(Marina Abramovic and Ulay, “Relation in Time”1977)
The significance of style links all the mentioned cultures and justifies the purpose of Dick Hebdige’s essay
“I have tried to avoid the temptation to portray subculture […] as the repository of ‘Truth’, to locate in its forms some obscure revolutionary potential”(Hebdige,2002:138-139)
yet it is interesting to underline another unifying characteristic that somehow surrounds the idea of style: masculinity. All the cultures illustrated by Hebdige are composed by young boys. The reason why we discuss about such an issue has to be found in the dominating western education, which has always counted on archetypal roles attributed to both men and women.
Far away from feminist theories, the mathematical ratio between masculinity/style/refusal and femininity/fashion/approval will ease the comprehension of two semantic areas that, especially in western countries, rely on two distinct lines, yet they will end up to twirl each other and merge their physical appearance.
Nevertheless, the gradual approach between men and women does not happen simultaneously (wars are to be considered kind of events that separate the two genders for certain periods, and the lack of men in their country meant an unavoidable afterthought of male and female roles, contributing to women empowerment), so as that during the first 50 years of the century the discourse hops from Fashion to Style with apparently no connection.
Despite the contribution given by the idea of style in the history of subcultures has represented a significant step forward in the evolution of individualism and the consecutive development of market strategies hunting younger consumers, comprehension of youth doesn’t follow a unilateral path, instead many factors have occurred in the intensification of its relevance among people. Indeed, fashion studies agree on the theory of change in the history of male and female fashion in western cultures, which has been determined by gradual convergences between the feminization of fashion towards a more masculine idea of style. If we skim a chronological line of events related to change in clothing, we could assert that the more the people have abandoned the role established by patriarchal society, and then men and women would have reached same rights and positions, the more the males would imitate the women behaviours and vice versa (i.e. the commercialization of trousers among girls would have found its response in colourful shirts among guys during the Swinging London).
Within the Sixties it began the new era that definitely transformed youth cultures in a fashionable business. Yet, before we touch the talk about the contribute given by worldwide universities protests, which would have destabilized the coercive forces of national governments in 1968, it occur to examine two scenarios where the convergence between male and female sex has been verified and communicated by the conscious use of a horizontal/vertical body.
With hippies, the hug between male and female spheres works horizontally. This subculture (which is actually a recap of many others such as “beat-beatnik”, “folky-beatnik”, “surfer” and “mod-yé yé”)(Guarnaccia, 2009:235-248) was as pretentious as paradoxical. In particular, their initiatives were justified by the discovery of LSD psychedelic effects, the unexpected results of Kinsey Reports1(previously published in 1948)(Guarnaccia,2009:235-248) and the radical creation of a vegetarian and pacifist community as a reaction to the violent hamburger’s society and, above all, against the Vietnam war.
In terms of clothing, we need to clarify that the hippy movement adopts a colourful wardrobe made of handmade or second-hand clothes, which intentionally transforms its aesthetics in a high-level creativity project by oozing artistic references from the past (such as the use of feather boa, flapper mini-dresses and pre-Raphaelite details as well as nudism and the ritual of body painting)(Guarnaccia,2009:235-248).
In addition, the possibility to experience and talk loudly about sex without encumbrance has encouraged those people to gain confidence about a living body that asks to be unchained from useless constrictions. The adoption of long hair from both men and women was another declarative mean through which they could manifest dissatisfaction with ‘white collars’ and harmony with nature. The purest hippies ideal was probably expressed by a utopian dream: ‘equality for all’(Arnold, 2001:118-122). As Rebecca Arnold(2001) points out
“In the twentieth century the fragmentation of traditional lines of status and power has led to periods when solace has been sought trough this denial of difference. The diversity of contemporary culture and the break-up of existing ideas of gender, race and sexuality led to confusion surrounding definitions of identity. Some youth cultures, like hippies in the sixties and ravers in the late eighties and early nineties, adopted unisex dress that implied reconciliation between various groups, each seeking equal representation”.
On the one hand we perceive hippies intent to perform the human body as it was a white canvas that can be raised to art form.
On the other hand the convergence appears much more simplified and normalized throughout the use of jeans, which will become associated with the word ‘unisex’,a smart term which express both the universality of sexuality and a unique sex. These famous pieces of clothing will end up to overcome the negative connotations linked with the meaning of style and to transform them in the symbol of democratic thought. Indeed, hippies were part of an intermediary culture that culminates in a growing dialogue between workers and students, which attributed to jeans those values belonging to mass culture.
To understand better why jeans has achieved such an intense value, we have to go back in 1962 when Edgar Morin publishes the “Espirit du temps” and read one chapter in which he explores the evolution of youth overtime. His pioneering vision supports the idea that advancements in society would downgrade old people’s authority, weaken the value associated with experience and then lighten the break between childhood and adulthood(Morin,2005:197). Moreover, Morin claims that youth movements accelerate the rhythm at which events occur in history. This means that in modern days, society evolution is so fast that the most important thing for humans is not accumulating experience, yet it is to enjoy the motion.
Thereafter, students movements fermenting in the late sixties have to be seen not as a fight between sons against their parents. Instead, it must be observed as the worldwide generational rebellion against old systems of thought.
As a matter of facts, jeans will come out together with the need of enhancing individual’s values and it will be in charge of representing such an astonishing transformation (even though we must not forget that jeans will be loved by the entire fashion system, so as that we will refer to them as one of the most explicative objects for trickle up theories by achieving the highest position in the pyramid of fashion).
We shall take into account the fact that women wearing trousers made Dior’s New Look appear meaningless, anti-functional and out of time (the designer was hardly criticized). Then, with the opening of shopping places for youngsters, the shortening of skirts (and hair) with Mary Quant in the Sixties was supporting a new ideal of self-confident woman. For men, the archetypal image of the strongest and muscular husband was being replaced by another one, much more sensitive and refined.
It is curious how the beauty criterion dominating in the Sixties in Europe was preferring formless skinnier shapes for both girls and boys, thus revenging a vertical and also individualist body aware of its revolutionary appeal, like the Beatles and Rolling Stones band members or Twiggy. Playing on international stages and appearing on the cover of fashion magazines, we see these pop figures being imitated by thousands of androgynous girls and boys.
Along with all political revolutions, we follow those parallel events related with the state of ‘coolness’ in which emerging fashion designers, such as Courreges, Westwood, Scott, put London, Paris and Rome. Incited by extravagant performances of young celebrities and enthusiast of taking part of such a universal change, young people were not afraid to expose their personality and interests in fashion anymore.
As we said above, the wider participation of both students and workers in worldwide rebellions has put aside age power in defence of human rights and justice. Whereas, the wider engagement with fashion by both boys and girls and the intrinsic debate about sexuality that had preceded it, calls into cause another topic, which stands on physical and psychological attributes.