Sochi Winter Olympics in Costume, Part 1: Figure Skating

Olympic costumes are often tediously predictable. Costumes highlight nationality and athleticism, with skin-tight blues and reds typically dominating the Olympic wardrobe. Nationality is typically reduced to the colours of the flag, with perhaps only token acknowledgement of other aspects of cultural identity.

The Olympics aspire to be a ‘great equalizer; that is, in the sporting arena, each competitor is said to be judged on performance alone rather than on traits such as ethnicity, gender, and class.’ However, as Jackie Hogan observes, the Olympics ‘serve to reinforce these inequalities’ with overt displays of nationalistism, not least in competitors’ costumes. Flaglike costumes reinforce a contradiction between the IOC’s values of ‘peace and equality’ and the fierce patriotism of participants and spectators. [1]

It is perhaps for this reason that costumes for the Sochi Winter Olympics present more subtle displays of national identity than have been seen at previous events. Attempts have been made to tone down the overt presence of flag symbolism. Royal blues and scarlet reds have been darkened to navy and burgundy. Even so, flags and their motifs remain a dominant feature. The colours may have been given a whitewashed appearance, but stars and stripes are still prominent on the sleeves of Jamie Anderson, winner of the gold medal for slopestyle snowboarding, and her British competitor, Jenny Jones, bore slices of the Union Jack.

Jamie Anderson, winner of the gold medal for slopestyle snowboarding, wears stars and stripes on her sleves, but the blue and red of the American flag are subdued.

Jamie Anderson, winner of the gold medal for slopestyle snowboarding, wears stars and stripes on her sleeves, but the blue and red of the American flag are subdued.

One sport is an exception: figure skating. At the team event held this weekend, there was no hint of a flag on the ice rink. Nationality was present in the choice of costume, but unlike in other events, it was expressed via cultural heritage rather than elements appropriated from the flag. Cathy Reed of Japan expressed her nationality with a costume loosely based on a Geisha’s kimono, and in doing so made reference to a long cultural history of performance arts.

Cathy Reed Sochi

Brother and sister duo, Cathy and Chris Reed, representing Japan in the team figure skating. Cathy Reed’s costume reflects cultural heritage, incorporating elements of a Geisha’s kimono.

Guinard & Fabbri made an indirect reference to their home country of Italy, dressed as Romeo and Juliet, but this reference felt incidental. More so than nationality, these costumes provoked connotations of romance and storytelling. They were theatrical costumes, and presented the display as a performance rather than a sport. Costumes like these, which borrow from fiction, draw skating into the realms of fantasy and storytelling, where anything is possible.  They fictionalise the event, presenting the skaters as characters in a play.

Guinard & Fabbri Sochi

Guinard & Fabbri of Italy, costumed as Romeo and Juliet.

The young star of the winning Russian team was Julia Lipnitskaia, who performed to the theme from Spielberg’s holocaust film, Schindler’s List.  Lipnitskaia was costumed in a short red dress, styled to resemble the red coat worn in the film by a Polish holocaust victim. For those familiar with the film, this red costume connotes youth and innocence (Lipnitskaia is 15 years old). It is also a carefully calculated means of ensuring that she stands out from the crowd. Spielberg’s use of a red coat, in a film that was otherwise black and white, makes the events of the holocaust more tangible by focusing on the fate of a single child. The red coat ensures that we will pick the girl out from the crowd (first, in a crowd of passers-by, and later conspicuous in her absence when the coat is seen in a pile of abandoned clothes). Lipnitskaia’s red dress achieved the same. Her performance was the highlight of the event: her diminutive stature, enhanced by the red dress, set her physically and emotionally apart from her competitors.


Julia Lipnitskaia, costumed to resemble the girl in the red coat in Speilberg’s Schindler’s List

What all of these costumes suggest is that figure skating is more about culture than athleticism. It is an art, descended from theatrical and dance performances. Even in this fiercely patriotic competition, cultural heritage is valued over and above the nationality of the athletes.

[1] Jacki Hogan, ‘Staging The Nation: Gendered and Ethnicized Discourses of National Identity in Olympic Opening Ceremonies,’ Journal of Sport and Social Issues Vol. 27, No. 2 (2003), pp. 100-123.

Fashion Ain’t Cool


The pursuit of cool is one of the driving forces of fashion culture. Cool has become ‘the highest value in modern society, shaping consumption, politics and parenting’ [1]. Cool cannot be learned. It is instinctive, even innate for some, but is elusive for others. You either have it or you don not.

There is a sense that some things are innately cool. Vanessa Brown identifies sunglasses as a ‘ubiquitous signifier of cool’ [2]. Although largely the signifiers of cool vary between social groups; indie music may be cool for some; jazz for others. It is also, like fashion, changeable. Cultural artefacts that are cool today may not be cool tomorrow. It is in this changeability that cool most closely aligns with fashion.

Studio portrait of young man

Collier and Fuller have made efforts to quantify cool, proposing that it is style that is ’12-18 moths ahead of the mainstream’ [3]. Their definition echoes Laver’s Law. James Laver, one of the first fashion theorists, outlined common responses to dress, relative to the time in which they are en vogue. In 1937, he proposed that styles were ‘daring’ a year ahead of becoming fashionable. This ‘daring’ attitude has become synonymous with cool.

‘Cool’, as a term, dates from World War 1, used to describe the ‘laid back gait’ of fighter pilots [4]. As a concept or ideology, it has roots in bohemian subcultures, jazz music, and African American ghettos. For these groups, cool was ‘an attitude adopted… as a defence against prejudice’ [5]. In all these contexts, cool emphasized and enhanced difference. The coolest among them were those who embraced the features that set them apart from mainstream culture. Brown identifies examples such as afro hairstyles of the sixties, which couldn’t be replicated by politically dominant white, and Jarvis Cocker, whose skinny frame contrasted with ‘the mainstream ideas of broad-shouldered athletic male physique’ [6].


Primarily, cool signifies rebellion. This is not active protest, but a calm, effortless rejection of ‘the norms of conventional society’; an ‘ironic detachment’ or suave ‘statement of separateness’ that must be laid-back because ‘trying too hard is anathema to cool’ [7].


Cool Kids uoblog

In contemporary society, there is no more powerful political force than consumerism. Joseph Heath observes that ‘the fight against consumerism’ has become ‘the most important revolutionary movement of our time’. ‘Consumerism is associated with conformity’, and by extension, fashion may also be perceived as conformist and elitist. The high fashion world, in particular, is sometimes perceived as authoritarian. [8]

Those leading fashion are often praised as innovators, rule breakers, and, therefore, rebels. However, even those fashions that seem, at first glance, rebellious, are eventually duplicated for common consumption, and become absorbed into the machine the fashion industry. Vivienne Westwood, who arguably had cool credentials as one of the leading figures of punk fashion, abandoned her allegiance when rips, zips and safety pins were adopted by mainstream designers such as Zandra Rhodes. Westwood implicitly acknowledged that the fashion industry drains subcultural styles of their coolness.

