youthcultures use only rarely the complete uniforms of a higher rank or a complete combat gear. This would be directly associated with military megalomania and obedience. Significantly, precisely for this reason, these garments are chosen by right wing youthcultures, like nazi-skinheads. They are willed to demonstrate aggression, a nationalistic attitude, patriarchal power, group membership and a return to “old values”.
Another exception is Public Enemy’s combat style and the aggression among the visual language of many gangsta-rappers, who work consciously with military elements to underline their readiness to fight for the Nation of Islam and the Fivepercenters.
Among gay cultures, in the context of sado-masochistic plays, uniform pieces serve the connotation of subordination and unlimited power. They are used to exaggerate and overdo the heterosexual image of manliness.
All the other youthcultures usually play with only single military elements. Neither do they understand them in a literal sense nor do they take them serious. A brief overview on the forms of direct appropriations of military dress can show this: Accessories like sunglasses are originally a military item. Today they function as certificate of coolness and are either worn on the nose or on the top of the head decorating the hair (since the 1970s). Sunglasses were developed for pilots in the 1920s as a protection against the harsh light during high flying altitude, which caused headache and sickness. The forerunner of the legendary Ray Ban with green wad and Lomb glasses, made in 1937, was developed for the U.S.-Marines.
In the manner of Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”, the young “rowdies” of the 1950s wear pilot jackets of the Second World War, model Perfecto Bronx, produced by Schott, New York. In the 1960s, the British mods prefer oversize parkas with US Airforce emblems. Their opponents, the rockers, in contrast wear Wehrmacht helmets and emblems. The peace-loving hippies return to army parkas in the 1970s. The punk style consists of a whole range of military garments: army trousers, often dyed, with many pockets, army boots and Doc Martens worker boots, camouflage prints, cartridge belts and long, dark-green coats formerly worn by the Gestapo. The aspect of functionality, the price and durability - appropriate to the life in the streets - plays a very important part in the punk streetstyle. Additionally, another meaningful function of military elements among the punks is the reinforcement of a distanced but non the less threatening habitus. The new wavers of the 1980s differentiate the style of the punks further, by wearing short, black or gray wool jackets with the Swiss cross on the buttons, they were originally worn by the Swiss mountain infantry.
Calf-high Doc Martens with 18 holes and bomber-jackets are a reference to aggression and male combat-readiness among the male skinheads. Female punks wear ankle-high Doc Martens and army trousers as a practical demonstration of a different and autonomous female role. Female punks are also the first to introduce a combination of raw military footwear worn with a skirt or dress. Even if this is today fully absorbed by fashion, in the late 1970s and early 80s women in high and bulky boots are still scorn because of their “unwomanliness”. In the 1990s military accessories are a direct expression of girls’ aggressiveness and combat-readiness, as displayed by the cartoon character Tankgirl or by the riot grrrls.
Like in many other youthcultures, also techno and house involve military discourses, reinterpreting them as aesthetic phenomena. Around 1994 and 1995 camouflage patterns, visible in many youthcultures (punk, skinhead, hiphop, rastafari) in diverse patterns and color combinations, are also particularly significant in techno. The camouflage aspect is subverted by producing the pattern in a wide range of flashy colors, and by applying it to all sorts of garments, including shoes and skirts. In the middle of the 1990s, winter or snow camouflage is very popular. Outside of a snow-capped surrounding this pattern is extremely salient. Therefore, camouflage is not used to hide oneself, but to arouse attention. Visibility is the motto on events. The use of other colors can cause the contrary effect, namely getting invisible in the crowd on the dancefloor.
So in techno and house the aggressive touch of camouflage gets annulled. The operational area is the party-battlefield. These actions are all an expression of the fun-guerrilla. They conquer urban space following the Beastie Boys’ motto “You gotta fight for your right to party!”
However, to be able to realize the progress of time within the dark space of the party, there is a renaissance of digital watches with fluorescent faces, like Casio’s G-shock. They are a reference to the clock-faces of pilot watches with self-reflecting radium. Further military elements are neon-colors, which have a function similar to signal rockets: they show a person’s positioning in the space of the event and send a sign of presence. Fixing something with the laser-pointer corresponds to the targeting with infrared and laser weapons: they no longer fix objects through the reticule, but focus and mark them via a red laser spot. This is an additional, technical way of communication in the party-context, an immaterial, nearly telepresent method to tip on somebody’s shoulder.
“Obviously the people with their motorial, sensorial and intellectual equipment, are not really made to lead high-technological wars. Since the First World War velocity and acceleration (to speak in Virilio’s words) force to the establishment of special institutions, teaching the slow people new forms of perception... In the intervening periods, that is, when war does not pass in real time, presumably rock-concerts and discotheques play the part of training-camps, which break through the threshold of perception.”
Kittler’s description can be attached to diverse aesthetic and musical phenomena: The stomping rhythm reminds to marching, samples imitate the noise of battle and rifle fire, the rave signal resembles a military alarm signal. The special light effects, the reduction of the color spectrum and the concentration on white light, either produced by stroboscope-flashes resembling dazzle-rockets or big searchlight-projectors, constructing a carpet of light, are similar to the anti-aircraft rays of Albert Speer’s light-dome, however minimized and turned down about ninety degrees.
To the eyes of outsiders, techno exposes the dancers to extreme conditions, which are however not perceived as exceptional by the members of the style. This is the serious side of the training towards new worlds of perceptions. The other side is the fun-side: pasteboard tanks (Berlin Ensemble 1997 and Rake ten: Camel The Move 1994, record label DJAX Up beats loveparade 1997) and military vehicles are popular motives for lorries on parades like Street Parade in Zurich and Love Parade in Berlin - who are not incidentally called parades and refer in themselves to something military. However, together with camouflage and water filled pump-guns (supersoaker) they represent a rather obsolete military area. Blinking dress elements and laser-pointer hint to the future direction of military transformation: The visible forms of weapons are turned into toys - the weapons of the future will no longer be visible.
The infantile and the androgynous
The reference area of childhood shows a willful, stylistic step outside of the adult world. The rejection of aging and the cultivation of a shrill and child-like taste form the basis of a prejudice-free get together and a feeling of safety in the big substitute family of the event.
As a fashionable element the recourse to child-like elements is nothing new. Oskar Wild wore a suit which was perceived as infantile, the so called Lord Fauntleroy suit, which consisted of short trousers and a velvet jacket (Lurie 1981: 44). Even today adults tend to dress for leisure activities or during holiday like little children. They wear shapeless garments, which can be easily put on, like jogging-pants with elastic waistbands or shoes with velcro fastenings. This “temporary childwear” (Lurie 1981: 58) contains of the traditional materials of children’s clothing, like cotton, jersey, baby colors and cute patterns.
