Fashion is not frivolous!
One of the biggest things that bothers me about fashion is the perception that it’s vain, frivolous, or only for ‘silly air-headed’ people. There is a media influenced drive that somehow create this image that one can’t care about or love getting dressed without being somewhat lacking in the brains department or being a little bit ‘selfish’ or self absorbed. With this comes an association that money spent on clothing is a waste because it contributes only to self serving vanity based outcomes, an ideal that reinforces the ideal that fashion should be cheap and not something wise folks care about. To all of this I call bullshit. Truthfully fashion is so much more than an individuals quest to find the right shoes for under $50 and The State of Undress series is bang on in delivering this message that fashionistas aren’t stupid and fashion is an important part of cultural identity. What better way to drive this point home than sending a gorgeous brainy model into some of the World’s most fascinating and contentious places (where many journalists dare not to go) to discover more and report back for us.
State of Undress.
This doco series (currently streaming on SBS on Demand for Aussie readers) is arsenal for those who are sick of defending their love of textiles. In this series (that everyone can find here on Viceland) Hailey Gates, an American model, actress, and journalist, explores global fashion and issues the industry often ignores, shows us what the world wears, and why. What sets this series apart from any other fashion watches I have seen is the bravado of Gates. This woman is FEARLESS. In season one she visits some of the most unpredictable and politically unstable places across the globe to understand how our connection and fascination with fashion plays a part in cultural identity, self expression, political and social rebellion, women’s rights, and the progression of youth in society. Gates visits places many seasoned journalists wouldn’t dare to go. Episode five is the perfect example of this as the lithe and bubbly model visits Palestine with aim to go to fashion week and explores how this country seeking sovereignty defines itself through culture and dress. In this episode she takes us from interviews with upcoming designers who have to risk their freedom just to get garment samples into their country, crosses imaginary lines of control that were nothing more than shadows on the footpath that would see others detained by Gates walk free, and takes us (sneakily on her iPhone) through the elaborate checkpoints that exist between regions, and hits the surf in conflict ravaged Gaza fully kitted out in modesty apparel. It’s simultaneously heart wrenching and inspiring to see the trials and tribulations of political, social and religious unrest through the lens of fashion and how some, specifically those in the Congo, consider fashion to be such an important liberation from restrictions of poverty, and a celebration of self.
In Venezuela Gates discovers how poverty, in a plastic obsessed culture (where one in five have had a procedure done) can drive people to embark on risky ‘budget’ backyard body modification. It was fascinating to watch surgeons at casually at work on a nose job patient (who was only under minor sedation) with Gates in the room offering for her to ‘play’ with the patients nose (and this surgery was one of the better ones). Another woman interviewed was informed she was being given a natural injection to enhance her nose and two years later has a disfigured nose as a result of what was really cheap synthetic filler. The person who had performed the procedure was on the run and refused to take responsibility. In a country where looks are associated with liberation, opportunity, and the possibility of economic freedom for both men and women (through modelling and pageants) this was a saddening sight to see.
Religion and Oppression.
The Pakistan episode is one loaded with religious overtones, the oppression of women, women’s liberation, cultural identity, and the glitz and glamour of fashion week. Gates found herself admit one of the largest and fanciest fashion week’s of her time as she attended the Karachi shows. In a country that is shrouded in a veil of modesty and enforced sobriety Gates was reported to be quite surprised by the familiarity of the event discussing with W Magazine that:
fashion weeks are a divider. So we’re able to go to these places and meet both the elite and the everyday citizen. And that disparity is usually fairly shocking.
A theme that was carried through this episode as Gates bravely dons burqa and visits the notorious cleric and ISIS supporter Abdul Aziz Ghazi. In this brave interview Gates chats women’s clothing with this well known man and even naively asks if he approves of what she is wearing (despite the fact he had purposely lowered his gaze for the whole interview as a mark of respect for her). He then shows her some videos he has been producing, dubbing his religious perspective over the Planet Earth series. Gates is blown away at the fact she feels like she is watching YouTube videos with a friend rather than visiting a well publicised figure who is known for his dividing opinions. She chats with those who wear religious attire as a sign of empowerment and faith. Talks with women who have been victims of acid attacks by those they have known and often loved. Remarkably Gates remains calm but assertive as she interviews a man who disfigured his partner with acid. While obviously an uncomfortable interview Gates holds her ground while trying (and failing) to understand the reasoning behind the attack.
Apparently there is a season two of this series coming our way at some point!
If you have the opportunity to watch I highly recommend this series. If you have already seen it or want to recommend another please share your thoughts below.