‘It is not cool to be fashionable’ says Vanessa Brown [9]. Fashion is an authoritarian industry with a defined hierarchy, which makes proclamations about what is ‘in’ and ‘out’. In order to be anti-establishment, cool must be anti-fashion.


Joseph Heath equates cool with ‘culture jamming’, or removing oneself from the dominant fashion culture. Cool people are those who ‘elude the mesmerizing effects of consumerism, and create their own, spontaneous, vibrant and authentic cultural communities’ [10].

Despite resisting fashion, cool does not seek to be unfashionable. Indeed, it often maintains some form of unconventional relationship with fashion. Cool rejects the authority of trendsetters, being ‘outside of, or even antagonistic towards, fashion’, and yet often ‘demonstrates mastery of fashion’ [11]. In this respect, cool treads a fine line between consumerism and anti-consumerism.


It is unfortunate, perhaps ironic, that cool people often unintentionally become trendsetters. This can be problematic, because as soon as others try to emulate them, their style is neutralised. It becomes fashion, becomes widespread, and its cool-factor diminishes.

There is constant struggle against ‘mainstream attempts to co-opt’ cool in advertising and marketing campaigns for contemporary fashion brands [12]. Many of the markers of cool, including ‘anti-authoritarian, hedonistic’ attitudes, have ‘entered the dominant ideology’ [13]. Cool has become a somewhat elusive goal for brands and designers. Fashion brands employ ‘cool hunters’ and fashion forecasters to predict what these people will wear next. As a result, many people identified as ‘cool’ are complicit in mainstream consumerism. Indeed, there are some commentators who equate cool with fashionability.


Within this industrialised world of pseudo-cool, cool kids are ‘alpha consumers’; those whose influence governs the success or failure of a brand, fad or fashion. These alpha consumers co-operate with, and embrace, consumerism. For them, cool is something that can be purchased on the high-street. But, professional ‘cool-hunter’ Irma Zandle protests, these people are not truly cool. For Zandl, truly cool people are not trend-setters. They exist outside of, and apart from, the fashion cycle. She cites as an example, Chloe Sevigny who is frequently identified as a ‘style icon’ despite having no influence on the latest fashion fads. [14]

There are, therefore, two kinds of cool: those who acquire cultural capital by keeping up do date with the latest fashions, and those who acquire sub-cultural capitals by shunning the fashion system. Thomas Frank attempts to resolve this apparent contradiction by differentiating ‘hip consumers’ from other kinds of cool. The ‘hip consumer’ is a kind of cool that is complicit with fashion consumerism. [15]


[1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 12] Vanessa Brown, ‘Is is Cool to Be Fashionable? The Instabilities of Fashion and Cool,’ paper presented at 5th Global Conference: Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues, Monday 15th – 18th September 2014, 
Mansfield College, Oxford.
[3] Collier and Fuller, Choose Change, London: Flamingo Research, 1990, as cited in Nancarrow.
[5, 7, 13] Clive Nancarrow, Pamela Nancarrow, and Julie Paige, ‘An analysis of the concept of cool and its marketing implications,’ Journal of Consumer Behaviour, vol. 14, no. 4, 2001, pp. 312-314.
[8, 10] Joseph Heath, ‘The Structure of Hip Consumerism,’ Philosophy and Social Criticism, vol. 27, no. 6, 2001, pp. 1-2.
[14] Irma Zandl, as cited in Lev Grossman, ‘The Quest for Cool,’ Time, 30 August 2003.
[15] Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Materiality: Clothes as Art

I have written in several previous posts about clothes as objects, and the meanings that they acquire when they are seen without bodies inside them. Clothes without bodies can be perceived as being unfulfilled, as if they are not living up to their potential. As I have observed here, clothes in rigged displayed, separated from the body, invite observers to focus on their colour and tactile qualities, rather than the shape and cut that would be key when a garment is displayed on a human form. These features – colour and texture – are those that are often most interesting to artists. Clothes have become objects of fascination for creative practitioners outside of the fashion industry, including photographers such as Jospeh Ford. Given everything that I have previously written on this subject, this post will be a photo-essay…

Maria Victoria Guerrerco

Shirts, selected and arranged for their colour, photographed by Maria Victoria Guerrerca, 2012. In acts of appropriation, artists remove clothes from the context of wearing, and exploit their other features. Cuban art duo, Guerra de la Paz, select discarded clothing by its colour, and employ it as a flexible material in the construction of sculptural objects.

Guerra de la Paz

Cuban art duo, Guerra de la Paz, find clothing in recycling and waste bins.

Guerra de la Paz

Guerra de la Paz

Issey Miyake origami

Issey Miyake origami-inspired clothing folds flat into abstract decorative shapes. Even when draped over the volume of a body, these garments retain some folded contours and points. They conform more readily to folded shapes than the contours of the wearer’s body.

ski clothing mountains

Advertisement for ski clothing, created by the Hummingbirds agency, photographed by Philip Karlberg.

Berg clothes horse

Berg Clothes Horse. These structures are designs to transform mess into art.

Bela Borsodi

Bela Borsodi folds and arranges clothing to form faces and masks.

Image Sources:
Guerra de la Paz:
Hummingbird ad for ski clothing
Berg clothes horse
Bela Borsodi clothes masks

The Revolutionary Body

In a recent TVAD seminar, Daniel Marques Sampaoi observed how “the body opposes power” [1]. Although Man has developed war-machines that surpass the abilities of the human body, there is a perceived political and emotional strength in the presence of human forms. After all, conflict and power-plays are ultimately about people, not about the weapons that act on our behalf.

Eugène Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix, ‘La liberté guidant le peuple’, 1830.

Power is opposed not simply by the presence of people, but by emphasis on their sentient fragility in contrast to the mechanised brutality of war machines, or the vulnerability of the individual in contrast to the might of an opposing army. It is with this intention, that “nudity that is strategically employed as a mode of social and political action”. [2]

This is not just about the nude body, but the act of becoming nude. It is the removal of clothes, not just the absence of clothes, that is meaningful in these contexts. Stripping-down to bare flesh demonstrates willingness and, therefore, purposeful vulnerability.