As decades later in the techno- and house-scene, also the women of the 1960s look like children. Make-up and haircut produce a big head with big baby eyes. The childlike body is constructed through simple clothing shapes, like mini-dresses and baby-doll, slip-dresses and geometric forms. This impression is further increased by the beauty ideal of the time, a thin body with slim legs and skinny torso. Elements of children’s wear can also be seen among men, wearing jackets without lapels, anoraks, chords, turtlenecks and bright colors. For Lurie these infantile elements in fashion are a sign of an economically secure time. By the time of the recession at the end of the 1970s infantilism is for a while out of fashion (Lurie 1981: 81/83).
All of the described elements are now revived in the club- and event-scene, labeled as girlie, cutie and babe. Heidi-plaits, hair-slides, the miniaturization of accessories like backpack and rucksack, toys (waterpistols) and sweets as necklaces are significant components of this style. The infantile look is complex, the entire children’s world is ready for disposition. Even drugs like ecstasy pills get a child-like face, displaying smileys, Fred Firestone, dinosaurs or dolphins.
The girlie image in the context of the techno- and house-scene is not a construction of an individualistic, anti-feminist social climate (Graw 1997: 80). Instead of a regressive step, it is the creation of a safety-space for girls and young women. The indicated accusation applies only to the media-images of girlies, which have to be seen in close connection with commercial interests. Girls and women symbolize with the original girlie concept, with an infantile, pre-sexual outfit, an innocent and at the same time an autonomous engagement with their body. They signal, that sexual attraction is not the aim of this partly body exposure. By categorizing themselves as child-like, they display the wish to be left alone. To men this presentation signals a taboo-zone. And many men wear as well necklaces with wooden pearls, known from childhood and engage as fun guerrilla in children’s pleasures, armed with plastic pump-guns and colored water-pistols. The recourse to infantile elements allows men to get rid of the macho postures for being sexually impressive and experience instead a rather free or playful relation the other sex.
However, there are also different body concepts and practices integrated into the house and techno-scene, adopted for example from the gay or fetish cultures. Incorporating androgynous elements, particularly male body images tend to blur gender boundaries visually. Fashion blurs the crusted structures of gender constructions, even when the androgynous forms serve only an aesthetic differentiation. Men who wear make-up or skirts are often still stuck in these experimental poses. Only very few of them are real cross-dressers, transvestites or drags. Gay posing becomes fashion, alongside a coquettish play with bisexuality a la Madonna or Denis Rodman. However, it is decisive for the laboratory of the techno-event and house-club, that the visual experiments towards a re-coding of the male body is eventually possible.
Because of a wider and more differentiated range of styles, men are usually the trendsetters of the scene, like in hiphop. In techno and house many men also tend to cross the borderlines of gender and style. In contrast, with the exception of the girlie-look, women’s wear in techno, develops no autonomous line, but is often a “gendered” copy of men’s wear (like Adidas mini-dresses and Puma trainers with high heels). So a crossing of gender-boundaries by girls can only be seen in transformed sportswear and in bulky shoes, however, significant is also the adaptation of a gay dance style. But nonetheless, there is no connection to female androgyny, as it could be seen in the 1920s among the garconne, the seductress who flattened her breasts with bandages to get a boyish appearance.
Men are on their way to become fashion victims and in their narcissistic poses they touch on the style strategies of the gay-scene, as described in movies like “Paris is burning” or in “vogueing”. The changes in male body images and experiences is mainly initiated by the cultural practices of gay, black minorities in the U.S., transferred to Europe by the early acid house scene and the house clubs of the 1990s. In the techno- and house culture they are regarded as opinion leaders. Because of a mixture of street credibility, black coolness and gay dancing ecstasy they stand for an authentic party culture (see Poschardt 1995: 246).
“Urban blacks are the dandies of today, the true heirs of Beau Brummel; their “boss vines” show a concern for fit and detail rare elsewhere, and a talent for daring combination of color and fabric that a professional designer might envy.”
The plushy and kitsch-like interior of many house-clubs, with gold, brocade and a preference for cheesy devotional articles is mainly stimulated through the creative means of travesty, the artificial and ecstatic exaggeration of femininity. Alongside the unveiling of the fragile construction of visual gender norms, the cross-dressing strategies of this scene refer to media-technological techniques, like gender-switching or bending, popular in the internet (see Stone 1996: 65).
Retro, revival, old school
Beyond the techniques of cross-dressing techno and house work with the symbolism of super-high-tech, orientated towards the future but juxtaposed with three retrograde forms: retro, old school and revival.
Retro means here the imitation of elements or complete dress ensembles of past decades, as a nostalgic retrospect to the past. Barbara Burman-Baines differentiates classical, rural, historical and exotic revivals. She signifies revival as a form of retrospection, which is characterized not by change but by the search for lost values like simplicity, the natural and classical severity (Baines 1991: 10). With respect to the youthcultures’ engagement in historical elements the term retro is more suitable to comprehend the unchanged, nostalgic recourse. Because revival already etymologically incorporates the dimension of change within a revival. It is not intended to preserve styles and stylistic features, instead they are open to changes and alterations. An actualization happens also via the release and reintroduction of original forms, materials and glossy fabrics like satin, lurex or PVC, which were highly popular among the disco-scene of the 1970s and are now incorporated into the new context of club-culture.
Disco-revival is an attempt towards the establishment of an anti-fashion. Anyway, the resistance of fashion produces regularly new fashions. An apparently overcome aesthetic faux pas, some part of the generation in the 1970s felt helplessly exposed to, returns in all of its disproportionality, disfunctionality and contrariness of tight and oversize forms. Flares, gogo-dancers and rounded or extremely long collars find their way into the actual house club-culture. The recognizable shrill, high-tech fabrics are juxtaposed by the proletarian, square and “bad taste” of the 1970s. The bulkiness and misshape of forms such as over-dimensional flares, plateau-shoes and poly-fibers make an especially traumatic reappearance. The janitor-look - consisting of training jackets, undershirts, proper polyacryl jumpers in beige- brown and a haircut with proper parting - is, if at all, only very late recognized as subversion. In the overfulfillment of a rather conform and proper style, the look seems to correspond to an accused escapism. However, with reference to the ecstatic style of the British mods, this uptight style is clearly differentiated from the success orientated and expensive conformity of the yuppies back in the 1980s. Because here they use the overtly unspectacular, not the labeled, but the proletarian common article.
