Underwear! Under…what?

Today fashion truly follows a less is more attitude; the less fabric there is, the more fashionable an outfit is. This has led to the appropriation of underwear and other intimate apparel to become acceptable daywear. Pieces like demi-corsets, lace tops, sheer tops over visible bras, and pajama suits can be found all over, from cities, music festivals, to red carpet events. One might wonder why underwear has become appropriated to outerwear, it seemed at first transgressive and trend based, but like leggings, has become appropriate in certain settings. Undergarments, lingerie and other intimates have been appropriated into the mainstream dress of some areas by bloggers, the media, and city folk. However, this appropriation is not completely accepted or applicable for any and all situations so it is in a sort of fashion purgatory, limboing between appropriated and mainstream and its original bedroom-y meaning.

During the height of festival season, young women search in hoards for the right bra-top. At a recent trip to the mall I saw a young teenage girl showing her mother at least 4 different demi-corsets in Forever 21 while begging her mother to buy her “Just two!” The mother refused, pointing to the bra shape of the shirt and referring to it as underwear, not a shirt. The girl became more and more frustrated and exasperated, arguing the classics; “All my friends have them!” and “It’s fashionable, Mom! It’s supposed to look like that.” After I stopped eavesdropping and moved on I considered the arguments I’d heard. The mother was right, it was definitely underwear; the back of one even hooked like a bra. The daughter had strong points as well, though it may not have been acceptable for her age group, she definitely was not the only young girl trying to own one and they are definitely in fashion right now. So how could both Mom and Daughter both be right? The answer reinforced my hypothesis: appropriation.

Appropriation in fashion means that an item as been taken and given a new use. In this “less is more” trend garments that were previously considered only appropriate for private wear or sleep have become pieces that can be worn nearly anywhere, from a concert to a red carpet, according to the media. In Adorned in Dreams, Wilson explores the peculiarity of fashion. She has two extremely potent quotes, writing at one point, “Fashion is dress in which the key feature is rapid and continual changing of styles. Fashion, in a sense is change”(Wilson, 3). Wilson’s next point, “It is in some sense inherently given to irony and paradox; a new fashion starts from rejection of the old and often an eager embracing of what was previously considered ugly,” references the paradox, which is exactly what this trend embodies. (Wilson, 9) By expecting females to wear what was once considered underwear as outerwear, a paradox of purpose versus aesthetic is created; instead of “embracing of what was previously considered ugly” we are told to embrace what was previously considered intimate apparel only; we are told to embrace it to the point where it is acceptable clothing for public day wear.

Festival chic is definitely encouraging this appropriation. It’s hot, grungy, and full of peculiar behaviors; the less clothing you pack, the less you have to carry and worry about. And why wear a bra if you can get a shirt with one built in? Or skip the bra altogether and rock the same mesh top look that Hannah wears on Girls, right after trading her demi-corset top for it.

Hannah’s Demi Corset

Hannah’s Mesh Shirt

Media, blogs, and consumer outlets also contribute to the growing popularity of the underwear/nakedness trend.

Blogger Rumi Nealy appropriating her bra as part of her visible outfit

Screen Grab of Forever 21's website, 75% are appropriated undergarments

Screen Grab of Forever 21’s website, 75% are appropriated undergarments

While these items are hyper-popularized, their appropriateness is still debatable. In Conspicuous and Authentic, Marwick discusses the realness of blogging and the authenticity of the bloggers. She does this primarily in regards to attitude and price; some bloggers proclaim a sort of real, “every day woman” persona but in actuality spend thousands on shoes or clothes or make-up. Like the discrepancy in regards to blogging cost, the lifestyle and the atmosphere of where the bloggers live vary from where many fashion conscious viewers live. A 20 year-old blogger in Miami wearing a visible bra at a party or one in L.A. wearing a demi-corset at Coachella or on the street is not unusual. A fifteen-year-old girl wearing either option to school in suburban New Jersey is not exactly the ideal wardrobe choice. The authenticity debacle of real-word application shows the difficulty in appropriating such a trend. Media and bloggers have appropriated the trend into the young adult fashion world but it has not, and possibly cannot be appropriated for older demographics, like the mom at the mall, or teens, where it might not be acceptable.

Girl having her photo taken, with the appropriated visible Bra style

Girl having her photo taken, with the appropriated visible Bra style

A Coachella girl wearing the Bandeau-Demi-Corset Hybrid. An Appropriation masterpiece!

A Coachella girl wearing the Bandeau-Demi-Corset Hybrid. An Appropriation masterpiece!

So aside from media presence, how and why does a trend get half appropriated?  Furthering previous points I would argue that the under-as-outer trend has been successfully appropriated only in two main arenas, city life, and warm-weather festival type occurrences. When Dr. Marwick spoke to our class she pointed out numerous bloggers that live in New York City and in various California cities. Like fashion bloggers, conscious fashion consumers tend to flock to these areas as well. In the “Fashion and City Life” chapter of Adorned in Dreams Wilson talks about the see-and-be-seen culture that exists primarily in metropolises. Wilson explains that early city-street fashion included this conspicuous anonymity. She writes, “Yet paradoxically street dress became full of expressive clues, which subverted its own anonymity, because it was still just as important, or indeed even more important, to let the world know what sort of person you were…” (Wilson, 137). When dressing in a city, one is surrounded by other quirky dressers; you can blend in with people dressed “classically” or with the quirkier side, but either way, it is rare to find a style that not one single other person is also consuming. This is why cities can appropriate lingerie as clothing; if enough people do it, it seems less strange and those participating blend into the crowd. By participating in an appropriated trend, you let the world know that you are aware of fashion and have time to gain cultural capitol and consume.

The other time this trend seems best appropriated is the outdoor warm-weather festival experience, like Coachella. During these outdoor music festivals, nearly any fashion goes, much like what occurs during Carnival. Stallybrass and White write From Carnival to Transgression to explore how certain actions that are normally seen as transgressive are appropriated as acceptable during Carnival. The authors quote, “Carnival celebrates temporary liberation from the prevailing truth of the established order; it marks the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions” (Stallybrass & White, 294). Instead of behavior that is appropriated, norms of dress, particularly, undergarments, become appropriated at festivals. Rarely would it be acceptable to wear a bedazzled bra out and around in public, but at Coachella, this piece of curious intimate apparel is easily appropriate into the larger quirky category of festival wear.

Coachella Goer. Linked from a great and relevant Buzzfeed article about Coachella-wear.

Coachella Goer. Linked from a great and relevant Buzzfeed article about Coachella-wear.

Under-as-outer is clearly a profitable appropriation as a trend but it is definitely only partially appropriated. Media may make the trend seem like it is everywhere, but I can guarantee it would be impossible to appropriate this trend into the daily wear of a suburban teacher or Sarah Palin. This trend is a city and festival appropriation but as long as we’re here, in acceptable settings, we might as well enjoy it.

Sarah Palin - Would not advise mixing high profile jobs, Alaska temperatures and floral applique bikinis.

Sarah Palin – Would not advise mixing high profile jobs, Alaska temperatures and floral applique bikinis.

Works Cited

Marwick, Alice. “Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption.”Tiara.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013

Marwick, Alice, Ph.D. “Silver Linings?: Pinterest, Fashion Blogs, & Conspicuous Consumption Online.” Fashion and Power. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York. 21 Feb. 2013. Lecture.

Stallybrass, Peter, and Allon White. “From Carnival to Transgression.” 1986. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Introduction.” Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California, 1987. 3-15. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Fashion and City Life.” Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley: University of California, 1987. 134-154. Print.


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