Bret Lunsford observes that nudity has particular power in anti-war demonstrations. He cites an anti-war campaigner who proposes that, through nudity, she is “disarmed”.  This protestor argues that “naked people… can never make war”. She observes that the outcome of war is usually dictated by inequality, with victors being those that hold the most power. Stripping away this power by removing weapons and uniforms, both sides are made equal, and conflict cannot occur. [3]

This protestor’s views stem from the proposition that nudity renders everyone equal, and further that equality resolves conflict. In almost any protest, inequality draws attention to perceived injustices. The vulnerability of a naked body contrasts so severely with the unifomed and armed body of a soldier that it highlights the inequality of the solder/victim relationship. When a bare chest is pressed against a canon (as below), the stark inequality seems unfair. The conflict is revealed as unjust, with the two opponents clearly presented as ‘victim’ and ‘oppressor’.

Ladislav Bielik PRAGUE SPRING 1968

Ladislav Bielik, ‘The Forceful End of the Prague Spring’, 1968. Displays of human flesh demonstrate strength through vulnerability. If the act of undressing presents the body in its most vulnerable state, it suggests a willingness to sacrifice oneself for a cause.

It is not the case, however, that nudity in these contexts necessarily evokes sympathy. It can often be a show of strength. In these same wartime scenarios, nudity can be employed to signify active or aggressive resistance. The nude body is primal, animalistic, and it is not uncommon for it to be accompanied by bared teeth or a war-cry. These are aggressive displays of the primal male, stripped of all material signs of civility.

Perniola has observed the connections between nudity and savagery, indicating that the nude body is often presented as primal and uncultured, and in many cases, aggressive and unpredictable [4]. In this reading, stripping of the human body represents a descent into savagery, making the subject potentially liable to unpredictable and aggressive resistance. Here, the naked body conveys the message that resistors will not give up without a fight.


A Ugandan protestor shouts near a burning barricade in Kampala after Ugandan opposition leader Kizze Besigye was arrested in 2011. Source: The Guardian

Female protestors are more inclined to use their bodies as an invitation to ‘make love not war’, exploiting their own sexuality to distract and disarm. The recent conflict in Iraq provoked displays of breasts as ‘weapons of mass distraction’. Such methods present ‘love’ (and, by extension, ‘sex’) and ‘war’ as two mutually exclusive extremes.

When women go naked for political reasons, it is often connected to sexuality. FEMEN (a Ukranian feminist group) have found international notoriety by protesting topless. Their nudity is a protest against objectification, specifically the feeling that women have been “stripped of ownership” of their own bodies [5]. Ironically, these demonstrations rely on the very thing that they seek to end. Their nudity is only powerful for as long as it is repressed.

FEMEN exploit the power of nudity to counteract the power of men. Though this is not because they feel that nudity has innate power in itself. They achieve power via, not through, naked flesh. Nudity is a tool by which to achieve media coverage, and by their own admission, it is the press coverage that provides power against their oppressors [6].

Conscious that their breasts will be the focus of observers’ attention, FEMEN write their messages of protest directly onto their torsos. The fact that viewers are drawn to read these messages reinforces their argument that they are being objectified. Simultaneously, the position of these messages invites the viewer to look directly at the breasts. Exposed breasts make gender visible. By highlighting gender difference, these feminist protests are not cries for equality, rather for acknowledgement of the value of women, equivalent to – but different from – men.

FEMEN campaigners aim to present themselves in control of their bodies; voluntarily exposing themselves to preempt objectification by men.

FEMEN campaigners aim to present themselves in control of their bodies; voluntarily exposing themselves to preempt objectification by men.

While the lives of American woman are less governed by conflict, they still find ways of using their naked bodies for political gain. PETA’s infamous (and much-imitated) anti-fur campaign featuring the slogan, “I’d rather go naked than wear fur”, used nudity to suggest that the act of dressing can sometimes be unethical. Here, nudity is offered as an alternative to enabling the unethical practices of the fur trade.  It is an act of passive resistance against the power and influence of the fashion industry.

It seems that, wherever there is power, the naked body is the last line of defense. Stripped of weapons or political power, resistors make use of what nature gave them. Over the history of human evolution, we have developed a culture of dressing [7]. The belief that the human body should be clothed is unnatural, but dominant. This expectation of clothedness has given nudity a particular power. Despite being our natural state, nudity is often rebellious, and always remarkable.

PETA's anti-fur campaign has featured nudity since 1994, proposing nudity as an passive resistance against the unethical practices of the fashion industry.

PETA’s anti-fur campaign has featured nudity since 1994, proposing nudity as an passive resistance against the unethical practices of the fashion industry.

[1] Daniel Marques Sampaoi, ‘The Image of Revolution’ (TVAD seminar on ‘image events’), University of Hertfordshire, 20 November 2013.
[2] Brett Lunceford, Naked Politics: Nudity, Political Action, and the Rhetoric of the Body, New York: Lexington, p. x.
[3] Ibid., p. 3.
[4] Mario Perniola, ‘Between Clothing and Nudity’, 1989, as cited in Ruth Barcan, Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy, Oxford: Berg, 2009.
[5] FEMEN statement of objectives.
[6] Quentin Girard (Translated by Pat Brett), ‘Bare Breasts, High Heels’, PressEurop, 20 September 2012.
[7] Perniola, Op. Cit.

Denim Dollars: Sustainability, responsibility and the knock-on effects of changes in fashion manufacturing


With the news that the UK will be making the transition from paper to plastic banknotes, it seems timely to reflect on the materials that have been used previously. So called ‘paper’ money is actually manufactured from cotton. In the USA, this cotton has been derived largely from recycled jeans.

Denim off-cuts and discarded jeans are among the U.S. Mint’s primary sources of material for manufacturing dollar bills. Increasingly, however, this sustainable practice has become more difficult to maintain. Since the introduction of lycra (spandex), the purity of denim fabric has been compromised. Stretch-jeans and jeggins contain such a high proportion of lycra that they cannot be recycled for use in paper money. The U.S. mint is now facing something of a crisis. It is no longer able to maintain its sustainable manufacturing processes, and is having to source its cotton directly from cotton plantations.

Much has been written about the incompatibility of fashion and sustainability[1]. Fashion is driven by conspicuous waste – the constant demand for newness – and consequently the fashion industry is responsible for more material waste than almost any other design industry. 1 million tonnes of textiles are added to landfill every year.

Though it is essential to pursue sustainable practices, there are industries that rely on this waste. The U.S. Mint is just one of many businesses that engages in textile recycling, in the form of fibre reclamation. If we were to stop engaging in conspicuous consumption, those industries would be deprived. A ‘make-do-and-mend’ culture would solve the problem of waste, but would also harm businesses that rely on discarded clothing.

Of course, this is only true if conspicuous consumption happens in conjunction with proper disposal (recycling) of last season’s clothes. So long as we continue to offer our waste for recycling, we can continue to support these other industries.

