Jaylin Paschal

When discussing the counterculture of an era--swingers, beatniks, hippies, hipsters--we always talk about the ideas. We talk about the politics. The movement, the disobedience, the refusal to conform to the status quo. We ask, what did they do, or believe, that the masses disagreed with? Why were they determined to go left when the system pointed “right”?

And in our analyzations, while filing through their ideas, their art work, their music, their statements, we often glance over an obvious yet important factor: their clothes.

Superficial as it may sound,  the aesthetic and collective “look” of a group is a significant aspect of the counterculture. It’s worth paying attention not only to what they did, but also what they wore while they did it. For example, the swingers of the 1920’s didn’t just giggle drunken laughs in the face of Prohibition--they did so in gold glitter, bold makeup, and feathered apparel. There’s something to be said about their unapologetic breaking of the rules--but breaking the rules in dresses inches shorter than their fingertips was the real conversation starter. People talk when your look is as bold as your rule-breaking. Similarly, the Black Panthers didn’t just raise fists in solidarity. They were decked out in black and leather, adding a certain seriousness and hardness to an already seemingly “militant” point of view. And the so-called “hippies” of the “Flower Power” movement not only protested aggressive wartimes by handing out flowers, but they weaved them into crowns and stuck them into their hair, making a symbolic statement of peacefulness through aesthetics.

With all of this being said, it is impossible to deny the effectiveness of “looking the part.” When the attitudes of your inward thoughts and the attitudes of your outward appearance begin to align, the masses get attentive. And once they’re paying attention to your group, your attitude, and your look, they begin to connect the three as a union. Think about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s hair. Soon, you’ll begin to think of his work, and how the abstractuity of his hair is reflected in the abstractuity of  his work. And, you’ll begin to think of how that same abstractuity is reflected in his ideas on politics, culture, and religion—all of which went against the grain as he was dismissed as “weird.” For a less pleasant, but perhaps more powerful example, think of the KKK. You get a group, an idea, a movement, but first: a look. The first things that come to mind are those daunting white sheets, coming to an intimidating pointed tip, covering faces of hatred. When you can begin to associate garments with significant political or social movements, you can’t deny the relevancy of a movement’s aesthethic.

This relevancy is granted by the undeniable power of styling and fashion. It is a power that allows you to say who you are and what you stand for without ever opening your mouth. It is a power that creeps into the subconsious of the onlooker, as they begin to associate something as common as a garment to an idea as uncommon as yours.

This suggestion works to stregthen the argument for a considered and appreciated aesthetic, and promotes the idea that fashion is a huge part of our lives, as it acts as a major vehicle for social or political change while we use it to express our ideas and solidify our movements.

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xo, Aceani Michelle 
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