The Evolution of Fashion as a Signifier

Coilhouse guest blogger Numidas Prasarn previously brought you an article on Fe Maidens, the all-girl high school robotics team from the Bronx. In her second guest post on Coilhouse, Numi talks about fashion as a signifier of status and identity, and how the emergence of the middle class, along with globalization, have changed the pace at which fashion trends are manufactured, adopted and discarded. Numi demonstrates this phenomenon by walking us through the evolution of the men’s three-piece suit. An academic #longread sure to delight fashion/history/socioeconomics geeks!  If you enjoyed “Starch Makes the Gentlemen” and “Teddy Boys,” this article provides some excellent context. - Nadya


Prince Lobkowitz, 1858

Fashion as signifier is a concept familiar to many that identify as part of an alternative tribe or culture. How we express ourselves, how we identify with those around us, what style says about us and our culture – fashion is often examined through this scope. But how do we explain the origin of how trends in fashion move, how do we create these signifiers to begin with? There are many ways to approach this, one angle is the idea that fashion and socioeconomics are inseparable, that style and social politics are more intertwined than initially imagined and more specifically that globalization and the growth and reign of the middle class changed the game of fashion.

That is an awfully heavy statement to lay in one sentence.

Allow me to back up for a moment. There is a list of reasons designed to answer “Why do humans wear clothing.” They are Protection, Modesty, Identification, Adornment, and Status. Right now I am going to focus on Identification and Status, particularly in relation to using fashion as a means of establishing class division. German sociologist Georg Simmel puts it in terms of Imitation, Union and Exclusion. He writes that:

“Fashion is the imitation of a given example and satisfies the demand for social adaptation [...] At the same time it satisfies in no less degree the need of differentiation, the tendency towards dissimilarity, the desire for change and contrast, on the one hand by a constant change of contents, which gives to the fashion of to-day an individual stamp as opposed to that of yesterday and of tomorrow, on the other hand because fashions differ for different classes – the fashions of the upper stratum of society are never identical with those of the lower; in fact, they they are abandoned by the former as soon as the latter prepares to appropriate them.” [1]

Up until the 20th century, the largest shifts in style, silhouette and beauty have been directly linked with the changes of the ruling class. A trend established by the aristocracy and shared amongst themselves, it becomes a marker establishing what class the wearer belongs to. It is therefore a means of creating Status and allowing Identification, and on a deeper level creating an environment of Exclusion/Inclusion.

The game changes completely with the entrance of the middle class. After the Industrial Revolution but before WWI, you see an interesting shift start to happen where importance in the aristocracy turns instead to the working class. The idea of the self-made man and the nouveau riche become the new aristocracy and the middle class undergoes a growth spurt. Still young in its identity, it upholds a lot of the ideals it was taught to value and is a prime example of Simmel’s concept of Imitation. Post WWI, the notion of an aristocratic ruling class dies and so ideals change. From here on out, changes in trends happen faster and in a more cyclical manner. It isn’t that we ran out of ideas or new needs, we merely established that upward mobility was possible and therefore trends became more accessible. To use Simmel’s terms again, Imitation and Inclusion became possible on a wider scale which meant Exclusion had to happen at a faster rate.

Let’s demonstrate by examining the evolution of the male wardrobe, specifically the reign of the 3-piece suit.

"My Way" Drummer Steals the Show

Regrets… we’ve all had a few.
Watching this video until the drummer kicks in? Probably not gonna be one of them.

online payday loan direct lenders no credit check


(via M. S. le Despencer)

Eyepatch Party!

Eyepatches have long been a staple of alt fashion. From visual kei to burlesque, the eyepatch has been used to accentuate elements of romanticism, glamour, and mystique throughout the ages.

Advertising giant David Ogilvy knew this in 1951 when he created “the man in the Hathaway shirt,” a campaign that put a tiny company on the map by featuring a distinguished-looking man with a mysterious eyepatch in a series of ads that continued to run for over 25 years and inspired dozens of copycats.

David “Wear the Eyepatch” Bowie knew this in 1972 when he popularized the patch during his Ziggy Stardust era, influencing everyone from Peter Burns to Rihanna. And of course, film directors know that an eyepatch can create the character, from Quentin Tarantino’s Elle Driver to John Carpenter’s Snake Plissen. It can be said that the most (come to think of it, the only) memorable thing from Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow was the sight of Angie with an eyepatch.

Of course, stylish eyepatches aren’t just for show. For centuries, people with eye ailments have incorporated the patch into their personal style. The first chic eyepatch-wearer may have been Spanish princess Doña Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda. Around 1545, young Ana lost her eye in an accident during a playfight with one of her guards. Donning an eyepatch only fueled her popularity at the court, and it is said that she had a bejeweled eyepatch for every dress she owned.

