Vestoj – On Fashion and Shame
By Nathaniel Dafydd Beard
The Paris-based journal Vestoj (according to its website is the Esperanto word for clothing – very pan-European inclusive!) is one of those publications where you think: now why hasn’t anyone else thought of that before? Intriguingly, in this era of the early 21st Century where everything seems to be produced at hyper-warp-speed and available at the click of a mouse (sometimes for a fee, sometimes not) and exchangeable with your 500 plus Face Book pals or Linkedin network Vestoj is somehow reassuringly physical, yet compact enough to fit into your bag and read-on-the-run – which is always a plus! Appearing since 2009 on a fairly regular/irregular basis this is clearly a publication that goes through a much thought-out process in determining its mix of interviews, scholarly articles, prose fiction and imagery, including illustration and photography, from an equal mix of high-profile and emergent contributors working in and around a given theme. The third and most recent edition from 2012 (although appearing for sale here in London, where I write this, seemingly only just now, or maybe I just visit the wrong bookshops?) takes up as its theme ‘‘Shame,’’ following on from ‘‘Magic’’ and ‘‘Memory’’ explored in previous editions, a highly topical subject, and yet one which is in some ways little considered within the canon of fashion theory; outside perhaps consideration of the morality of fashion, which is just one aspect associated with clothing and shame. Intriguingly, and in keeping with its theme, the cover is perhaps a ‘‘cover-up’’ of the journal, of pixelated squares as might appear in the context of photographic or digital imagery, yet at the same time this is perhaps not the most successful or powerful evocation of ‘‘shame,’’ especially considering the positioning of the barcode printed on the front – or perhaps this is meant to reveal the idea of consumption as shame?
Cover: Vestoj – On Fashion and Shame
Never judge a book by its cover, as they say…so delving in, there are several stand-out articles that make this worthwhile including Dr. Brenda R. Weber’s consideration of ideas around bodily and sartorial humiliation as influenced by T.V. make-over programmes, while Dr. Reina Lewis explores notions of shame in relation to modest dressing, especially in relation to that required of the rituals and conventions amongst Mormon, Jewish and Muslim traditions and how these are interpreted by contemporary women. Dr. Joanne Entwistle’s article is a condensed version of the one that appeared earlier in Fashion Theory: Journal of Dress, Body, and Culture,1 yet is a timely re-visit of concerns around the exposure of the body in public and the stigma that arises through such exposures, particularly of those bodies considered best hidden away; i.e. overweight or fat bodies as in the accompanying photo-essay by Jen Davis. In her article Dr. Ane Lynge-Jorlén also considers concepts of what may be considered as ‘‘grotesque’’ in light of the work of designers such as Rei Kawakubo and Hussein Chalayan, and their (re)workings of types of clothed bodies through distortion and morphology. In a different direction, Dr. Matilda Tham considers shame within the context of the sustainability of fashion and fashion practices, or rather lack thereof, and the notion that perhaps shame is actually a necessary part of fashion.
Collage: Laurindo Feliciano
Intermixed with these are several samples of ‘‘flash fiction’’ including welcome examples and reminders of such texts as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Of the other texts included in this genre, the newer ones all come across as rather patchy and unrefined in such exalted company. As arguably with much contemporary fashion imagery, the illustrations and photo-essays included in this volume include both the curious, such as the collages by Laurindo Feliciano and the juxtapositions of different bodily ideals by David Dunan, and the oddly banal, such as Camille Vivier and Mason Poole’s interpretations of the nude, in contrast to Jason Evan’s wittier compendium of found digital images of clothed/unclothed bodies and Jessica Craig-Martin’s reminder of shamelessness in the flaunting of ‘‘good taste/bad taste.’’ As with many journals and magazines in the avant-garde end of the spectrum, many include a ‘‘sex piece,’’ misguidedly thinking this helps the ‘‘sex-appeal’’ of the overall content,2 yet, while perhaps necessary in consideration within the theme of shame, Dr. Niall Richardson’s interview perhaps reveals rather more about him as a fan of trans-sexual porn-star Buck Angel than any radical new insights into an apparently new genre of blue-movie making. Far more interesting to peruse are Anna Arabinden-Kesson’s piece on the complex linkages between shame and the value of clothing amongst black African’s traded as slaves in the USA during the 1800s, alongside Editor-in-Chief Anja Aronowsky Cronberg’s case-study considering clothing as a tool of shame amongst prisoners, and also how this has been re-interpreted by prisoners as a declaration of protest against their incarceration.3
Collage: Laurindo Feliciano
In what is, in some ways, becoming an increasingly banal world in terms of the allegedly critical voices through fashion blogs, avant-garde magazines, and even some of the articles appearing in established academic journals, Vestoj presents an opinionated yet well-grounded attempt at developing a platform for critical writing on fashion. While perhaps not every inclusion will be to your taste, and perhaps the chosen theme outside your specialist area of interest, each issue offers up both a reflection and interpretation of current contemporary thinking and practice around ideas of fashion and its contribution to society. This issue on Fashion and Shame develops and continues this, yet it would be interesting to see how perhaps this could be opened-up further with the inclusion of other critical voices, both in terms of writing and visual image-making, to further stimulate the generally high calibre of its content. Vestoj’s upcoming exploration of Fashion and Power in its next issue will perhaps rise to this challenge, especially in light of the use and juxtaposition of fashion as both weapon and shield amongst contemporary fashion figures. The journal’s blog in turn, perhaps, might help with some insight into this, as well as helping to fill that Vestoj-sized hole in between each ‘‘real’’ issue for those that really just cannot get over it not being so readily ‘‘instant.’’
- For the full version see: Entwistle, Joanne (2000), ‘Fashion and the Fleshy Body: Dress as Embodied Practice,’ in Valerie Steele, Editor, Fashion Theory: Journal of Dress, Body, and Culture, Volume 4, Issue 3, Oxford and New York, NY: Berg.
- Since the mid-1990s many a fashion-editorial spread, and indeed earlier if the work of photographer’s such as Helmut Newton or Guy Bourdin are considered, can best be described as ‘‘porn chic.’’ See also: Church Gibson, Pamela, Editor (2003) More Dirty Looks: Gender, Pornography, and Power, London: BFI Publishing, and Lynch, Annette (2012) Porn Chic: Exploring the Contours of Raunch Eroticism, London and New York, NY: Berg.
- This article represents a welcome addition to the small body of work in relation to clothing and dress within the context of prison and other forms of captivity or incarceration. See also: Ash, Juliet (2009) Dress Behind Bars: Prison Clothing as Criminality, London and New York, NY: I.B. Tauris.
Vestoj (France): http://www.vestoj.com/
Nathaniel Dafydd Beard is a PhD Candidate (Fashion Womenswear) in the Department of Fashion and Textiles, School of Material, Royal College of Art, London, UK, and is Co-Founder of the Fashion Research Network (FRN). His work has previously been published in Fashion Theory: Journal of Dress, Body, and Culture, Address – Journal of Fashion Writing and Criticism, Sexymachinery, and Arc.
Vestoj Review – On Fashion and Shame
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