But regardless of consumer’s willingness to recycle, our waste is only useful if it is manufactured as recyclable in the first place. Jeggins, with their high lycra-content, cannot be reused by the many industries that need pure cotton. The U.S. Mint’s current crisis demonstrates that the problematic incompatibility of the fashion cycle and sustainable values is not as simple as it may initially seem. The problem extends beyond our desire to be ‘en vogue’. Indeed, in the right circumstances, conspicuous waste can be a good thing: a practice that sustains other industries.

The problem of textile waste arises not from conspicuous consumption, but from fashions that use non-recyclable materials. Once the networks are in place to enable easy recycling, there should be nothing to prevent consumers from ethical disposal of unwanted clothes. Responsibility therefore lies not with the consumer, but with the manufacturer, who must produce garments from fibres that have potential for reuse.

Throughout this discussion it is vital not to consider the fashion industry in isolation. Textiles have wide-ranging use, in money and numerous other design industries. Wherever recycling takes place, materials are transferred between those industries. It is therefore likely that whenever anything changes in clothing manufacture, it will have knock-on effects elsewhere. If clothing manufacturers want to pursue ecologically sound practices, without compromising the flow of ‘fast fashion’, they must be aware of how their waste is employed in other industries.

[1] See, for example, Fletcher, Kate, Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change, London: Laurence King, 2011.

Read my Clothes

Clothes have a lot to say. They speak about our cultural origins, our socioeconomic status, our gender, our age, and even our moral values. Increasingly, it is not enough to let the cut of cloth speak on a wearer’s behalf. Designers want their garments to express linguistic meaning.

Little Factory Lowercase Scarf

Little Factory’s Lowercase scarf uses individual letters instead of whole words, employing letters as shapes rather than the components of a particular written message.

Prominent brand labels have been present on the outside of clothing since sportswear became leisurewear in the 1950s and 60s. Small designer emblems began to appear on the outside of sports attire in the first half of the twentieth century. When it became fashionable to wear sports attire in non-sporting situations, the emblem moved into a fashion environment. Clothes by brands such as Ralph Lauren and Lacoste, which had associations with elite sports, began to be worn as fashion. By the 1980s, other brands had followed suit. Among the first was Georgio Armani, closely followed by brands such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Espirit. When used by these other brands, logos grew in size, even to the extent that they became the dominant decoration on many garments. Louis Vuitton’s Monogram Multicore (designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami for Autumn/Winter 2003) displays a pattern structured largely from sequential repetition of the LV logo. [1]

Meanwhile, slogans began to appear on t-shirts. Such slogans are explicit messages to stay away or move closer. They are either designed to provoke offense (as with Vivienne Westwood’s earliest experiments), or to invite the reader to peer deeply into the wearer’s soul. There are, of course, clothes that achieve both, being offensive to some and inviting to others. ‘I wish these were brains’ emblazoned across a chest is invitation to objectify the wearer; to stare intently at her breasts and simultaneously draw conclusions about her lack of intellectual assets. Such messages are a warning sign to some, and an invitation to others.

As design has become increasingly self-referential, t-shirt slogans have begun to reference the practice of typography. Many now assume knowledge of typefaces (see, for example, ‘The United Weights of Helvetica’ below). Laser-cutting and 3D printing technologies have allowed these typographic references to appear in jewellery too. Plastique’s acrylic Kern ring set features the letters ‘ke’ and ‘rn’ on two separate rings, enabling wearers to replicate the process of typographic kerning (specific letter-spacing), by opening and closing the gaps between their fingers.

helvetica t-shirt

This t-shirt slogan makes reference to typeface weights.

kern rings

Plastique’s acrylic Kern ring set allows wearers to replicate the process of kerning by separating their fingers.

Over the last few decades, typographers have developed their understanding of letterforms. They now understand letters as subject: not just the signs of verbal messages, but objects in their own right. While the typed letter remains a flat sign, as object, the letter escapes the confines of the page and can be experienced as a tangible form. Typographic objects have two identities, being simultaneously word and object. As clothing, letters have practical functions that are often unrelated to their linguistic meaning.

Daphne Heemskerk’s poem necklace

Daphne Heemskerk’s poem necklace.

Daphne Heemskerk’s poem necklace is among many similar products that elevate the t-shirt slogan to new heights. Jewellery is generally considered to be more significant that other clothes, not just because it tends to be more valuable, but also because it is often given as a gift or inherited, imbuing it with personal significance. As jewellery, this typographic object is assumed to be more precious than a t-shirt slogan, and its linguistic message is therefore considered more valuable or meaningful. Just as the wearer might treasure a diamond or pearl, she treasures the sentiments of this poem.

By presenting an entire poem in this way, the wearer invites others to observe her body at length. Observers are invited to ponder the poem’s message, and also what it says about the wearer’s innermost feelings. The necklace draws a tangible connection between a poet’s sentiments and the wearer’s inner self. In this way, it exposes the wearer to a more precise interpretation of her emotional state than any plain clothes ever could.

Viktor and Rolf Fall 2008

Viktor and Rolf’s Fall 2008 collection heavily featured the word ‘No’, presented as a bold instruction to observers.

Viktor and Rolf have incorporate more abrupt linguistic messages into their designs. Their Fall 2008 collection presented short, sharp messages to observers, in three-dimensional and embroidered forms of ‘no’, ‘dream’ and ‘wow’. The word ‘no’ appeared most frequently in the collection, perhaps as in protest against the perceived sexual availability of models or other women in aesthetic labour. Though observers have been invited to stare at these clothes, and the women who model them on the catwalk, it is the clothes, not the women, who are for sale.

Perhaps Viktor and Rolf’s collection is necessary because women are tired of saying ‘no’. By presenting linguistic messages on their clothes, wearers are able to stay silent. They can express themselves very precisely without the effort of conversation. This offers a kind of freedom.

Perhaps too, this is an inevitable companion to social media. We have become so accustomed to broadcasting our feelings on Twitter and Facebook, that we feel too anonymous if we are not attached to some kind of linguistic message. We feel the need to explicitly express our values and emotions to anyone, whether they want to listen or not, and clothes are just another way of doing this.

[1] Giambarrase, Nicole (2010) ‘Intellectual Property Comment: The Look for Less: A Survey of Intellectual Property Protections in the Fashion Industry’, Touro Law Review [online], Vol. 26, pp.243-285.

Halloween Costumes: An excuse for mischief

Trick or treaters at Halloween temporarily replace their identities with those of monsters or demons. These costumes absolve them of responsibility for acts of vandalism.


Trick or treating is an ostensibly innocent act. The occasion of Halloween seems to permit behaviour that would otherwise be unacceptable. This is the only time of the year when it is acceptable for children to accept sweets from strangers, and to play pranks on those who do not oblige. It is not just the date that makes this behaviour permissible, but the costumes.