Film director Fritz Lang’s eye problems started in 1916, the same year he stumbled into film. While recuperating from war wounds that would eventually cost him his eye, he began to write scripts and took up acting. In his younger years, he wore a monocle over his injured eye; later in life, an eyepatch under dark glasses. Knowing the director’s struggle towards monocular vision, Maria’s lingering robot wink in Metropolis somehow feels much more significant. Other fabulous/functional eyepatch-wearers include Slick Rick, James Joyce and Momus.

I never thought I’d have to wear an eyepatch for any reason other than a fashion shoot or a fancy night out. But following some recent eye problems, I have to wear one for at least a portion of each day, for at least a little while. Thus began my trawl through Tumblr, Flickr, and fashion blogs in search for the perfect patch. The search uncovered dozens of beautiful images from Coilhouse friends and family. After the jump, an epic collection of over 60 eyepatches featuring Mother of London, Salvador Dali, PUREVILE!, James Dean, Amelia Arsenic, Chad Michael Ward, Shien Lee, Antiseptic, Jane Doe, Alyz Tale, Atsuko Kudo and many others. I suspect that many of you have eyepatch photos as well. If you’ve got one, post it in the comments!

Bristol Punks, 1977

They look like a macabre traveling circus troupe out of a Neil Gaiman novel. These images are from the Bristol Archive Records’ photostream, and were taken by John Spink. More from this set here.

See also:

[via fuckyeahurbantribes]

Limerence for Ron Turner

I just stumbled across The Bold Italic‘s lovely tribute to countercultural legend Ron Turner via Laughing Squid and smiled until my face hurt. Sasha Darling writes:

Of all the brilliant and amazing people I have encountered here, none are as dear to me as Mr. Ron Turner of Last Gasp. He’s equal parts underground comic book publishing icon, art collector extraordinaire, genuine gentleman, and dirty old man.

[...] Ron, with his long white beard and rosy cheeks, is a man who has rubbed shoulders with Timothy Leary, received fan letters from Charles Manson, and discovered important artists like R. Crumb. Yet he still has the dignified character to make every person in the room feel just as interesting as the legends he shares his delightfully interesting past with.”

Truer and more accurate words were never spoken! Nadya and I had the pleasure of taking Mr. Turner out to a business lunch in SF early last year. Our valiant-but-inevitably-hopeless attempts at verbally “one-upping” this unflappable pervert, this wondrous wizard, this mischievous genius, over quivering bowls of Cafe Gratitude porridge, resulted in one of the most memorable, not to mention visceral, professional lunches Coilhouse will ever host.*

After our meal, Ron graciously invited us back to Last Gasp headquarters, which feels simultaneously like a publisher’s warehouse and a cozily vibrant museum, thanks to his astonishing personal collection of books, prints, original artwork, vintage magician posters, carny ephemera, taxidermy, etc. Another treasured memory. Be sure to check out Darling’s photographs of Ron’s office, as well as his and his wife Carol Sue’s wondrous home. So great. We adore this man. Art crush, for sure.


Photo of Ron Turner by Pilar Vree for artbusiness.com.

*I’m honestly not sure how it happened, but we ended up spending approximately 91% of our summit with this legendary gentleman gabbing about about strap-ons and breathatarians and fecal impaction and ejaculate –the Landmark hippie vegans were nonplussed, lemme tell ya– and perhaps 9% of it discussing business strategy. (Though, to be fair, it was very powerful and insightful 9%.) BEST BUSINESS LUNCH EVAR.

New Larkin Grimm Album Imminent, Free Village Voice Download


Photo by Dese’Rae L. Stage

The powerfully enchanting Larkin Grimm, previously interviewed by Angeliska on the Coilhouse blog and featured in Issue Four of our print issue, has a new album coming out next month! You can read about what she’s been up to recently, and preview/download her song “Paradise And So Many Colors” at the Village Voice website.

Last year, the sartorial site StyleLikeU (oh good gracious, LOVE these ladies) posted a wonderful “Closet Feature” on Grimm. It’s as endearing a portrait of the woman as you’ll find anywhere:

Marquese “Nonstop” Scott Dancing on the Great Wall of China

It’s not only the mind-boggling technical skill, physical strength, personal style, or obvious lifelong commitment to dance that makes overnight YouTube sensation Nonstop (previously blogged on Coilhouse last September) so stunning to watch; it’s the unique narrative he builds for each performance. Scott’s not just an incredible dancer and choreographer; he’s a gifted storyteller as well.

