Some thoughts on why camouflage patterns don’t really belong in feminist fashion.
Fashion is a wonderful way to express ourselves: not only our aesthetic perception of the world, our desires and preferences in being all matchy, chic, or laid back with a visible fixation about a certain era, band, or artistic movement, but also to silently – whether we do it fully intentionally or not – to communicate things with other people: our gender and our perception about its general concept and connotations, our cultural origins, sometimes even our political positions.
When something is political though, it may easily nurture controversy. Especially when someone chooses to perceive fashion as such, by wearing or designing clothes not neutrally, but to make a statement, things can get a bit more complex.
When it comes to progressive ways of defining and expressing gender and sexuality, we may make remarkable efforts in the path of change; but we always need to check whether we’re taking into consideration all of the intersections that may somehow be ignored within a more limited feminist worldview.
Eighteen year old design and media arts student Matt Sarafa launched his first fashion line, Hot Me$$, on the 14th of September.
Sarafa designed his first dress that his mother wore on the runway of a local fashion show when he was only seven years old. His aesthetic has changed since then though he never stopped designing, and now he designs unisex pieces that he describes as edgy, urban streetwear.
It’s a fashion line that includes camo t-shirts, black jackets and clear backpacks, combinations that don’t inspire normative gender clothing stereotypes.
The main point of Sarafa’s first collection is to make people feel confident with what they wear, and he decided to render this possible by making it available to everyone, no matter their gender. He says:
“Especially in today’s age, I feel like fashion’s really leaning more towards unisex and blurring gender lines. In my personal style, I think that it’s really cool to blur masculinity and femininity. I wanted honestly as many people as possible to be able to wear the Hot Me$$ line.”
According to a Hot Me$$ model, Alexander Bozicevich,
“[Sarafa]…is finding a way to relate (to clothing) in a more progressive way, to reach a demographic of young people who aren’t defining themselves strictly in terms of gender and gender roles.”
All this is remarkable for a person as young as Sarafa is and his effort to break away from limiting gender norms in fashion is definitely on the right track. At the same time, however, there was something that put me off a bit and not for the first time either.
Once again I felt kind of weird, and wondered: am I the only person who’s uncomfortable at the sight of camouflage patterns reclaimed by the fashion industry, in order to recreate edgy looks ranging from “tough” to “chic”? I did some research, and it turned out I wasn’t.
Appropriating camouflage clothing has a long history of entirely too different statements and systems of power that were, at some point, either critiqued or mimicked. People who protested against the Vietnam War in the 60s started wearing military clothing filled with badges and pins on anti-war marches in order to reclaim and ridicule the symbol of imperialist and nationalist oppression.
A boutique in Portobello Road called ‘Lord Kitchener’, named after the Secretary of State for War at the start of WWI, sold Scots Guards tunics, worn later by John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, opposing themselves in their own way against the wars that had bloodstained history in the past centuries.
Camouflage then became cool in grunge and punk scenes of the ‘80s and ‘90s, adding up to the wider trend of edgy, tough looking clothing, loose forms and messy layers. The general resistant character of the movement was maintained, reliving, in a way, the ‘60s and ‘70s and sticking it to the system by being tough and refusing to conform.
Now, fashion changes, and so do its political connotations. I have a feeling that nowadays, camouflage fashion is just extremely popular and marketed as stylish and cool towards people of all genders, without having anything resistant to say.
During my research I stumbled upon this wonderful article on Everyday Feminism, that I think summed up pretty well what feels odd to me about camo and pointed out the following:
“In 2001, during the US invasion of Afghanistan, camo-patterned clothing made a grand entrance onto the mainstream fashion scene. Recently, Marc Jacobs, Juicy Couture, Calvin Klein and some big mass-manufacturers like Old Navy, have started producing clothing lines that feature different interpretations on camouflage.”
If all the parts of the previous sentence put together don’t give you the chills – and I mean in a bad way – then I don’t know what could. There was a war going on, an imperialist war in which children and women and innocent people and young people were slaughtered, and the big names in fashion decided that was the perfect timing to launch camo prints – a pattern originally designed to disguise bodies of soldiers so that they could gun down other soldiers, a uniform that helped in the protection of people killing other people – as chic.
In agreement with Annah Anti-Palindrome, the author of the aforementioned article, I don’t believe that such connotations can be in any way ignored or removed from our act of wearing, as innocently as we may feel while doing it, such pieces of clothing. That is especially evident when we consider that such connotations are much more actively and vividly replayed in the minds of those whose lives have been much more directly affected by war than ours.
The societies we live in are extremely diverse, which means that there many of us every day go through things that others have had the privilege to not even think of. Anti-Palindrome’s article analyzes ways in which people with specific experiences can find someone wearing camouflage extremely traumatic. Such examples are people who are dehumanized by guards while crossing the US-Mexico border, black people in the United States who face extreme danger every day due to police brutality, Muslim women who are subjected to humiliating checks at the airport by people in uniforms.
A group of LGBTQ+ Syrian refugees has recently started joining our group meetings. We’ve all discussed how our summer holidays were, – needless to say, with extremely mismatched answers that made me shiver at the privilege I realized I had – we’ve gone for coffee together after the discussions, all of us have danced in the same queer parties.
It has been truly amazing to meet these people and to have the opportunity to contribute in the creation of a safe space for them, in a city that is generally unwelcome. All this has made me consider it further: it might sound ridiculous, but I don’t see why casually wearing camouflage is something we should feel comfortable doing, not when it’s in our hands to eliminate the triggers for our friends, for people we hang out with, for people who deserve to feel safe as much as we do.
We can’t call ourselves feminists if we don’t at least make an effort for our feminism to be intersectional – that means, to take into consideration, acknowledge the existence of – and actively fight against – all intersecting systems of oppression that affect each of us in different ways. We can’t fight patriarchy if we don’t stand against racism, imperialism, violent authority and militarism.
We can’t dictate what people should or shouldn’t wear – and we most definitely shouldn’t want to do so. However, with sharing these thoughts, I simply made an effort to put into words what has, for quite a long time, made me feel odd about seeing camouflage back in fashion.