Clothes define a persons’ role, and invite expectations about their behaviour. In everyday clothes, we are retrained by a social contract that only permits polite and courteous behaviour. A costume, however, is an “open proclamation of departures in behaviour”. A Halloween costume “announces that the wearer is stepping out of character and into a new constellation of imagery or unusual social relationships”[1]. Dressed as a wicked witch or whimsical skeleton, we are permitted to do things that might otherwise be unacceptable.

Screen shot 2013-10-27 at 16.35.18

Halloween costume is a licence to act outside the law, by transforming acts that might otherwise be perceived as vandalism into apparently harmless pranks. Trick or treaters might throw eggs at cars and windows, coat lawns in flour, or drape toilet paper over hedgerows. Since these ‘tricks’ are performed in costume, they are not perceived as criminal damage, but merely as a mild nuisance.

This happens because a costume is a tool of deindividuation. By “removing personal identification” costumes also remove “personal responsibility”, and provides a “shield from one’s own morality”[2]. This is particularly the case when someone is part of a costumed group. At hen parties, for example, a bride-to-be and her friends will dress up according to a set theme. These costumes create a bond between the members of the group, much like a uniform. This deindividualises the members of the group, and they are seen as acting as a single drunken mob, entitled to be more rowdy than if they were partying in their usual clothes.

Likewise, in the notorious masquerade balls of the eighteenth century, the mask enabled escape from moral integrity. At a masquerade ball, party-goers would engage in sexual liaisons that would otherwise be forbidden, as if the masks had given them licence for deviance[3].

What differentiates Halloween costumes from these other decorative masks is that they are ghoulish; the scarier the better. This aligns them less with other fancy dress, and more with the ritual wearing of masks in religious and shamanistic traditions. It is the case in ritual, including common festival practice such as Halloween, that demon masks are used to ward off evil rather than invoke it. Ghoulish masks are seen “to provide protection from unseen evil”[4]. On All-hallows night, when demons and spirits were thought to roam the earth, costumes were originally worn to protect the wearer from possession.

Screen shot 2013-10-27 at 16.30.53

It is vital to note that the wearer of a Halloween costume is never perceived as having entirely transformed into the demon or monster that the costume represents. Rather, he or she is viewed as a kind of human/beast hybrid. Images depicting animals or mosters with human characteristics, and hybrid animal-human beasts, were a staple of ancient religion and mythology. Sometimes, they were deities, like Bastet, the feline goddess of Ancient Egypt, and at other times they were the monstrous product of animal/human coupling, like Ancient Crete’s Minotaur. The duality of this fusion of “human and the non-human” can be frightening, or at least unsettling, drawing attention to humans’ desire to perceive themselves as distinct from the animal kingdom, and discomfort at anything that spans that divide [5].

These historical animal-human hybrids had a special power and allure. Often, worshipers would present offerings to placate the beast, and to prevent its animalistic nature taking over from its more civilised human side. Offering food to trick-or-treaters has much the same effect. We appease the human side to prevent the mischievous alter-ego from taking over.


Although the presence of a real demon, ghost or ghoul on our doorstep would be enough to make us bolt the doors and barricade the windows, the human/monster hybrid is far less threatening. In treating these visitors, we seek to please the human who is hidden underneath the costume. This human seems worthy of our kindness, and by keeping him or her fed we prevent the emergence of the demonic alter-ego that might perform a ‘trick’. It is as if the treats are for the human, but the tricks are performed by the demon.

By presenting themselves as a human/monster hybrid, trick or treaters appear to have the potential to give in to evil urges, but also to be retrained by human culture. They have the potential ferocity of a beast, but also the civility of a human. This reassures those who provide treats that they will not be the target of a trick, provided they appease their costumed visitors.

[1] Joseph, N., Uniforms and Nonuniforms: Communicating through clothing, New York: Greenwood, 1986, p. 184.
[2] Tseelon, Efrat, ‘Reflections of Mask and Carnival’, in Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Marginality, London: Routledge, 2001, 31.
[3] Castle, Terry, Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction (London: Methuen, 1986), 2.
[4] Bedeian, Ruth, Ritual, Symbolism and Imagery in African Masks, 2.
[5] Bahun-Radunovic, Sanja, ‘The Ethics of Animal-Human Existence: Marie Darrieussecq’s Truismes’, in Myth and Violence in the Contemporary Female Text: New Cassandras, Sanja Bahun-Radunović, V. G. Julie Rajan (eds), Farnham: ashgate, 2011, 69.

Skeleton costumes:
Ghost and Witch, photographed by Mandy Lynne:
Family of monsters:
Brooke Shields family costume:

Kirk’s Ripped Shirt : Undressing the male body in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Late twentieth century media, the sexual liberation of women, led to the rise of the female spectator. This resulted in a conflict of values: men were not traditionally supposed to be viewed as sexual objects, and yet women wanted to desire them sexually. Hence, Star Trek sought to enhance Kirk’s sex appeal, and to encourage female spectatorship, without overtly presenting Kirk as sexually-motivated.

Captain Kirk's ripped shirt

Captain Kirk and his various ripped shirts. Semi-nudity is imposed on Kirk during acts of violence.

At the time that Star Trek’s original series first aired (1966-1969), there was not much discussion about the meaning of male nudity, nor the female spectator. It is only in more recent decades that theorists such as Laura Mulvey have begun to explore the difference between the meaning of male and female nudity, and the gendered gaze, and how things were shifting as a result of the move towards sexual equality.

There were several key problems facing Star Trek screenwriters who want to give audiences a glimpse of male flesh. Perhaps the most pertinent of these was that the 1960s, and hence the fictional future as depicted in the Star Trek original series, was patriarchal. Peter Lehman argues that  “avoiding the sexual representation of the male body… works to support patriarchy” [1]. Male characters, particularly Kirk (as leader), had to remain authoritative and masculine.  As Laura Mulvey observed, “the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification” [2]. A man who voluntarily disrobes with the intention of displaying himself as the subject of sexual desire can be viewed as vain. Vanity is historically viewed as a feminine trait, and thus the male striptease can compromise masculinity.

Additionally, the naked male body can be viewed as “threatening” to the female audience, since voluntary exhibitionism is closely linked to sexual aggression[3]. It is noteworthy that Kirk was often shown as sexually reluctant – the victim of sexual desire rather than the perpetrator.

James T. Kirk could not, therefore, be seen to exhibit his body intentionally. Rather, nudity had to be imposed upon him. It could be incidental, accidental, or justified for practical (and manly) reasons, but never purposeful.

