“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, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jun/08/burqa-gang-watches-selfridges
[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.

Man or Mannequin?

The Guardian posted a curious news story yesterday, describing a recent burglary attempt in Italy. A group of men broke into a designer clothes shop, and were later caught “standing stock still in a display, trying to pass themselves off as shop dummies.”

What is perhaps most remarkable is the men’s age. Both were in their seventies – well past their physical prime – and yet it was not their physical form that was their undoing. Indeed, the arresting officer claimed that “dressed in jacket and tie, the two men were almost elegant enough to pass for the mannequins they stood alongside.” The men only gave themselves away by their inability to stand still without “trembling “[1].

Typically, mannequins are not representative of a shop’s clients, and even less so its burglars. They are idealized forms, representing the clients aspirations. Mannequins are necessarily idealised, because fashion is not about reality. It is about ambition. Underpinning fashion is the desire to imitate “social elites by their social inferiors”[2]. Designers and retailers present the consumer with a fantasy, encouraging them to imagine themselves as someone better: wealthier, and more successful; slimmer and more attractive.

If these burglars were able to masquerade convincingly as mannequins, even for a moment, does it suggest that the shop’s display had an unusual level of realism? Or, does this story tell us less about the shop display, and more about the arresting officer who was momentarily convinced by the burglars’ disguise? This officer saw two elderly men in the context of a window display without realising that looked out of place. For some reason, he was unable to tell realism from idealism.

Screen shot 2012-12-20 at 13.10.07

Mannequins have an interesting historical relationship with realism. “Dress cannot be understood without reference to the body”[3], and so seeing a garment hanging limp on a peg is insufficient to demonstrate its potential. Clothes are designed to dress the body, and their purpose is unfulfilled if they are not worn. For this reason, when clothing is displayed it is commonly displayed on a human body, or on an artificial substitute for a body, such as a mannequin. Initially, models and mannequins were introduced to show consumers how a garment would look on their own bodies. Realism was therefore considered vital.

In the 1920s, when Jean Patou began using live models, he aimed to employ women that not only showed the clothes well, but also to provide a means by which his customers could “identify more easily with his designs”. Other designers of the same era continued to use models with this goal in mind, selecting models whose shapes reflected the audience, including short or stocky women. In short, the ideal model at this time was deemed to be one who was “ordinary”, emphasizing the “accessibility” of the garments. Catwalk shows thereby aimed to show audiences reflections of themselves, in models to whom they could relate [4]. Similarly, mannequins were designed to be as lifelike as possible [5].

Christian Dior’s New Look of 1947 dramatically changed the modelling industry. The New Look prioritized glamour and extravagance over practicality, and so the models were chosen to reflect this ideal. Dior’s models did not reflect the consumer, but who she aspired to be. They were groomed, sophisticated, and confident [6]. The model became a symbol of an ideal woman and lifestyle. By the 1950s, Dior’s methods had been adopted by mannequin designers. Mannequins became idealised. Male mannequins became muscular and tall, and women’s mannequins became slender, with impossibly long legs and narrow waists. This trend stayed with mannequins, which still today reflect an impossible ideal rather than a reality [7].


Although it has been sixty years since this shift took place, there still exists a level of self-denial about the level of realism in fashion displays. Consumers are easily persuaded to make purchases after viewing a garment on a mannequin, no matter how dissimilar the mannequin’s form is to their own body. This blurring of reality and idealism is the central theme of Michael Gotleib’s 1998 film, Mannequin. The film tells the story of a window-dresser whose muse is a mannequin brought-to-life.

The role of Emmy, the titular mannequin, is played by Kim Cattrall and a series of fibreglass imitations of the actress. With her astonishing beauty, Cattrall is able to convince audiences that she could pose as a mannequin. Notably, her character is not just an ordinary girl but an ancient princess who has harnessed magic to travel through time. It would seem that the impossibly slender form and flawless beauty of a mannequin is only fit for royalty. We could not imagine a plain and ordinary girl in this role. And yet, the very fact that this fantasy exists, suggests that audiences crave the idealism of a window display to be reflected in the reality of their everyday lives or flawed bodies.


Two aging burglars, apparently inconspicuous alongside the chiselled fibreglass forms of male mannequins, tell us that we still believe mannequins are reflective of reality. Advertisers and retailers have been successful in trying to convince us that their artificially idealised vision could come true. One Italian officer, at least, is so influenced by the pretence of reality that he is unable to tell the real from the ideal. For him, the retailer’s vision is convincing. The burglars too, were so confident in the achievability of the retailer’s display that they believed themselves able to replicate it. Mannequins may be idealised, but we are in such denial that we fail to recognise when a real form infiltrates a display. We still believe that, if we buy those overpriced designer garments, we could look as good as the mannequin as the shop window.

