What lesson are we to take from this evidence of profiteering from human servitude in the foundational years of Brooks Brothers? This is a question that other American institutions are being asked recently. Perhaps due to their nature as loci of inquiry and self-reflection, many universities have been on the forefront of exploring their connections to slavery and atoning for the ways in which they profited from the labour and sale of enslaved peoples. Brooks Brothers, and other for-profit entities, have not.
Cohen favours indiscreet European luxury: Hermès ‘H’ belts, Italian tailoring, open-necked shirts. He wears clothes like sportscars wear their badges. In court he appears in suits, but prefers soft jackets with loud patterns, worn with loafers and jeans. In corporate law and finance, clothes are expected to reassure clients; you should present a successful business, but not flaunt your bonus. In Cohen’s line of work, lawyers talk, and dress, more like prize fighters.
There is today no stronger argument against the claim of Humanness in women, of Human Dignity and Human Rights, than this visible and all-too-convincing evidence of sub-human foolishness.
In one case the crown was lifted and swollen till it resembled the loathsome puffed-out body of an octopus; and this distorted bladder-like object was set on an irregular fireman’s brim – to be worn side-ways.
Christopher Wylie had an outfit. His whistle was directed not at a government, but its nebulous digital equivalent; perhaps it took someone steeped in the intricacies of personal branding to jam up the algorithms that governed it. Or was this persona too crisp, a meme more than a movement’s spark? Most whistleblowers dress to deflect attention. Daniel Ellsberg, the military intelligence contractor whose leak of the Pentagon Papers helped end the Vietnam War, rubbed elbows with flower children in a suit and tie.
Never, perhaps, have women been better coiffed: hair is waved, frizzed, braided, raised up into wings, brushed back and twisted into ropes … all with truly astounding art. The Parisian comb is the equal of the Greek chisel, and hair submits with greater docility than the marble of Paros or Mount Pentelikon. Would an Athenian sculptor or a Renaissance painter be able to arrange the hair with more grace, ingenuity or style? We think not.
Our relationship with clothing is not only aspirational and image led, a myth that spectacular exhibitions cannot help but propagate: it is cultural, sensory and embodied, and we, as everyday dressers, are also authors of fashion. However too often fashion exhibitions centre around visual engagement with the glamorous surfaces of fashion, rather than forge connections to the real world of senses and emotions. Does this emphasis on a particular kind of visual encounter limit the viewer’s capacity to engage with the garment as a locus of multi-sensory experience, the ways we feel in and feel about our clothes?
Twelve economy size cans of Aqua Net or White Rain hairspray and a book of matches from Chasen’s. Not only will the hairspray keep your big drag queen hair safe from falling debris, but it will also double as a lethal weapon when teamed with a lit match, and you may very well need to fend off kinky, horny husbands who can’t find their wives in the rubble.
A man of sense carefully avoids any particular character in his dress; he is accurately clean for his own sake; but all the rest is for other people’s. He dresses as well, and in the same manner, as the people of sense and fashion of the place where he is. If he dresses better, as he thinks, that is, more than they, he is a fop; if he dresses worse, he is unpardonably negligent. Dress yourself fine, where others are fine; and plain where others are plain; but take care always that your clothes are well made, and fit you, for otherwise they will give you a very awkward air.
Because what are the all-pervasive representations that Westerners have of India? Raj nostalgia in never ending slew of costume drama box sets? Yoga, mysticism and a souvenir of rudraksha beads in Rishikesh or a beach holiday in Goa? Beyonce and Chris Martin doing India with heavy dose of nautch exotica and lobbing coloured Holi powder with abandon in ‘Hymn for the Weekend’? Which begs the question, what are the aesthetics of an emerging post-colonial economy? And when something different from what we expect arises, why don’t we have the interpretative frameworks to understand its nuances?
Among my peers I often come across an attitude that says, ‘Well, I’m different.’ I’ve certainly been guilty of that myself. ‘I do things right.’ But I don’t think it’s very productive to think like that. Rather than pointing fingers at others, why not look at yourself first? Maybe the whole idea of objective journalism is defunct. Maybe we would be better off being open about objectivity not existing. We’re human beings aren’t we? It’s very hard to be objective when you’re a person in the world, influenced by certain forces. I would always argue that it’s better to be self-aware and admit your agenda, even when it’s not flattering.
Fashion should thus be considered as a symptom of the taste for the ideal which ﬂoats on the surface of all the crude, terrestrial and loathsome bric-a-brac that the natural life accumulates in the human brain: as a sublime deformation of Nature, or rather a permanent and repeated attempt at her reformation. And so it has been sensibly pointed out (though the reason has not been discovered) that every fashion is charming, relatively speaking, each one being a new and more or less happy effort in the direction of Beauty, some kind of approximation to an ideal for which the restless human mind feels a constant, titillating hunger.
Like a suit, a uniform of jeans, T-shirt, New Balance trainers and sporty jacket relies on invisibility. The person (usually a white man) who wears it is virtually indistinguishable from a non-far-right guy in a casual everyday garb. Style is then either thought of exclusively as a tool to assimilate or paradoxically discounted altogether as irrelevant to one’s political beliefs. For white supremacists ditching the skinhead image means leaving behind their status as subculture, which defines itself in opposition to the mainstream, to reaffirm whiteness as the mainstream.