The mentioned revival elements are a sign for the simultaneity of the different time levels - past, present and future - which are now synthesized in one style. A completely different form of self-referentiality or retrospection, in distinction to the aforementioned modulations of the past, is presented by the so called old school phenomenon, which appeared for the first time among techno and hiphop. This is a style-internal revival, produced by the recourse to the archetypes of the own style during its time of origin and demonstrates the autopoiesis of youthcultural systems.
Simultaneity of the contrary
One characteristic feature of the contemporary house- and techno culture is an (unconsciously generated) dialectical relation of contrasts, quite in the sense of Adorno. The sixes xxs and xxl exist parallel, however, not without causing a special tension. Tight and small dresses in children’s sizes appear alongside extremely wide and baggy clothing, as common among hiphop. Oversize xxl is produced by the amount of fabric, not by applications or linings. Particularly eye-catching is the re-occupation of the object, with a strong emphasis on the material and its qualities for a differentiation of products, and the use of particular durable and raw special materials.
Another contrast is the “naturality” of the naked male torso and the partly bare female body or the natural fabrics and ethnic symbolism (introduced via musical directions such as goa) in opposite to the entirely synthetic dancing context. The direct manipulation and inscriptions into the surface of the body, via tattoo and piercing, produce a contrast between the “restored” primitive body and the technological music, lighting and spatial surrounding.
Nudity and exposure do not display a “natural” body, but a body who’s surface has been designed by workout and wonderbra, illustrating the potential constructiveness of bodily images. The upheaval towards a maximum robotization and the forcing of alienation can also be traced in phenomena such as hybrid plateau-trainers. For a better visibility already the actors in the Greek tragedy wear stage-shoes with high soles, the so called cothurne. And the Venetian courtesans of the 15th century are not even able to walk in their high plateau shoes (zoccoli) without assistance. Depending on somebody for support, they confirm Veblens’s thesis of the women as valuable property (Veblen 1986: 144). The actual form of the plateau shoe, the Monsterlette, produced by Buffalo Boots, is a hybrid between a calf-high plateau boot, sneaker and the snow- or moon-boot of the 1970s. Although they are extremely high, these shoes do not have a fetish character. Because they do not show the fragility of high heels, they assign the wearer not the image of a dangerous seductress. In contrast, the Monsterlette connects the wearer securely with the ground, signaling autonomy instead of a helpless female need for protection. Though in the case of techno and house, bulky footwear indicate “take off” as well as being down to earth. Like the astronaut returning from space or virtual reality, men and women experience via their footwear - after an event back on earth - the everyday reality. Their footwear and balloon-like clothing, resembling Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet, turns them into mutants incapable of moving. This is closely linked to another aspect of simultaneous contrasts: traveling between absolute freedom of corporeality, floating to the music (“fly”) and the conscious hindrance of corporal freedom by heavy boots and insulating garments.
Micro-society of the future
Music, as a connecting element, produces temporarily a higher state of consciousness, a take off from the finite, corporal worlds. This corresponds with the utopias of the new technologies, aiming at the body’s preparation towards a life in space (see Extropy Institute, Max More: http://www.primenet.com/maxmore/).
Motives like astronauts, cyborgs and aliens open up a huge spectrum of new corporal worlds, ranging from the discovery of new living forms up to the desire of being oneself extraterrestrial or of leaving the human system and turn into a technoid machine. The symbolical robotization of the human body leads to an identification with alien and non-humane forms. In that sense, glaring hair colors, common among the scene, do not serve any ideas of provocation (as among punk), but as an extension of the too small color range of natural hair. Thus they can be understood as a hint or attempt towards a new specie. The insect-glasses of the late 1990s produced by Global Eye Wear or Funk (although over-size “frog” glasses are around since 1967) conceal the face and construct an image of an extraterrestrial being. They can also be compared to head mounted displays. “Additional eye-lights”, small lamps, positioned right beside the eyes (as used in Orbital performances) are a further instrument for the creation of an extraterrestrial look.
The techno- and house-scene generates a closed symbolic system. As an autopoietical system it can be transferred to many places all over the world. The style coexists with work, both are no longer incompatible, as in the case of punk. As parallel worlds they are even partly structured identical. They serve the training of a new form of living, a simultaneous existence in many paralleling natural and virtual worlds. The important segments of society, like work, leisure, sports, combat, war, executive, emergency, technology are in the scope of a non-stationary micro society shifted, respectively represented in distortion. Furthermore, the scene synthesizes a combination of primitive and “civilized” living forms, thus societies from various epochs.
However, as any other form of society, the techno- and house-scene has a hierarchy and is a distortion mirror of the characteristics and structures of the adult world. In the deconstructional manner of the architects Eisenmann or Liebeskind, the values of society are decentralized exaggerated or consciously filled with senseless voids.
The scene refers via symbols and emblems abstractly to the future and the world of technology. Flashing applications on dress, small lights, shining lollipops, laser-pointer and numerous other reflecting and radiating objects are low-complex technologies. Thereby the scene constructs unconsciously an image of new technology with infantile means. They test the images of tomorrow in a childish-naive and playful manner, stepping into the future in a rather child-like nature. As described above, with the help of toys, dress and accessories, future as well as war and evil are symbolized in a child’s view.
During the event the techno- and house scene simulates on a pre-technological level the existence in a material-corporal world, which is determined by immaterial impulses and stimuli. As analyzed, the shift between material and immaterial happens abstract-symbolically via medial clothing, similar to concrete techniques like wearable computing. Above that, the scene tests a further characteristic of the future, which is an important criterion of wearables, too: They wear/carry anything directly with their body, chain purses, small backpacks or Daniel Poole survival packs.
Technology u wear: Wearable computing and dress-networks
“We wear clothes, put on jewelry, sit on chairs, and walk on carpets that all share the same profound failing: they are blind, deaf and very dumb. Cuff links don’t in fact, link with anything else. Fabrics look pretty, but should have brain, too. Glasses help sight, but they don’t see. Hardware and software should merge into “underware”. Your shoes should be retrieving the day’s personalized news from the carpet before you even have time to take off your coat.”
