Foley and the cloth pass The role of a foley artist is to generate sound effects for film, television or radio, usually in post-production. Foley typically produces diegetic sound, to enhance or replace sounds that are seen to originate from … Continue reading
Humans distinguish themselves from animals in part by their wearing of clothes. ‘From this perspective’, writes Mario Perniola, ‘nudity is a negative state, a privation, loss, dispossession’ . A particular perception that nakedness is primitive was established during early encounters … Continue reading
It’s difficult to express in words how Tilda Swinton embodies style. In her fashion shoots, Swinton presents herself as ethereal, androgynous and with a defiant of “the conventional expectations of feminine emotional expressiveness and legibility”, a property that Jackie Stacey describes as … Continue reading
Clothes on stage and screen for the visually impaired Some cultural experiences are inaccessible to the blind or partially sighted, and although steps have been taken to improve the accessibility of various visual media, the fashion industry is only just … Continue reading
Cosplay is a form of dressing-up that embraces gadgets and gizmos. No Doctor Who would be complete without his Sonic Screwdriver, and Batman would be naked without his utility belt. What sets James Bond apart from other suavely dressed cocktail … Continue reading
James Bond has a reputation for being well-dressed. He is equally notorious for his tendency to undress. His many encounters with Bond girls require speedy and easy undressing, and hand-to-hand combat often occurs with shirts removed or cuffs rolled up. The … Continue reading
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.
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” . 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” . 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. 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’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” . 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” . 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.
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.
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.
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.
 Lehman, Peter, Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993, p. 6.
 Mulvey, laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Screen Vol. 16. Issue 3 (Autumn 1975) p. 12.
 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.
 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.
 Perniola, Mario, ‘Between Clothing and Nudity’, 1989, as cited in Barcan, Ruth, Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy, 2009.
J. J. Abrams’ Star-Trek Into Darkness, and the forthcoming After Earth (Shyamalan, 2013), are reminders of how film and TV so often depicts future fashion as skimpy or skin-tight. The uniforms in Abram’s recent Star Trek revival have progressed from previous versions, but retain the hallmarks of the originals. The men’s uniforms have a mesh outer layer, reminiscent of moisture-wicking sportswear. The female uniforms are more precise replicas of the originals, with miniskirts and knee-high boots. In After Earth, stranded father and son are costumed in something reminiscent of an armoured wetsuit. These films are following a tradition established by films such as Logan’s Run (1976), Buck Rogers (1979-1981), and Tron (1982), in which costume left little to the imagination.
Historically, fashion has tended towards being increasingly revealing. It has become progressively more acceptable to reveal the body, in ever-more form fitting garments and exposure of skin. It therefore seems likely that sci-fi costumes like these reflect the logical progression of fashion.
In science-fiction, the costume designers can only speculate as to what the fashions of the future may be. In hindsight, many of these prove inaccurate. The ‘futuristic’ visions of some 1960s and 70s sci-fi now have a retro feel. The mini-dresses that have survived Star Trek reboots are a homage to the 1960s – the decade of the original series. Costumes like those worn by Barbarella (1969) featured fabrics that were perceived as futuristic at the time, including metallic fibres and plastics. When these materials were incorporated into fashion by designers including Mary Quant and Paco Rabanne, they represented the height of fabric technology. Perhaps as a result of this enthusiastic adoption by the fashion world, they have become more closely associated with the 1960s and the Space-race aesthetic than with the future.
Science-fiction films tend to fall into two categories. First, there are those that imagine the progression of society towards a brighter, technologically-enabled future. Second, there are dystopian societies that have regressed to resemble a historical era. Sci-fi costume can be divided into the same two categories. It imagines a possible future that has progressed forward, following established rules of fashion evolution (as in Star Trek), or a vision that resembles a Western or Victorian period drama (as in Joss Whedon’s Serenity, 2005).
Both of these approaches are fair. Fashion is cyclical. It relies on revival and bricolage. It is therefore quite likely that, regardless of how technologically advanced we become, our clothes will directly appropriate from what has come before. In order to move forward, fashion reframes the past. Historical references are also useful in connoting social, political and cultural aspects of these imagined futures. The Nazi-esque uniforms of Starship Troopers (1997), for example, help to establish the sense of a military dictatorship.
Though fashion tends to be cyclical, new technology does create exceptions. It allows clothes that have never existed before. Some of the most influential trends of the last hundred years of fashion have been inspired by new science. Access to new fabrics, such as PVC, allowed Mary Quant to rebel against tradition. Arguably, it was social change (sexual liberation) that led to the adoption of skin-tight jeans and leggings, but this could never have happened without the introduction of lycra. Similarly, no pre-existing moments in the fashion cycle would have enabled us to predict CuteCircuit’s ‘Twitter Dress’.
Science is also transforming the way we create clothes. Clothes have historically been produced by sewing flat shapes of fabric together, thereby transforming multiple flat shapes into a single three-dimensional shape. New technologies are beginning to make sewing obsolete. Issey Miyake has established a research institute in Toyko with the aim of exploring new possibilities in fabric and garment creation. This research has yielded new bonding methods that may change our approach to garment manufacture. As in A-POC (a complete outfit that is manufactured at once, from a tube of fabric), the acts of weaving fabric and sewing pieces together are no longer separate processes. The weaving of the fabric and the bonding of the layers can be a single automatic process. There is no sewing, and therefore no seams.
A collaboration between Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art resulted in the invention of Fabrican, a spray-on-fabric. Fabrican canisters contain wet fibres which may be sprayed directly onto the surface of the body (see video below). As the fibres dry, they bond, forming a single piece of flexible shaped fabric. Spray-on-fabric has the potential to revolutionise the fashion industry. As it is sprayed directly onto the body, it removes the issue of sizing from the dressmaking process. It also changes the way that garments may be repaired. In order to fix a rip or tear, more fabric may be sprayed to invisibly seal the hole.