[1] Klington, Tom (2012), ‘ Dumb and dummies: Italian trio held over shop break-in,’ The Guardian [online], 17 Dec 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/17/shop-dummy-italian-thieves-arrested
[2] Crane, Diana (2000), Fashion and its Social Agendas, London: University of Chicago Press, p. 6
[3] Joanne Entwistle, cited in Perthuis, Karen de (2005) ‘The Synthetic Ideal: the Fashion Model and Photographic Manipulation’, Fashion Theory 9 (4), p. 410.
[4] Soley-Beltran, Patricia (2004), ‘Modelling Femininity’, European Journal of Women’s Studies 11 (3), p. 311.
[5] Dwyer, Gary, (2008), Window Dressing: Idealized women in the age of mannequins and photography, Lulu, p. 4.
[6] Soley-Beltran, Patricia (2004), ‘Modelling Femininity’, European Journal of Women’s Studies 11 (3), pp. 311-312.
[7] Dywer, p. 11.

Male mannequins: http://www.myglassesandme.co.uk/2012/04/currently-showing-at-zara/
Mannequins through the ages: http://www.csuchico.edu/pub/inside/archive/02_12_12/05_deadly.html
Mannequin movie still: http://www.allmovie.com/movie/mannequin-v31327

James Bond, the Japanese Fisherman

Part 2: The need for transparency

By all accounts, James Bond’s trans-status masquerades are unconvincing. Common consensus in the blogsphere is that his most absurd disguise is that of a Japanese Fisherman in You Only Live Twice. Now considered “racially insensitive” [1], this disguise challenged believability and courted controversy.

James Bond, Japanese agent

Sean Connery’s Japanese look was achieved with the help of a black toupee and prosthetic eye-pieces. Despite the dark make-up and kimono, Connery remains clearly identifiable. He is, and always will be, a 6-foot tall Scotsman. Although contemporary audiences may find it laughable, this level of transparency may be exactly what is needed in an on-screen disguise.

It is a long-established convention in theatrical performance that a disguise must be transparent to the audience for the narrative to function as intended. Indeed, audiences do “not expect to be fooled by stage disguise”. Peter Hyland observes that, in the tradition of theatrical disguise, “the audience does not need to be fooled by something that it sees on stage in order to believe that the people on the stage have been fooled by it.” They need to be aware that “an actor who has just entered [is] playing a disguised version of the same character he had played before rather than a different character”[2].

On screen, disguise is complexified by the fact that the actor is already in a form of disguise. Like all actors, Connery spends his working life permanently disguised. When an actors are celebrities, much of their career requires the performance of ordinariness. A celebrity may be reduced to normalcy through make-up and wardrobe. Though their famous faces draw in the crowds, their costumes must convince audiences that the roles they inhabit are familiar: ordinary housewives, businessmen, school teachers. Audiences must be able to make a distinction between the actor’s costume and the character’s costume. The first of these, the actor’s costume, must enable the viewer to look beyond the real-life identity of the actor to that of the character; it must be convincing. The second, the character’s disguise, must simultaneously present both of his acted identities; it must be transparent. The audience needs to appreciate that the actor is playing one role with two identities, not two separate roles. This is not Connery playing a fisherman, it is Connery playing Bond in disguise.

Transparency of a disguise may be enabled through plot. Audiences may be shown the transition from one alter-ego to the other, so that we can track Bond into his new identity. We follow him in the acquisition of his disguise, a process that sometimes requires 007 to resort to petty theft. In Dr. No, Bond steals a radiation suit so that he may safely enter a nuclear reactor room; In Diamonds are Forever, he enters a hospital wearing a doctor’s coat; In Moonraker, Bond and a co-conspirator steal yellow jumpsuits. On all these occasions, Bond must first incapacitate the original wearer of the uniform, typically with a quick blow to the head. In this way, the acquisition of the disguise provides a moment of light relief before the plot ascends towards its climax.


[1] Matt McDaniel, ‘James Bond’s 10 Most Embarrassing Moments’, http://movies.yahoo.com/blogs/movie-talk/james-bond-10-most-embarrassing-movie-moments-223337438.html?page=all
[2] Peter Hyland, ‘The Performance of Disguise”, Early Theatre, Vol. 5 (1), 2002, 78-79.