Visions site, Think That Think, MIT Lab October 1997, see also Negroponte 1995:
Since the beginning of the 1990s especially American projects research on “wearable computing” in short “wearables” (URL: http://wearables.www.media.mit.edu/projects/wearables/FAQ/FAQ.txt; version 1.0, August 28th, 1997) examining how mobile media-technology can be worn directly on the body and become connected. The integration of technical instruments (wearables) into the clothing layers produces an external - at the moment still visible - technological layer or envelope. This is going to have a basic influence on the human’s bodily senses and perception, producing even a new skin ego (Didier Anzieu). In her book “What do Cyborgs eat? Logic in an Information Society”, Margaret Morse regards oral incorporation as the dominant modus of subject construction within the new technologies (Morse 1995: 160). One of these forms consists of an embracing of the other, for example through a layer of muscles, trained in workout, which covers the skin itself, or through covering the body with a second technological skin like “wearables”.
Wearable computing turns technology into dress and thus into a case of fashion. In contrast to the expensive and unique items like datasuits or suits for special applications, like art installations (see Stahl Stenslie cyberex-suit or the suit for the installation of Ars Electronica 1997), wearables are intended to be affordable in a certain time by all people. Thereby the datasuit, formerly not wearable without special technical units, uncouples and turns into an ordinary everyday object. No longer fixed to a technical naval-string it will then be governed by a remote control principle. This leads to a mobilization of telepresence (Rheingold 1992), as the users sit no longer in a control center, but are mobile themselves, operating and influencing from a distance.
The universalized smart clothing has then been detached from the original military function of the future, where wearable computer systems and networks play an important part. Military concepts like “21CLW” the 21st century land warrior are dependent on the development of wearables.
“... the 21st century land warrior project is integrating many elements and capabilities into military uniforms.”
But here are also medical applications of wearables: Blind people will be capable to see again via artificial eyes, already tested on animals. They consist of glasses with implanted cameras which forward recorded visual information to a wearable computer, which again sends impulses to the optic center in the brain, causing a visual impression.
In contrast to this, the new medial garments are not a sign of disability, not an artificial limb in the classical sense. They are initiated to expand human capabilities, though at the moment they are still causing bodily hindrances. The everyday surrounding is not suitable for the movements of robots or men like Steve Mann, who observes the external world via a camera. The desire, that a simultaneous look at the head mounted display and at the external environment will not reduce the freedom of movement (“without running into people”) is temporarily not realizable (actually, on Ars Electronica 1997 Steve Mann needed some assistance to find the sanitary facilities). However, Steve Mann is the first who steps outside of the laboratory and shifts science fictional visions into reality. He is called a cyborg and people find his media supported presence weird and scary. His perception of an augmented reality converts two different layers, in the connection of virtual and “real” reality, on one screen. The “private eye”, in the form of glasses, displays also additional information to the observed surrounding, mediated for example in texts.
For quite a long time now, these visions are already realized in movies: The cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in “Terminator 2” is already equipped with this augmented reality. By targeting an object, his retina projects the additional information on locality, weapon system and individuals. In “True Lies” the secret agent wears sunglasses which expand his perception, they function as screen for a micro-camera. Alongside movies, the ideas of wearable technologies are particularly developed in literary cyberpunk stories, as for example in Bruce Sterling’s “Artificial Kid”:
“...floating about him in the air are six small, silent camera modules each with two lenses and sound recording equipment, each carefully programmed.”
In case of Sterling’s figure “Artificial Kid” technology keeps a distance to the body. It circles around him and is not integrated as instrumental means into the clothing. William Gibson’s figure Molly in “Neuromancer” introduces another aspect of medial clothing, which is the combination of dress and weapon: numerous double-edged scalpels are fired out of a container positioned behind the protagonist’s nails (Gibson 1987: 44).
Wearables are a highly popular topic in movies: In “James Bond” it is the task of Mr. Q to integrate secret weapons invisibly in garments and elsewhere, so that they are quickly at hand. Dress is turned into deadly danger, which is able to look through a camera. Steady connections and hybrid mutations from body into weapon via digital techniques like morphing are realized in newer science fiction movies like “Spawn” or “Stargate”. By the medial technology in dress the entire surrounding can be organized by remote control, as shown in “Stargate”.
The utopias and experiments of literature are only rarely consequential and turn technology via data into immaterial accessories, as practiced with the figure of the datadandy by “Agentur Bilwet”:
"The datadandy collects information to boast with them, not to transfer them. The screen is the mirror for his toilette. The button and unbotton of the textile dandy found its equivalent in the chanel-surfing of an on/off decadence. The datadandy measures the beauty of his virtual appearance in the moral outrage and laughter of the plugged-in civilian."
Actually the type of the datadandy has not developed yet. “Fashionable” technology manifests itself at the moment not in an abstract form. It enters directly into fashion, not only embodied in materials, producing techniques or futuristic symbolism. Media turns into intelligent clothing, “smart clothing”, occupying the gaps and holes, that body and dress offer. Especially body decorations regarded as primitive pave the way for high-technology. Opening the body through tears and piercing, they are a preparation for the future invasion of technology. Thus, in the future, a receiver in a piercing of the bellybutton, would be a good place to implant technology.
The integration of technology into the body happens in two stages: Starting with mobile objects, media-technological extensions, like walkman and watchman, leading via pager (advertisement and textual messages can slip via pager directly onto the body, see Quix by Bravo), cellular phones, watches (like Swatch the Beep) and PDAs, which are both sender and receiver, to wearable processors with internet facilities, namely online-wear.
Miniaturization up to nano-units as well as the reduction of weight are actually the technical preconditions for wearable media-packages. Concepts like “fluid machines”, a cooperation of AT&T and NEC, the projects by Frogdesign, Carnegie Mellon university in Pittsburgh and IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose (Thomas G. Zimmermann) to name only a few, show that the elements are in fact already small enough and that there are also materials, but it is their connection that causes problems.
Like multi-media applications, wearables are set up to incorporate all possible functions of consumer electronics, like cd-player, fax and pager. Christian Nürnberger observed on the Funkausstellung in Berlin 1997, that people can get car-radios with an integrated mobile phone, organizer with digital camera and pocket computers with fax and internet. In his view the trend goes in the direction of a vibrator with integrated pc, telephone, face-solarium, fax, cosmetic mirror, camera, soap-dispenser and internet (Nürnberger 1997).
Actually, this requires the development of an universal language, like html or java for the world wide web, which offers also an option for personal design (in the sense of an electronic hand-me-down fashion, a pendant to basic clothing). The requirements for the data transfer has to be identical for all people. Therefore, through the simplification of individual bodynets, which will then emerge, a non-visible software-uniform can be developed. The original creators and inventors of wearables in the scientific laboratories prefer still the LINUX system. An absorption, of the Microsoft or IBM systems which is just driven by economical interests, has at this stage not taken place.