Kirk wrestles

Even when Kirk has voluntarily removed his shirt, it is often to engage in masculine acts of violence and displays of physical strength.

Kirk’s semi-nudity was made more acceptable by being shown as the consequence of masculine aggression. A violent tussle with enemy foe could be the cause of a ripped shirt, and hence an exposed nipple. Kirk’s toughness could be reinforced by a splatter of blood or sweat on the exposed skin. In hand-to-hand combat, Kirk could progress towards nudity without appearing to voluntarily expose himself to the audience. He satisfied the sexual urges of some audience members, without compromising the masculine values that mattered to the remaining viewers.

Kirk was thus positioned as the heroic nude, or the athletic nude, comparable to the characters depicted in cultural artefacts of Ancient Greece (and, of course, their thinly veiled homoeroticism). His sculptural semi-nudity connotes heroism, strength, and agility.

Pierre Brule, in his observations of Ancient Greek athletic nudes, noted that “nudity was the distinctive mark of being both male and Greek, since neither Barbarians nor women exercised naked” [4]. Parallels can be drawn between Ancient Greek’s approach to Barbarians, and Star Fleet’s approach to uncivilised alien societies. In this context, Kirk’s semi-nudity is a sign not only of his masculinity, but also his humanity. His bare chest, with smooth pink skin, is evidence of his status as human, in contrast to the assorted blues and greens of his alien combatants.

In hand-to-hand combat, there is also a descent into savagery. In times of foreign exploration, explorers who have encountered tribes who wear little or no clothing have often been assumed to be primitive “savages” [5]. Their nakedness was thought to be a reliable indicator that such groups of people were under-developed, having not yet developed the intellectual capacity for morality, and hence for the ideas that nakedness is shameful. Among European and American slave traders, nudity was enforced to keep perceived savages in their place; as a sign of their status as possessions – equivalent to animals such as cattle – rather than humans. In Kirk’s own descent towards savagery, he must abandon the civilised negotiation techniques of Starfleet. As the uniform is ripped, Starfleet’s regulations and values and tossed aside. Kirk becomes a beast that cannot be tamed by the authority and civility of his employers.

Star Trek was by no means pioneering in its use of the ripped shirt. There are numerous films and TV series that depicted men in similar semi-nude states, always imposed by masculine acts of action or violence. Take, for example, The Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961), in which Eddie’s shirt is ripped to shreds in an explosion. Here, though the shirt is torn and Eddi’e chest is fully exposed, his tie remains intact to retain some sense of respectability and civility.

most Dangerous Man Alive Eddie

In The Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961), Eddie’s shirt is shredded in an explosion.

As if his skintight superhero costume wasn't enough to please flesh-hungry audiences, Captain America 2: Death Too Soon (1979) depicts Steve Rogers with a ripped shirt.

As if his skintight superhero costume wasn’t enough to please flesh-hungry audiences, Captain America 2: Death Too Soon (1979) depicts Steve Rogers with a ripped shirt.

Other sci-fi and fantasy tales find similar excuses to expose the bodies of their male heroes. For characters including The Hulk (aka Bruce Banner), or numerous werewolf tales (Buffy’s Oz, Being Human’s George Sands, etc.) the loss of a shirt is a clear indicator of descent into savagery. The civilised human identity transforms into the primal/animal identity, and during this descent vestiges of civility and advancement are destroyed. With these werewolf tales, as with Kirk, the nudity is imposed, not performed. It is a consequence of the violent transformation that characterises the curse. The male body becomes the victim of nudity.


In the US remake of Being Human, werewolf Josh Levison wakes naked, next to the deer that he has slaughtered as a wolf. The bloodstains on his naked body, and the similarity between his state and the dead deer that lies beside him, suggest that he is both perpetrator and victim of violence. While naked, he is both savage and vulnerable.

Nudity gives these characters a particular vulnerability when they transform back into human form. The human alter-ago is often meek: the polar opposite of his beastly counterpart. This is particularly true of Buffy’s Oz, and the Hulk in Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble. As Bruce Banner has lost his clothes in his transformation from human to beast, when he reverts to his human form he is left without protection from cold or the prying eyes of curious onlookers. He is forced to hide, or make do with borrowed or stolen coverings. Nudity thus reinforces the vulnerability of man, in contrast to beast.

teenwolf shirt

Promos depict the latest incarnation of ‘Teen Wolf’ with his shirt ripped during transformation.

Though Kirk’s imposed nudity was a fairly regular occurrence, more recent sub-genres of sci-fi and fantasy have exploited it to such an extent that it has become a defining feature. Promotional materials for MTV’s Teen Wolf unashamedly permit voyeurism in their teenage audience, with images depicting a naked torso beneath ripped shirt: an image that has come to signify a recent transition from man to beast, and vice versa.

[1] Lehman, Peter, Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993, p. 6.
[2] Mulvey, laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Screen Vol. 16. Issue 3 (Autumn 1975) p. 12.
[3] Cooper, Emmanuel, Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography, Oxon: Routledge, 1990, p. 8; and Tejirian, Edward Male to Male: Sexual Feeling Across the Boundaries of Identity, New York: Routledge, 2000.
[4] cited in Moss, Rachel E., ‘An Orchard, A Love Letter and Three Bastards: The Formation of Adult male Identity in Fifteenth Century Family’, in What is Masculinity? John H. Arnold, Sean Brady (eds), New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2001, p. 231.
[5] Perniola, Mario, ‘Between Clothing and Nudity’, 1989, as cited in Barcan, Ruth, Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy2009. 

“Anything but the Face”: Masked Robbers and Spies in Disguise

Earlier this year, the FSB expelled an America diplomat on the grounds that he was spying for the CIA. Listed the alleged spy’s suspicious possessions including, rather cryptically,  “means of altering appearance”. It was later revealed that this disguise kit contained a variety of wigs and sunglasses. These paraphernalia were so ill-fitting that they belonged in a comedy performance, but they provoked some serious debate.

Ryan Fogle (left), the American accused of spying by the FSB, and his alleged disguise kit (right).

Ryan Fogle (left), the American accused of spying by the FSB, and his alleged disguise kit (right).

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, former CIA operative, Robert Baer, admitted that although wigs are “not common practice”, he and his colleagues had worn thick-rimmed glasses and stick-on moustaches to break up facial contours. The aim of these disguises was to make people remember “something other than the face”[1]. The face is the focus of disguise for criminals as well as spies. With varying success, criminals mask their faces with tools ranging from typical balaclavas, to adventurous prosthetics, and ludicrous marker-pen camouflage. One of the most commonly depicted burglar’s disguises is a makeshift mask of a stocking pulled over the head, which succeeds in distorting (rather than concealing) the wearer’s features.