Teen Goth

Coilhouse contibutor Angeliska Polacheck hosts a monthly new wave/old school goth night called Exquisite Corpse, in Austin, Texas. She originally posted this exposition into her errant youth as inspiration for this month’s theme: TEEN GOTH. The original posts can be seen in their entirety here and here

This is Cinamon. I remember seeing her on the very same day, though I didn’t take this photograph of her. I was probably 12 at the time, and as I passed by her on The Drag down by Sound Exchange, the trajectory of my life changed forever. I was completely mesmerized by this vision in black tatters, a gorgeous alien-wraith who seemed like an apparition drifting down a banal sidewalk in the bright Texas sun. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I stopped and told her how amazing I thought she was, and she was so sweet to me. I’ve held this photo dear for years, a treasured gift from a mutual friend. She was such a huge influence on not only my style, but also for scores of others, (maybe even yours!)Cinamon was the original inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s Death character from the Sandman series. Her friend Mike Dringenberg drew her years before, and by an odd twist of chance (or fate), this woman unwittingly helped shape the style of scads of wee gothlings. Cheers to you, Cinamon – you continue to inspire and astound!

This was me at maybe 15 or 16? It was for a fashion show at the old Club 404, a legendary big gay bar from back in the day here in Austin. I was total monster-child jail bait, who spent most of my time scampering around in the woods on drugs wishing I wasn’t human, poring over Elfquest and Sandman comics and Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu trilogy. I made my outfit in five minutes out of electrical tape, eyeliner, wire and black tulle. Oh, and a thong. Heaven forbid that should I ever spawn a girl-child as naughty as I was! With any luck, I’ll end up with a Saffy.


(photo by Monte McCarter)

At the tender age of barely 17, I became the armed spokesmodel for FringeWare Review’s book catalogue. This involved posing in my underpants and various getups made of rubber and dollparts with books and guns. Real guns. That’s totally an actual Uzi or Tech-9 or whatever the hell, too. I was super blessed to be part of FringeWare when it was around – it was a strange and magical era.

BTC: Happy Birthday, Björk!

Good morning! On this day in 1965, in Reykjavík, Iceland, a strange and delightful being called Björk Guðmundsdóttir was born. Or hatched out of a pod. Or was ejected from a volcano. Or something. Whatever.

Anyhoo… 46 years later, she’s still brimming with vim, vigor, and weirdness. Coilhouse has compiled a massive YouTube playlist of her music videos to honor the occasion of her whelping, and hopefully help you to wake your ass up on this glacially chilly November morn.

Click here to watch the rest of Coilhouse’s EPIC BJORK BIRTHDAY PLAYLIST ON TEH YOOTOOBZ.

Breathing New Life into Dead Men’s Patterns: An Interview with Artist Hormazd Narielwalla


From the “Fairy-God, Fashion Mother” series by Hormazd Narielwalla.

Born in India of Persian-Zoroastrian ancestry and now living London, artist Hormazd Narielwalla forages for patterns in historic tailoring archives to use in conjunction with his own photography, sketches and digital compositions, giving their forms new life as whimsical narrative works of art.

You can see some lovely examples of Homi’s unique work in our Issue Six feature devoted to Klaus Nomi. The puppet-like pattern collages are taken from Narielwalla (nickame Homi)’s series A little bit of Klaus…a little bit of Homi. Each Nomi figure contains elements extracted from the vintage bespoke pattern blocks of Savile Row tailors, made for customers now long-deceased. We could not have found a more deeply fitting serenade to the operatic, avant-garde style icon than Narielwalla’s work, with its deft mixture of affection, craft, and thoughtfulness. (Thank you again, Homi.)

In the following interview, Narielwalla tells Coilhouse a bit more about his work and his life. His current show, Fairy-God, Fashion-Mother, which features a series of paper collages inspired by cult curator Diane Pernet, will be viewable at The Modern Pantry in London until January 7th.


From Hormazd Narielwalla’s “A Little Bit of Klaus, a Little Bit of Homi” series.

How did you get started making art, and what eventually drew you to this very specific and personal form of creative expression?
I was pursuing a Masters degree at the University of Westminster, aiming to become a menswear designer specializing in alternate ways of communicating fashion. During one of many research meeting with William Skinner (the Managing Director of Savile Row tailors Dege & Skinner), I acquired a single set of bespoke patterns belonging to a customer, now-deceased.


From the “Dead Man’s Patterns” series by Hormazd Narielwalla.

The tailors no longer needed the patterns, as they were made for a shape that no longer exists. With the support of my mentors British designers Shelley Fox and Zowie Broach (from Boudicca), I followed my instinct to divorce the patterns from their original context, viewing them as abstract shapes of the human body instead. That is when and where my first publication, Dead Man’s Patterns, was conceived.