In the MIT media-laboratory wearables belong to the department “Things that think”. Dress conceals media, making them always available for the user. The development of wearables is realized on three levels: The lowest level engages in the hardware design of the objects. This is the only level of material design, which allows fashionable variations. The next step is the connection of the wearables and their integration into bigger networks. The last and highest level is the design of the entire information architecture, the integration into the entire system and the retrieval of knowledge.
The “mobilization” of the objects (naturally, their development originates in military purposes) is followed by civil applications. Their aim is the integration of technology: Implanting receivers in the ear, equipping collars with senders, or fitting mobile phones into jewelry. Actual examples for already existing wearable computer systems are UPS, mobile ticket machines, worn by the conductors of German Bundesbahn.
In this way already existing “stupid” clothes can become “smart objects”. Due to their specific positioning on the body, they have a task within the personal computernet: Shoes, “smart sneaker” (designed by Thad Starner MIT and produced by Nike), are used as energy generator or as receiver. Glasses can house screens. Caps, worn on the top of the head and thus the highest point, function as stations for sending and receiving data. Smart underwear controls the physical condition and regulates body temperature (see Richard 1996). Integrated affective sensors measure bloodpressure and cardiac frequency (http://wearables.www.media.mit.edu/projects/wearables/FAQ/FAQ.txt).
For military purposes smart clothes are equipped with special functions. The 21st century land warrior has a particular equipment analogous to its specifications:
“The uniform would include thermal controls so they [the soldiers] can endure adverse conditions for a longer period of time.”
signal/ Archive/March96/Next-mar.html, page 2).
The medial soldier wears a helmet with display (one-eyed optic), showing data to the own unit and information on the enemy. He is woven into a net in which his position can be immediately traced via “laser range finder” and “global positioning system”. Integrated into this system are also various tools for the extension of perception and weapons.
Wearable computing turns media into dress and dress into media. Through this direct technical extension, the body becomes a sending and receiving surface. Media degrade the body to carrier material. The harmless term “clothing” averts from the significant invasion of technology. The theoretical-ideological condition for the technological body conquest and occupation, is the proclamation of its inferiority - due to the “flesh factor” (title of Ars Electronica 1997) - for example on the side of “Radical Humanities” (Ross 1995: 334) in the context of media- and hacker-culture, as well as in publications like Mondo 2000 or WIRED.
Andrew Ross unveils the technological ideology, which stands behind the growing “smartness” of the entire object world: Humans become “outsmarted”, because “smartness” is transferred to the lifeless object world (Ross 1995: 329). This automated intelligence illustrates: “human-made object world becomes an alternative home of intelligence” (Ross 1995: 330). In contrast to human smartness, which always overshoots the mark, the smart intelligence of objects is cost-saving, systematic, user-friendly and can be subordinated under programmed structures (Ross 1995: 331). The economic complex strives after the production of this submissive, unscrupulous, non-neurotic, anatomically correct form of intelligence. The thesis “machines get smarter, people get dumber” arouses the impression, that the human being is at the limit of its mind capacity and in an urgent need of intelligent products (Ross 1995: 332). The “promethic shame” (Anders) is reinforced, because superior technology is directly applied to the body.
The goal of concepts such as “ubiquitous computing” (Mark Weiser, MIT) is the “augmented reality”: a world, enriched with intelligent clothing, furniture and spaces. The medializing of objects is followed by the integration of humans into the networks of electrified garments. The internal network of the body via smart dress, which will be worn by all people in ten years time, is an intermediary state, as long as technology is not able to enter directly into bio-substance, to implant microchips (in twenty years), respectively cultivate genetically nano- and processor technologies in our bodies (in thirty years according to the prognosis of Neil Gershenfeld, MIT, see http://physics.www.media.mit.edu/publications/papers/96.03.times.pdf). As a flexible communication-junction the human being can move objects, far and near, by remote-control via the personal body-network (PAN, Personal Area Network). Through the BodyNet an individual is connected to a network, like a mobile phone in stand-by mode, and can be localized in the net as a dialogical junction, visible in its data movements. This enables the construction of movement profiles, which can be reinterpreted in concrete spatial movements (see the Swisscom scandal at the end of 1997). Smart dress, especially underwear, similar to the “smart toilette” of the “Tronhaus” (see Richard 1996) enables also to compile a personal health profile. In the case of aberration or irregularities the data will be immediately send to the doctor.
Furthermore, through techniques like “tagging” the industry can analyze purchasing/ customer’s purchase habits and register electronically the course of articles. In stores tags have a control function already for a long time, for example as an electronic safety against shop-lifting. New models allow, via implanted chips, to trace the way from the shop to the customer, thereby weaving an invisible net of garments. Sending out invisible signals, the producers are able to localize the positioning of their articles. Future applications are imaginable, as tagging, respectively registered and actively sending garments would increase the success of the search for criminals or terrorists. The news, that a personalized pair of Levi’s can be made responsible for the capture of a criminal -due to individual size and traces of use - could become normality.
Dress influences its wearer. Even comfortable casual clothing is never entirely neutral or unobtrusive. Therefore, wearables will significantly change our habitus and the way and manner of moving around in the world. The technicians and producers have the illusion, that there will be a form of wearable computers “that’s always with you, is comfortable and easy to keep and use, and it is as unobtrusive as clothing.” http://physics.www.media.mit.edu/publications/papers/96.03.times.pdf
Instruments for espionage, like micro-cameras or bugs function as models for design, because they are invisible and unobtrusive. Wearables will be controllable by voice or twiddler, a mixture of mouse and an one-handed keyboard, allowing a “hands-free” operation (wearables.www.media. mit.edu/projects/wearables/FAQ/FAQ.txt, version 1.0, August 28th, 1997). However, as a technical extension they cause unfamiliar sounds and movements directly on the body. Facing the vision of a rotating mirror of the “private eye”, it is still doubtful, that wearable media are unobtrusive. Another problem which stands against their unobtrusive integration, is the supply of energy. Accumulators are actually the most weighting elements and last approximately for eight hours. They will restructure the rhythm of the day into three accu-phases.
Wearables are yet not real components of clothing, but invaders and technoid alien elements, like the additional munitions hooked to the belt of a soldier. Towards an everyday use of computer wear their construction is particularly focusing on a special durability of the small computer boxes as well as shock resistance. Design and comfort are still of a secondary importance.
Dressed in computers
Are wearables used like conventional dress? When are they worn? Except from sports, sex, showering and sleeping, they can be worn at all times, is the answer of their developers. They only disturb in context with bodily activities in which people wear a reduced clothing, as well as in context of wetness or excretion.