The owner of the ‘Armed Robbery Advice’ website demonstrates how a stocking pulled tightly across the face can distort facial features, transforming familiar faces into anonymous ones.

The owner of the ‘Armed Robbery Advice’ website demonstrates how a stocking pulled tightly across the face can distort facial features, transforming familiar faces into anonymous ones.

Identity and the Face

The face is the key in visual identification, and is a sign of self. Numerous cultural practices of representation reveal that ‘humans predominantly recognize and differentiate others by the face’[4].  Images of the face have historically been, and continue to be, a common method of distinguishing one individual from another, and proof of individual identity. When state organisations and institutions first began to keep photographic records of populations (as when immigration services first issued passports) ‘the face… was deemed sufficiently indicative of the person’s likeness to serve as its overt sign; thus, the rest of the body could be omitted’[5]. Along with criminal photofits, photo IDs and driving licences, these documents helped to establish national and international databases of faces. These, combined with the ubiquity of CCTV and camera phones, have greatly increased the chances of an individual being facially recognised if he or she commits an illegal or remarkable act.

As photographic images because more widespread, and the risk of recognition increased, facial disguise became more necessary. In order to reduce the effectiveness of facial disguises, authorities may produce impressions of wanted men in a variety of possible disguises. In 1944, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services manipulated photographs of Adolf Hitler, to prepare for the possibility that he may adopt a disguise. In these images, Hitler was depicted with glasses, a false beard, false hairline, and a number of other facial obstructions or distortions that would have made him less recognisable. The images had the effect of focusing viewer’s attention on the less distinct features of Hitler’s face. With the moustache and hairline concealed, viewers were forced to concentrate on the subject’s eyes, eyebrows, and nose, and hence to become familiar with these features. Repeat viewing would train viewers to associate these features with Hitler, and so be more prepared to easily identify him should he adopt almost any disguise.

Hitler in disguise

Images created by Eddie Senz for the Office of Strategic Services in 1944, depicting Hitler is a variety of imagined disguised. Source: The Telegraph

In representation and in reality, the face is commonly seen as a sign not only of identity but also of personality. Physiognomy – the belief, originally derived from Aristotle and presented much later as a science by J. C. Lavater and others – that one’s character is presented in the appearance of the face, or ‘the corresponding analogy between the conformation of the features and the ruling passions of the mind’[6]. The face is also an expressive site for our emotions and intentions. It transmits a language of social signals. It is our most expressive body part, and it is possible to read someone’s intentions and motivations through facial expression. It is for this reason that many portraits are expressive, attempting to capture the ‘character’ of the subject, and in particular why criminals may be depicted with a scowl.

Given that a person’s identity, character and intentions are apparently so bound up in the face, it is reasonable for the face to be the cornerstone of disguise. A mask, or any disguise that conceals the face, also in turn conceals identity and intentions.

Failed Iowa burglars, Matthew Nelly and Joey Miller, were caught attempting to break into a flat wearing facial camouflage of permanent marker. In principle, their plans to conceal their faces might have worked, but in practice this technique neither distorts nor conceals the features, and hence the identity, of the men.

Failed Iowa burglars, Matthew Nelly and Joey Miller, were caught attempting to break into a flat wearing facial camouflage of permanent marker. In principle, their plans to conceal their faces might have worked, but in practice this technique neither distorts nor conceals the features, and hence the identity, of the men.

Masks as Disguises

Anthropological studies suggest that the mask may represent two different approaches to identity. The first ‘assumes the authenticity of the self’[7]. In such cases, the mask is a lie, concealing the true identity of the wearer. The second approach proposes that the mask presents an aspect of the self. To some extent, ‘the mask reveals the identity’[8]. Identity is complex, and the mask is an ‘authentic manifestation’ of a part of that complex whole [9].

The criminal’s mask may fall into either of these two categories. It may allow the wearer to escape from his own moral values, or to embrace a criminal part of himself that is otherwise repressed. In the first, the mask provides a ‘shield from one’s own morality’[10]. Chad Engelland observes how, ‘by concealing the face, the mask establishes a character who speaks with words of his own’[11]. The mask thus removes responsibility from the wearer for the things he says and does. It removes the connection between an individual and his/her crimes, and hence provides an opportunity to distance him/herself from actions that might otherwise provoke feelings of guilt or fear. The mask becomes a vital tool in de-individuation, by ‘removing personal identification’ and consequently also removing ‘personal responsibility’[12]. The mask is used for similar purposes elsewhere, in less sinister scenarios. In the notorious masquerade balls of the eighteenth century, the mask enabled escape from moral integrity[13]. For children in Halloween costume, it absolves them of responsibility for their acts of vandalism.

Conversely, the mask may reveal the true nature of the wearer, allowing him or her to release the criminal tendencies that are ordinarily repressed. Like all dress, which is a ‘vehicle that announces one’s identity to others’, the mask focuses attention on one aspect of his personality. Rather than deny the identity of the wearer, the mask emphasizes his/her potential for criminality or immorality. That ‘authentic’ aspect of self is brought to the fore through the characteristics of the mask.

Incomplete Identities – The problem with Masks

The problem with the anonymity provided by masks is that it provokes curiosity. The mask is ‘known to have no inside’[15]. It is this sense of an incomplete identity that drives audiences to seek out the secret alternative identity hidden underneath a reductionist or obvious mask, such as a balaclava. The observer knows that the mask is only a surface decoration; superficial, and not representative of a complete identity, which ‘invit[es] the audience to peer behind the mask’[16]. The mask inevitably creates the impression that there is more to be discovered, and encourages the urge to solve that mystery.

The anonymous mask also unsettles observers, provoking an instinctive ‘fear reaction’. Tthis fear is prompted by the concealment of facial expressions, making it impossible to read the wearer’s intentions and hence ‘to predict the behaviour of the masked man or woman’. The ‘inability to predict makes us feel insecure… because we assume – often with good reason – that the masked person is disguised for nefarious purposes’[17]. This fear ‘sharpens scrutiny’, ensuring that the wearer will attract more unwanted attention than if he or she had committed his crime unmasked.

Furthermore, the mere act of wearing an obvious mask may itself be considered morally questionable, as it is a deception of sorts. The ‘mask has come to connote something disingenuous, something false’[18].  The mask is, ultimately, a lie. The word ‘mask’ ‘suggest[s] concealment or deceit, either of the face or person, or of emotions or intentions’[19]. As a disguise, worn with the aim of providing anonymity to the wearer, the mask suggests a ‘sinister dimension’[20]. ‘From medieval times onward, the prevalent interpretation of the mask focuses on its role as an evil disguise’. It has historically been believed that, in masquerade, ‘we… act disingenuously’ and in doing so ‘risk identification with the devil’[21]. An anonymous mask therefore has the potential not only to attract unwanted attention, but also to mark the wearer out as a villain.