Sean Connery, Bond as a Japanese fisherman, in ‘You Only Live Twice’: http://you-only-blog-twice.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/you-only-live-twice-1967.html
Connery in a henchman’s jumpsuit, in ‘Moonraker’: http://thesuitsofjamesbond.com/?tag=disguise

James Bond, the Japanese Fisherman

Part 1: Trans-status disguise on film

James Bond is a man of expensive taste. His tailored suits and Omega watches reflect a kind of elitism. He presents himself with an air of confidence that is unattainable to most, and that suave sophistication is a hallmark of Bond in every incarnation. It makes women swoon, and men envious. It also presents a problem. As a spy, Bond must occasionally go undercover. He must don a disguise, and eliminate everything that makes him 007.

Fashion is typically aspirational, reflecting a desire to imitate those of higher socioeconomic status. Bond’s wardrobe is no exception. The character dresses in a way that would stretch the pay-packet of any civil servant. His wardrobe is designed less for practicality than to invite admiration. This is useful when his goal is to bed a Bond Girl, or attract the attention of a mastermind villain across the floor of a casino, but useless when he needs to infiltrate a secret lair or blend into a crowd. These are occasions on which it is desirable to use costume to reduce status, and to perform a masquerade of normalcy. Bond must abandon all outward indicators of individuality and status: to perform ordinariness.


Bond’s disguises have ranged from the obvious (a chauffeur in Skyfall), to the absurd (a Japanese fisherman in You Only Live Twice). Bond is not alone in requiring trans-status disguises. Bond villains with often use the same tactics to evade capture, including most recently, Skyfall’s Silva. After escaping from MI6’s temporary underground headquarters, Silva achieves anonymity on the London underground in a police uniform.


Fictional spies are not, of course, the only people who have a reason to conceal their identity and status through costume. Dressing down is core to experiments in “trans-status disguise” [1], a practice that flourished in the late nineteenth century social experiments, and is still vital in more recent journalistic practices such as those employed by Polly Toynbee[2]. In 1890, Jacob Riis published How The Other Half Lives, a taxonomy of class structure which included notes on “bodily signifiers” of class, most notably, costume. In his text, Riis invited readers to covertly “be with and among [the] people [of lower socioeconomic status] until you understand their ways” with the aim of encouraging greater trans-status empathy. There then began a trend for articles in British and American periodicals that featured the observations of “middle-class [reporters] who briefly lived ‘working-class’ lives”[3]. The accounts of these writers reveal dress as core in the construction of a trans-status disguise. In 1903, Jack London expressed surprise at how remarkably attitudes towards him changed when he donned a frayed jacket. The jacket, he noted, became a “badge and advertisement of [his perceived] class.” By “vesting [him]self in class-specific apparel” he invited observers to make assumptions about his socioeconomic status, and in so doing created opportunities to “move freely” among social groups that had formerly viewed him as an outsider[4].

These journalists and sociologists cloaked themselves in a “signified cloth granting liberation and opportunity”[5]. The clothes reduced their status, masking anything remarkable about their profession or prestige, and they found themselves empowered. The disguises gave them a peculiar power of normalcy and anonymity, which allowed them to partake in activities that were previously out of their reach. For Bond, anonymity grants the freedom to watch without being watched back. As an anonymous member of a crowd, Bond is able to get much closer to the action without being noticed until he chooses to make his move. Dressed as a faceless henchman, he is able to infiltrate the most secure depths of a villain’s lair.

[1] Hyland, Peter, ‘The Performance of Disguise”, Early Theatre, Vol. 5 (1), 2002, 77-83.
[2] See Toynbee, Polly, Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain, London: Bloomsbury, 2003, a record of the experiences of journalist, Toynbee, who spends a period living and working on minimum wage in order to expose the difficulties encountered by those of lower socioeconomic status than herself and her readers.
[3] Schocket, Eric, ‘Explorations of the ‘Other Half,’ or the Writer as Class Transvestite,’ Representations, 64 (1998), 112, 118.
[4] London, Jack, People of the Abyss, 1903, cited in Schocket, Eric, ‘Explorations of the ‘Other Half,’ or the Writer as Class Transvestite,’ Representations, 64 (1998), 119.
[5] Fhlainn, Sorcha Ni, ‘Our Monstrous (S)kin: Blurring the Boundaries Between Monsters and Humanity’, in Our Monstrous (S)kin, ed. Fhlainn, Sorcha Ni, Oxford: Interdisciplinary Press, 2009, 9.

Connery plays Bond in Japanese fisherman disguise, in ‘You Only Live Twice’: http://www.modernprimate.com/tag/chinese-disguise/
Javier Bardem as Silva in disguise, in ‘Skyfall’: http://jamesbond.wikia.com/wiki/Skyfall