In the future, a day will start with putting on one’s intelligence. So when one awakes in the morning, being in a dumb (and very human) state, one is already awaited by the smart, thinking uniform. The German term “reizwäsche” gets a new dimension of meaning, as computer wear always has to be equipped with electronic impulses. The energy supply is the basic element, forming a kind of immaterial underwear. Its components also have to be exchanged on a regular basis, so that the common male-chauvinistic question in the everyday life of marriage will be: “Darling, can you lay out a fresh accu for me?”
The human being of the future has to care for his body and his health on two levels: material and immaterial. Both of them have to be protected against viruses and violent infringements. The now “independent” dress requires a regular update, repair and safety care. It needs the “mending” of security gaps and burst seams or the replacement of buttons. The electronic clothing of the normal user is, similar to the internet, a partly open system and therefore not safe against viruses and invasion. Other persons could get hold of the data of the bodynet and enter quasi through this data into the bodies of others. If the exchange of data is possible via handshake and all information on a person is immediately present (Negroponte 1995), then this is always a revelation of personal data, as it is impossible to prepare the data according to the opposite person.
But security problems are no topic in the development of software. Instead scientists promise, that when one wears intelligent clothing, one will never again forget something or somebody. In an immaterial sphere, navigational systems, thesaurus, dictionary, calling cards or telephone numbers as well as personally gained knowledge are parallel and continuously running. Quick searching machines guarantee immediate access to all needed information. Software-accessories for media clothing are programs for face recognition, which compare and classify the face of the opposite with portraits saved in the personal or public data base.
So the problem of information overload sticks directly to the body. On the one hand all the personally relevant information has to be fed into the system - if one does not want to wear standard softw(e)ar. On the other hand, according to the degree of personal control, the human being is clad or locked into an invisible aura of information, loosing the privilege to forget something intentionally. A computer does not forget - only completely in the case of systemic catastrophes, so there is no selective oblivion. Intelligent clothing keeps everything in mind, what has been implanted, remembering even what the human being would prefer to forget. Therefore is transports the unconsciousness in digital form.
Work in motion: the mobile office
The decisive criterion of wearables is, that one can move in them. This means not necessarily mobility, but the main interest lies in the option to move away from the workplace, without loosing the track of work. The American scientists regard it as disturbing to work in a fixed location “with a conventional desktop stuck in the office, chaining you to the office” (wearables.www.media.mit.edu/projects/wearables/FAQ/FAQ.txt, version 1.0, August 28th, 1997).
For the “radical humanists” the breaking away from fixed spatial-material structures is a very significant aspect. The elite of information society prefers a residence in wilderness, a life in nature, though with complete media-technological facilities. Behind this lies the hope, to lead a free and self-determined life at the edge of civilization, (New Edge) and to get rid of the traditional restrictions of work (Freyermuth 1996: 96/100). However, they oversee, that only very few privileged people can afford such a “self-determined” life.
Moving away from the fixed workspace, suggests total independence and freedom, the release from a fairly bad treatment of the body, caused by the standardized workplaces. However, the freedom of movement is an illusion, because media-clothing, programmed and standardized through hardware and software, mobilizes the entire office and glues it to the body. Thus, working people mutate into an office on legs. Work is always present, bodily perceivable. Its corporal nearness, is a liability to work overtime - it is impossible to escape from work. Just like in connected tele-work, the employer can control minutely, how long and on which task somebody works. The illusion of personal freedom and a free timing of the work is made by possible by a subtle control, exercised by a telepresent employer. This can be understood as a subversion of the punk maxim “if you move, you don’t feel the chains”, which is the principle of bondage trousers, a voluntary fastening, demonstrating with each step drastically the restriction of the own freedom of movements. The mobility of wearables reminds of electronic cuffs, which are used in the U.S. for prisoners placed under house arrest or for young delinquents in Britain. In this way control organs are always informed about the positioning of the prisoners.
Self-sufficiency of electrified objects
Smart clothing makes dress independent and emancipated. Objects communicate with each other and feed each other with information. In Thomas G. Zimmermann’s vision of modern family life the human being is even entirely excluded: The shoes in the closet exchange the news on the daily activities of their user. Humans do not have to talk about the things of daily life, it is carried out by objects. Things have even an autonomous perception, own senses. It might happen, that only the glasses see, but not the person who wears them. The human is the sender of impulses, his task is to collect the communicative data for the machines. Dress, however, leaves its passive state behind. Through electrification it becomes “active wear”, in a literal sense.
Wearables generate electric fields with changing impulses on the body. They are not immediately perceivable, but it is imaginable to reinforce them, as it is practiced in art (Stahl Stenslie, Stelarc, Huge Harry). Wearables are a sign of a Lilliput syndrome: Like Gulliver, human beings are surrounded by tiny material particles, which contain artificial organs like agents (see MIT, gesture and narrative language group) or artificial life forms, which can communicate with each other even without any action on the human’s part (Serres 1984: 72). Electronic parasites inhabit the host “human”, who feeds them with energy. This settlement of intelligent nano-populations and immaterial agents form the human’s second skin, a quasi-home (Serres 1984:17). The technology of wearables reverses the relation of human being and surrounding, as the human formerly occupied it all as his hostage (Serres 1984: 45).
Furthermore, as the example of Steve Mann shows, dress is no longer a private matter. It becomes a surface in public space, it expropriates and publishes human perception. As an interface it transfers individual views. Wearables present an exceptional state, turning humans into permanent spies of humans - against their will. The look is split in the moment when it can switch between display and external world. This diffusion of the senses turns the individual into a “divisum” (Anders), which is yet not in the state of coordinating all the different motorial actions with different perceptive impulses, as the combination of car and mobile phone shows. Thus electronic dress, which can theoretically stress the senses and transfer them at the same time to other localities, reinforces sensual diffusion.
To return to the relation of fashion and technology, now a slight variation of Manfred Schneider’s three stage model of information media will be applied to the development of wearables (Schneider 1996: 16). The model transfers the principle of “trickle down” from fashion to technology. In the first instance a technological instrument is a prototype, which is used only by an avant-garde group of users (military, industry, science). When it is put on the market, it is rare, expensive and exclusive. However, at that stage it is already user-friendly, respectively its use demands not a technical expert. The instrument is first appropriated by the economic and political elite, becoming a public as well as private means of distinction.
“The powerbook as decoration is the pride of many salon-digitalist, who mocks with actuality, hype, and fashion .... When he is plugged off the net, his personality evaporates.”