The Advantages of Pseudonomy over Anonymity

While many criminals seek to anonymise themselves through disguise, others turn to prosthesis to supplement one identity for another. In October 2010, an unnamed Hong Kong man illegally boarded a flight to Vancouver, wearing a prosthetic mask and carrying the passport of a 55-year old American (see fig. 3). The disguise was so convincing that the man’s true identity was only revealed when he emerged from the on-board toilet apparently 30-years younger. In the same year, a prosthetic mask was worn by a serial robber in Cincinnati, and was so effective as a disguise that police arrested a suspect who looked like the mask rather than the man who wore it. The so called, ‘Geezer Bandit’ who has robbed sixteen banks in California since 2009 was originally thought to be an elderly man. One of the FBI’s recent line of enquiries proposes that the culprit may be a much younger man or woman, wearing a silicone mask designed by SPFX, a Hollywood prosthetics company.

This unnamed passenger illegally boarded a plane from Hong Kong to Vancouver wearing a prosthetic mask. In mask (left) the man assumed the identity of a 55 year-old American.

This unnamed passenger illegally boarded a plane from Hong Kong to Vancouver wearing a prosthetic mask. In mask (left) the man assumed the identity of a 55 year-old American.

Unlike an obvious mask such as a balaclava, which provides anonymity to the wearer, prosthetics seem to present a genuine and complete identity. By substituting one (genuine) identity for another (false) identity, they are not easily read as disguises. Robert Barron, who spent more than 30 years as a ‘disguise specialist’ for the CIA, operated with the knowledge that the ‘lives [of CIA officers] were in jeopardy if the disguise attracted attention’[22]. Key to its effectiveness was that the disguise did not give itself away as such. The disguise must be a simulacrum. It must reliably resemble a real face, not a mask. It must apparently present an identity that is so complete that no questions are left unanswered in its appearance.

If such a disguise is associated with a complete identity, that identity can be sustained indefinitely. It is not necessarily a quick fix for a single crime, rather a complete alternative identity and a lifestyle to match. In such incidences of sustained disguise, the second identity becomes a performance that extends beyond the mask. ‘Layers and systems of secrecy’ are constructed and performed to supplement the visual disguise[23]. Pseudonymous disguises therefore require more than just a mask; they require additional props and performance.

Whether a mask provides anonymity or pseudonymity is not necessarily dependent on the properties of the mask itself, rather the context. A mask that is initially effective in establishing an apparently complete alternative identity may suddenly shift in its meaning when an observer identifies it as a mask. In the case of the ‘Geezer Bandit’ a silicone mask provided an alternative identity only until the FBI posed the suggestion that there may be a younger culprit hidden underneath. After this suggestion there was a significant increase in media attention as the case was elevated from crime to mystery.

As it conceals or distorts the face, a mask may be effective at concealing the wearer’s identity. Though the mask is effective at concealing identity, it also draws attention to the wearer, and arouses suspicion over his intentions. The anonymity granted by abstracted, concealed or distorted identity invites unwanted scrutiny from observers. A mask which behaves as a pseudonym, creating a complete but false alternative identity, provides the safety of concealment without inviting questions about what or who is hidden underneath.

This is an abridged version of a paper that I will be presenting at CULTHIST’13 in Istanbul, 23-25 October 2013. The full paper is entitled “‘Anything but the face’: The mask as strength and vulnerability in disguise and identity deception”, and will be available (in text and video) after the conference.

[1] Today, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2013.
[2] ‘Burqa gang stole watches worth £1m from Selfridges,’ The Guardian [online], 8 June 2013,
[3] Kövecses, Z., and Koller, B., 2006. Language, Mind, And Culture: A Practical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 10.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Brilliant, R., 1991. Portraiture. London: Reaction Books, p.41.
[6] Lavater, J. C., 1826 [1797]. Physiognomy; or The Corresponding Analogy Between the Conformation of the Features and the Ruling passions of the Mind. London: T. Tegg.
[7] Tseelon, E., 2001. Reflections of Mask and Carnival. In:  Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Marginality, London: Routledge, p. 25.
[8] South, J.B., 2005. Barbara Gordon and Moral Perfectionism. In T. Morris, and M. Morris eds. Superheroes and Philosophy. Peru, IL: Carus, p. 148
[9] Op Cit. [7].
[10] Davies, C., 2001. Stigma, uncertain identity and skill in disguise. In: E. Tseëlon, ed., Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, and Marginality. London: Routledge, p.31.
[11] Engelland, C., 2010. Unmasking the Person. International Philosophical Quarterly 50(4), p.447.
[12] Op Cit. [10]
[13] Castle, T., 1986. Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction. London: Methuen, p.2.
[14] Miller, K., Jasper, C. R., and Hill, D. R., 1991. Costume and the Perception of Identity and Role.  Perceptual and Motor Skills, 72(3), p.808.
[15] Jones, 1971 cited in Napier, A. D., 1986. Masks, Transformation, and Paradox. Berkley: University of California Press, p.9.
[16] Ibid.
[17] MacInaugh, E. A., 1984. Disguise Techniques: Fool All of the People Some of the Time. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin, p. 26.
[18] Napier, A. D., 1986. Masks, Transformation, and Paradox. Berkley: University of California Press, p.xxiii.
[19] Wilsher, T., 2007. The Mask Handbook, Oxon: Routledge, p. 12.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Napier, A. D., 1986. Masks, Transformation, and Paradox. Berkley: University of California Press, pp. 9, 15.
[22] CIA, 2008. The People of the CIA: Robert Barron. Central Intelligence Agency.
[23]Lash, M., 2013. Brilliant Disguise: Masks and Other Transformations, Contemporary Arts Centre New Orleans.

Joseph Ford’s clothing landscapes

Photographer Joseph Ford has recently published a series of photographs which juxtapose clothes and aerial landscape photographs. The images explore visual similarities between the two subjects, aligning the images so that contours appear to continue from one image to the other.

These images make exploit visual similarity between natural and artificial contours, but perhaps more importantly, they highlight man’s desire to find familiar signs or patterns in a scene. These images would be less remarkable if they appeared alone, and it is only by identifying an unexpected relationship with another image that each photograph becomes interesting. This is a structuralist understanding of everything, that defines subjects according to relationships. As in my previous post, these images appreciate clothes as objects. Clothes are commonly understood only in relation to the body, but here they are presented as flat or draped forms. The flexibility of garments is key, showing that although they are intended to adhere to the contours of the human body, they may just as easily be manipulated to mirror features of a landscape.

See more of these images on Joseph Ford’s website: