Vivienne Westwood:


‘Fashion provides one of the most ready means through which individuals can make expressive visual statements about their identities’. (Bennett 2005).



“For those of us that are so engaged, the question ‘What is fashion?’ demands our full attention: how are we to analyse and explain fashion if we do not know what fashion is?” (Barnard 2007: 2). This needs to be addressed; the curiosity is clearly explained in these words,

“James Laver, fashion and clothing are ‘the furniture of the mind made visible’ (quoted in Lurie 1981: 3), and for Susan Ferleger Brades, art and fashion ‘overlap’ and pursue a common set of visual discoveries.” (Barnard 2007: 2). Why do we wear what we wear, what are we trying or instinctively reaching out to in Fashion? Why is it that not everybody wears the same uniform and instead has a different identity?


The circle of life shows what stages we grow at and do in order; the stage needed for discussion in this matter is how “seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” (Berger 2008: 7) The early development of visualization sets a footprint for our visual acknowledgement and understanding for later life. Uniforms are recognised as symbols for career roles such as Police, Army and Nurses. It is the way that we identify who these vital people are in our lives. The same way fashions are associated through cultural dress. The grouping of these identities, “fashions and clothing are used to send a message about oneself to others.” (Barnard 2007: 31). This is proven as when you see a police officer you know the officer is there to protect and uphold the law, when you see a nurse you know they are there if needed in matters of incidental injuries.


Fashion trends can depend upon behaviours and lifestyles that the identity holds, “Of all things, apart perhaps from things that we eat, clothes are the material objects that are most consistently part of our individual and our social lives.” (Dant 1999: 85) The material nature of them enables to keep our health during seasons, may protect in illness and in our social lives inform of who and what we are. We can see this in fashion as “Clothes are a relatively malleable material form so that the wearer can adjust the screening effect.” (Dant 1999: 86) Furthered on one person an item of clothing can look spectacular on another ludicrous ‘fashion’ because of its potential to signify social distinctions of age, gender and status.” (Dant 1999:86) If a ninety year old elderly lady wears a mini-skirt as to a twenty year old it is a clear representation of age distinction. This may signify a symbol of: mutton dressed as lamb.


Due to the signs formed through fashion visualization some may say such as Lurie, fashion “seems to take the metaphor of clothing being a language literally.” (Barnard 2002: 29). The muted way and in some ways hidden and secretly expressing “fashion and clothing as communication it is not sufficient to understand communication as the simple sending of messages”. (Barnard 2002:30). There is freedom of speech in England but not freedom of actions: symbols and hidden messages and even glorified through clothing enable acting to happen. This is shown via “fashion and clothing may be treated as being in some way analogous to spoken or written language.” (Barnard 2002:29).


Sometimes fashion statements can be controversial this is examined as “the relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.” (Berger 2008:7), furthermore this is why for opportunities such as job interviews it is vital to give off a clear and positive identity as we only have “fleeting moments to impress one another” (Bennett 2005: 95). Often when an identity is clothed in an uncomfortable or unflattering uniform this can lead to “being clothed in a desirable ensemble can feed the individual’s fantasies of developing an alter ego’ (1996:58) Bennett (2005:97). Encouraging people to go out and shop to achieve the desirability it can lead to; the idea of feeling blue on the inside making the outside feel brighter and concern that how you feel on the inside is reflected on the outside. The showcase of a few moments:


“As Finkelstein observes: ‘in everyday life, fashioned appearances [are interpreted] as literalizations of the wearer’s character, sexual preferences, economic success and educational attainment” (1999: 376) and (Bennett, 2005:96). This is why the urge to shop, to recreate and create new outfits of clothing to make the identity, “new ideas and phenomena demand not only new words but new styles. (Lurie 1992: Preface)


Clothing signifies the identity through history of revamping and revolution, “in everyday speech…we speak of the ‘body’ that is subject to the clothes that literally enclothe it with a significance.” (Gill, 1998:43) and (Bennett 2005:95). Royalty is represented on the body through the clothing of crowns and royal emblems. Another way of showing the representation in work and sexuality today is seen with, “the tie is a small part of a dress code that seems very simple; it is associated with masculinity.” (Dant 1999:86) Generally you wouldn’t see in the city of London a female in corporate clothing wearing a tie but most men would class it as their work attire.


Interlinking fashion with identities and expression is evident today and within our past times as “visual imagery, revolutionary political movements, and challenging clothing styles. (Breward 2003: 224) Relating back to Royalty the clothing of our history we can see visuals of corsetry and meringue volume style dress skirts. Today the Royal attire is more subdued to corporate skirt and jacket combinations and less fuss. Politically Margaret Thatcher always wore blue, renowned as the lady in blue but as the end of her days came as prime minister she signified this by wearing red. Relating back to the era of Margaret Thatcher’s time as the prime minister we can see from the seventies to the twenty-first century today how “most political, social, and cultural trends have been mirrored not only in what we say, but in what we wear.” (Lurie 1992: Preface) This can be seen clearly through;


“Vivienne Westwood’s collections, highly priced slashed and torn garments symbolized an economic irrationality- a social paradigm where a new ethic was embraced and the deconstruction of the fabric reflected, quite literally, the deconstruction of past values.” (English 2007: 105). The anarchy rise of the seventies era is expressed through clothing of what was going on. Some may argue the last big fashion movement, “Mulvagh (1992) claims that Westwood was the only designer who directly researched gang cults among the young, and designed to suit this taste. ” (English 2007: 105). Below are two examples of Vivienne Westwood’s designs today and back in the real punk era of the seventies. 




Comparatively as an example between the two zeitgeists, it is clear:


“Exaggeration and distortion in dress emerged in the late 1970s and 1980s, when British punk recreated the most nihilistic fashion worn since the French Revolution. Clearly, it seemed that there was one dominant aesthetic emerging in fashion- a look of poverty, which dominated street style clothing. Yet it was more than poverty; it was aggression, a demand for attention.” (English 2007:102-103). Looking at the 1970s picture it is apparent that aggression is portrayed in the image and hardship. The image is enabling, “punk embraced a spirit of independent and anarchic creativity.” (Breward 2003:225). The 1970s Vivienne Westwood image with a title of “ANARCHY IN THE UK” in red symbolises linking to danger and warning across it is showing the spirit of the era. Punk dressing was a way of life to show the identities and you could identify them through their clothing as seen in the 1970s image, “punks adopted values anarchy, surrender, decline,” (Hebdige 1979: 64). Initially looking at the image its colours are of a negative aura with the expression of stiffness and disagreement. If you look into the detail of the clothing you can see “pins and razor-blades, the style consciously evaded rational meaning, arousing fury” (Breward 2003:225), the Royal Queen has a safety pin through her lip. Punks are shown in the image to have horns in black associations to the devil, death and the ending. The 1970’s punk era changed people’s lifestyles:


“Barnard (2002) argues that: ‘The punks produced their own music and clothing in opposition to the music and fashion system that had become monolithic, unadventurous and predictable” (2002:136) and (English 2007:103). Punks were expressing the anti- England lifestyles. They created a new identity,

“The fabric that underpins these jostling contradictions is identity – a similarly contradictory phenomenon – for fashion is that most personal of things, our second skin, and it is the thing that binds us to our society, how we make sense of who we are and who everyone else is too.” (Edwards 2011:2). This was a period of anti-society the fabric included scary pins, safety pins, sharp objects, dark colours, it was an outbreak from what was the normal society. Rebellious times which deepened;


“Punks became increasingly hostile in their dress, adding tribal mutilations, body piercing and swastikas as tattoos and accessories that symbolized their obsession with bondage and other sadomasochistic interests. (English 2007:104). Fashion enabled a revolt against society throughout political messages in clothing, and power through dressing, “for the punks, fashion became ugliness- an external form of visual intrusion.” (English 2007: 104) this was clear through the moody and scary appeal they gave off. Fashion enabled the world to be affected politically and religiously.


Comparing the first 1970s Vivienne Westwood image of Punk to the second twenty-first century Punk image, obviously:


“Fashion is perhaps the proverbial Pandora’s Box. In opening it up to scrutiny, its colours, fabrics and enchantments fly out along with all their magical, seductive and even nerve jangling meanings that- try as one might – one can never contain again.” (Edwards 2011: 1) Edwards has spectated that Punk today is just a copycat example of what was, in the first image it looks scary and gives off a warning; the second there are shoes and hearts much more modernised and appealing to the society today as we are now in a different time. Punk is still explored and showcased as it is prominent in history nevertheless time acts as a catalyst and tweaks what was,

“In the end the art of the past is being mystified because a privileged minority is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of the ruling classes, and such a justification can no longer make sense in modern terms. And so, inevitably, it mystifies.” (Berger 2008:11) As identities we need to be identified and so recreating past times enables that to signal who we are but “to be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself.” (Berger 2008:54) This is why:


“One may remember or forget these messages but briefly one takes them in, and for a moment they stimulate the imagination by way of either memory or expectation. The publicity image belongs to the moment.” (Berger 2008:129) Fashions are fashions as they act as a loop and this is how we know how to express what Punk is and Tribal because it has been seen before, we just keep on changing it as:


“After all, what is fashion? It is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” (Wilde 1996:1)



One thought on “Vivienne Westwood:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s