With the new instrument of technology they can clearly express the principle of conspicuous consumption (Veblen 1986: 106). Then in the third stage mass-consumers start to identify with the product. Mass-production is paralleled with a further technical simplification and cost reduction. However, during this stage the gadgets do not lose their distinctive features entirely, as Schneider argues (Schneider 1996: 16). Distinctions just get more subtle. In a phase of universal dissemination one can easily disqualify oneself by the use of wrong variants: a bulky, turquoise mobile phone is not really a status symbol.
Wearables are currently in the test-period of their inventors. They are purely functionally defined and show no intentional aesthetic implications. What Morse states regarding smart food, namely that it is not tasty and only a medicine for body-tuning (Morse 1994: 161), applies to smart clothing, too. Everything “smart” has per se no aesthetic design. Therefore wearables, as future components of everyday wear, will provoke new questions regarding individual style and self-performance. Is there a society of immaterial decorated data-dandies and unfashionable computer-nerds emerging, whose insignificant flesh - namely the body-facade - tells nothing about the inner beauty of the collected immaterial data? The fashionable attributes of the new programmer elite are of a technological nature, their clothing plays a subordinated part and can be classified into the traditional dress segment of “casuals” (remember Bill Gates as a young programmer).
“Perfume and pink stockings are just replaced by valuable intels, delicate data-gloves, data-glasses decorated with ruby and fine sensors on his eyebrows and the wings of his nose.”
The person who can telephone by the means of a pin and ear-ring, will be regarded as avant-garde. As in the area of mobile phones the “almost” invisibleness will become an important status symbol. Only the members of the old economic elite will impress each other with the latest Armani design. The new sort of clothing and accessories will be made-to-measure, purchasable in the computer store. Thereby, to become a fashionable medium, wearables have to pass the stage of standardization and become mass-confection. Without standards, dress cannot fulfill its communicative promise. There is no sense in being the only one wearing a certain system, because there can happen no exchange with others. So for the present, there will be no haute couture of wearables - data-suits without compatibility are useless.
Visually marking signs for new systems will emerge to suit people’s wish of distinction. However, even insiders are not able to recognize the latest processor or the newest gadget in dress. A perfect media-dress will stand out by the exclusivity of a personal filter, sorting out digital junk immediately. But they, too, are not visible. Socio-economic development will contradict the scientist’s original idea of invisible wearables. Like in youthcultures, the design of labels and logos will play an important part in the demonstrative display of differences in the immaterial. T-shirts saying “Intel Inside” already exist, but for the future prints listing the data capacity of the worn processors are thinkable, too. Maybe the electronically enriched clothing will also show small embroideries, similar to labels, which give information about the worn system. And wearables will also produce fashionable and unfashionable systems. There will be secondhand ware and retro-aesthetics, featuring old school processors. However, they will never be a serious functional competition to actual models. Because technology never falls behind its possible systems and its own velocity, they will remind to past systems only as aesthetic surface.
Fashion, technology and transitoriness
There are three models which can be traced in the connection of technology and fashion, which are not hierarchical or evolutionary build on each other: a. youthculture (techno- and house-scene), b. radical technologies (cyberpunk) and c. high-technology (wearables). All of them are connected with each other by transfusion and exchange modes and embody an engagement with technology, as described in the preceding chapters, which depends on socio-economic hierarchies: a. youthcultures as users practicing a sign-like symbolic misuse, b. cyberpunks and hacker with a direct misuse and practices of expropriation and c. the elite of programmers and producers with an affirmative engagement in technology for economic purposes.
The linkage of fashion to the technological, respectively the integration of the technological into dress, stimulate theoretical speculations, which would normally be out of question. Tying fashion with a claim to eternity seems paradoxical. Precisely through the digital, fashion evaporates in an accelerated velocity. Fashion’s half-life period drops analogues to the one of computer systems and software. The reproducibility and variation of products via press-button contradicts their potential eternity. They are more rapidly exchangeable, have a reduced life-span, though they also have the prospect of a potential re-entry into the system. The fast-moving time causes also an opposite trend, namely a forced construction of myths and classics. Youthcultural fashions are per se set up towards the eternity of their stylistic elements, as they serve towards the consolidation of their style.
“Style isn’t trendy. Quite the opposite. It is conservative and traditional ... all [forms of body decoration] serve to resist change.”
Print campaigns for youth-specific products put the eternity and endlessness of brands and fabrics in the foreground. Product and brand will survive the individual which is long since fallen a victim to the external conditions (see the advertisement of Eastpack or Doc Martens). Here the emphasis lies on the inferiority and decay of the human body in contrast to the man-made materials and fabrics. The performance of the brand’s durability is emphasized by particular robust workwear and high-tech fabrics like neoprene. In techno it is the idea of the eternity of artificial materials which is especially important, in contrast to the transitoriness of the human body. The scene transports the contradictory contexts of an emphasis on the body and the parallel overelectrification and disintegration of the body into immaterial structures. The focus on the future and the emphasis on a bodily independent weightlessness suggests eternity. The end of the own existence seems to be relativized by the safe keeping in the endlessness of music and space. Beyond that, fashion is here also the preparation for an eternal hard life in space, by being fluorescent, water-proof, sealing and insulating.
Furthermore, techno- and house-culture represents the eternity of radiation as positive. Industrial safety pictograms for radioactivity and laser are very popular as a sign of the scene’s creative energy. The German expression “verstrahlt sein”, which means “radioactively contaminated”, has not only a negative connotation, but implies instead a “chemically” brilliant mood caused by excessive drug consumption.
However, only after a revision phase of the techno- and house-scene, death and transitoriness find their way into the “happy” collections of clubwear and its pendants in haute couture. A negative symbolism connected with the evil exists up to this point only among the hard-core segment of the scene, as in gabber (-tekkno). Also the visual forms in video-clips show still the delighting sides of life. Only in 1997 the Euro-techno formation Soundstone operates with a vampire and necrophile symbolism, which is rather untypical for the scene. Also, after years of neon-colored collections decorated with aliens, in 1997 a part of the W+L.T. collection shows a darker touch with a tendency to decay, in reference to the gothics. “Gothic” features can be seen in the black clothing and white make-up of the models.
Clothing ages instead of the self. On its surface dress gets increasingly older, while the body gets younger. Pre-aged or pre-used dress seems to fulfill a relief function and offers a projection screen for aging and dying. The performance of use suggests vivacity and an allusion to individual history and endlessness, characteristics a new garments lacks. In a magical ritual, by a symbolical act of dressing, the bodily is freed from the process of age, shifting transitoriness to the external, simulating the process of age. As in the case of wearables, the clothing is in the end more vivid, active and intelligent than its wearer. By the “young” outfit, simulating age on the surface, the individual is equally suffocated as by a “smart” outfit.
With the aesthetics of heroine and death chic, fashion photography represents an opposing tendency. Models reach into a sphere of artificiality, masked as reality. In this very moment the same is valid, what Adorno exclusively adjudges to art: “Art has no power over the simulation by its abolition.” (Adorno 1995: 166) Fashion photography shows, that it is better, when the artificial surface directs, offering insights into the shallows of the technologically manipulated and digitally revisable corporeality. It opens up the layers of simulations, producing tears into the smooth surface, exhibiting disgraceful, miserable, anorexic bodies, that nobody really want to see that way. There is only one possibility to overcome the “naked” horror of the shapeless, stunted body: the right brand of dress. Dark rings, blue marks or the indication of physical disabilities, as seen in the Prada campaign of 1997 (which shows a male model with hare-lib and a female one apparently with crippled legs), are an evidence for the basic injury of the corporal, which can only be ennobled by dress. The invalidity and decay of the body in contrast to the eternity of the brand gets obvious. The lettering with the name of the brand, for example on Kristen McMenamy’s body, shows in contrast the transcendence of the brand name.
To have disgust and horror of the blemished body is a realization of computer-ideology, opposing an inferior body with the mind, finally rendered eternal by media. This becomes now concretely apparent among model-bodies, which are after technical-media’s revision left as inferior flesh. In contrast to the worthless, blemished flesh, the body turns via wearables into pure media and is thus upgraded. This is a perpetuation of the ancient Paulian tradition: viewing the corporal, be it ever so perfect, as putrefied by sin from within.
Only the bodies which are right from the beginning hybrid (as ideally constructed by the photographs of Ines van Lamswerde or by the coarse screening of the Gucci ad , 1997) do not need a second, technological skin. They already embody themselves the very image of technoid smartness.
Otherwise the bodies of the late 20th century require the reinforcement of fashionable media clothing. Therefore, wearables could present the first realizable form of Moravec’s utopian “mind without body”, which is no longer tied to the human flesh. The surgeon does not need to transfer the brain waves of a dying person to a chip (Moravec 1990: 156). It will be far more simple: just by taking off the dead person’s media-dress, one already gets access to the personal perception, views, data and entire living-structure. A new person can slip into this individual media-skin and experience the perception of the deceased.
Wearables help to never forget again. As a workout for the brain, they are a further means for the vain run against entropy. “Forgetting” is a sign of age. As an intelligent, artificial limb for human thinking and perception this sort of clothing displaces death and age in a time of BSE and Alzheimer disease. Therefore wearables fit very nicely into the concept of the Extropy Institute, demanding the maximum extension of human boundaries, in a bodily and mentally sense.
In the techno- and house culture a fairly similar concern gets evident: The struggle towards a crossing of bodily and mentally boundaries, exemplified in the sentence “free your mind from all pressures” (Tyree), which gets concretely visible in the punctual exceeding of traditional body and gender concepts within the laboratory situation of the event. “Wearables” and the techno- and house-scene are dependent on artificial energy. If this is omitted, communicational death and isolation will occur, like a small social death. Both phenomena express the desire to be connected with others in an immaterial way and to be woven into a communicative dialogues network by the means of dress. This is the contemporary contradiction of a maximum individualization, self-realization and at the same time inclusion or integration into a network, which makes it possible, when required, to be “fashionably” connected with others. The electronically network via wearables can be seen as socially concrete forms for the immaterial, global network, as is has been worked out by the aesthetic styles of youthcultures, whose communication has already since the Second World War, alongside the local scenes, a telepresence-character.
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(PellePelle, US 40, Casio, 69, Bad&Mad,
OTL, Carlos Murphy´s, carhartt, Peaky Blinder, Mad Max House, Pash, pose, Puma,
Next Guru Now, Shoot, ID+T, Oxmox, Third Rail, Shoot, dosydos, Apollo, Muzgerei,
E-Play, Boks, Dickies, Tribal Gear, Abgang, Red or Dead, Anziehungskraft, Spiral,
Fred Perry, W.+L.T.,Daniel Poole, Nastrovje Potsdam, Jansport, G-Star, Shelley´s,
X-Large, X-Girl, Caterpillar, Converse and Force Inc., Ladomat, 69 frequencies,
Hyper Hype, DMD, Pikosso, ID&T, Dosordie, Mocca, Essence, Plus 8.)
The collection concentrates on anything that is related to youth culture for example the techno- and house culture, including its numerous subdivisions like bigbeat, drum & bass, ambient, jungle, triphop, acid, hardtrance, gabber. It also collects to the objects of the youth cultures hiphop, punk, new wave, gothic, skins and disco.
It is the aim of the archive to preserve the material world of youthculture, which is marked by an increasing acceleration, as examples of scene-specific symbols and cultural forms. A preservation of youthcultural styles is very important, as they have a high influence on design, fashion and art within the entire society. Thus the archive can provide insights into a very important area of everyday cultural history.
Towards a research on everyday aesthetics the collection can offer basic material for the development of theories on youthcultural aesthetics and media use. Particularly the heterogeneity of forms, material aesthetics and the affinity to the new media technologies can be investigated.
The collection can be presented in diverse forms of media. The construction of a website, for actual information on the collection, is currently in progress. Further forms of presentation are video documents of events, photographs and cds.
The mobile element of the collection is the techno-kit, a didactic suitcase, developed by Erman Aykurt, MarkusFrankowski, Gösta Naujoks, Meike Noster, Harald, Steber, Rolf Strangfeld (Industrial Design, Essen University). The suitcase consists of a strap, a portfolio made of mixed scotchgard polyethuran fabric, trekking straps and polystorol containers. The techno-kit is constructed towards flexibility, its elements can be variably positioned. There are also large internal and external display surfaces for the presentation of garments. The visual model of the suitcase are the space containers used in popular science fiction series from the 1960s and 1970s “Moonbase Alpha” or “Star Wars”. Due to the intentionally reduced form the suitcase can be used to exhibit various styles and materials from the collection.
The techno-kit can display elements of the archive in a mobile form for teacher training, lectures, university classes, schools and youth-centers. The techno-kit and the objects in the collection are also used as visual material for projects like DJ- and music-workshops or parties (music-workshop October 1995, DJ workshop April 1996).