Fabrican is like a second skin: tight-fitting and seamless. This gives credence to the theory that skin-tight garments may become more common, and provides further evidence that future fashion is likely to be seam-free. As in the reinvented Man of Steel (2013) costume, and wetsuits in Star Trek Into Darkness, clothes may be moulded to fit our bodies perfectly.
Another factor to consider is that many of these costumes are uniforms. Uniform tends to fall outside of the usual fashion cycle. It is fixed, rather than modal. Uniforms tend to remain largely unchanged for many decades, and are therefore likely to be at least partly historical in design. It is possible that the uniforms of the future would be very similar to those worn today, and would follow the same signifying systems for rank and situation.
If we want predictions of fashion’s future, we should ignore the Star Fleet uniforms and explore the clothes worn by the extras in the background. In the bar scenes and on the streets of future London, we see signs of otherness that truly sets the Star Trek world apart from our own. Here we see the exoticism of alien influence, and the hybrid styles that arise within the fashion cycle.
 AFMA (American Fiber Manufacturers Association) A Short History of Manufactured Fibers, 2010, Available at http://www.fibersource.com/f-tutor/history.htm
 Seymour, Sabine (2008) Fashionable Technology, New York: Springer Wien, 2008, 86.
 Except when structures are attached to the body first.
 Barnard, Malcolm, Fashion as Communication, London: Routledge, 1996, 12.
Star Trek Into Darkness uniforms: http://omg.yahoo.com/news/star-treks-zachary-quinto-spock-unleashed-darkness-204528413.html and http://www.darrenbracey.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/zoe-saldana-star-trek-into-darkness-uhuru-uniform.jpg
Logan’s Run: http://ixians.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/high-fashion-in-humanspace.html
Uhura’s wetsuit: http://cdn-media.hollywood.com/images/638×425/1807046.jpg
Starship Troopers uniforms: http://www.therpf.com/f47/star-trek-2-new-uniforms-149714/index2.html
Scotty in the bar: http://www.thetrekcollective.com/2013/04/into-darkness-round-up-more-posters.html
The release of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is bound to spark a revival of 1920s fashion. Beaded flapper dresses haven’t yet been revived on my local high street – there are some Modernist dropped waists and a few fringes, but nothing to compete with the opulence of Luhrman’s film. Nevertheless, there is enough interest in the film’s costume design that the influence is bound to spread.
Curiously, much of this interest seems to come from those who want to admire these dresses from a distance, rather than wear them. Luhrman’s lavish party scenes are spectacular, featuring costumes in the style of Jazz era designers such as Paul Poiret and Elsa Schiaparelli. With their extravagant beading and shimmering colours, they are a visual spectacle. Unfortunately they are also remarkably delicate. The thousands of beads and sequins that adorn these dresses are not at home in a recession-proof wardrobe. We can adore these clothes from afar, and enjoy how they sparkle in the artificial lighting of a film-set, but would we ever really want to wear a tasselled cloche?
Much of the online discussion that celebrates Gatsby style has focused on originals rather than on revival. Vintage clothing dealer Leslie Verrinder has taken the opportunity to advise audiences on purchasing 1920s partywear. Verrinder stresses that a 1920s dress is a wise investment, likely to increase in value if it is undamaged and unrepaired . His advice seems to indicate that fans of the film might consider these costumes as a nest-egg: something to display and preserve; not something to wear.
In a previous post, I rallied against the notion that the dress “cannot be understood without reference to the body” . Numerous texts have argues than a garment “exists only when it is in the process of being worn”. Alison bancroft goes so far as to say that clothes that are not worn have a “sinister otherworldliness”. If this is true, what drives the desire to own an original piece that can never be worn?
There are financial incentives: a Poiret dress can fetch about £2000 at auction . For most investors, however, it is akin to buying a piece of fine art. These dresses are not, and never were, primarily functional items. Despite being created in the era of Modernist fashion, when women were being liberated from the Victorian silhouette, these party dresses are all about ‘bling’*. The superfluous ornamentation is just as effective on a flat surface as a curved body. Indeed, many of these garments would sparkle more brightly in a display case than in a darkened ballroom.
Ornamentation exists only on the surface. Its superficial beauty is what has made it so controversial in design history. It has been variously seen as “a waste of manpower, materials, and capital” and “dishonest” in the way it apparently conceals that true nature of the object beneath . This superficiality – that prioritizes style over substance – makes a garment ideal for collectors’ displays. In a cabinet, one can closely inspect the fine detail of the embroidery in a way that would not be possible in another context. The exquisite detail in these costumes can only be truly appreciated when we present them as art objects, and invite people to take a closer look.
[* Note: In contrast to the contemporaneous designs of Coco Chanel, which prioritized form over ornamentation. Chanel’s designs were functional, not decorative. Poiret and others used a similarly free silhouette to Chanel, but targeted a wealthier audience whose lifestyles demanded more extravagantly decorated clothes.]
 ‘Great Gatsby remake inspires 1920s fashion revival’, The Telegraph [online] , 24 April 2013, http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/videos/TMG10016727/Great-Gatsby-remake-inspires-1920s-fashion-revival.html
 Enwtistle, Joanne, and Wissinger, Elizabeth (2006) ‘Keeping Up Appearances: aesthetic labour in the fashion modeling industries of London and New York’, The Sociological Review 54 (4), pp. 774-794.
 Bancroft, Alison, Fashion and Psychoanalysis, London: I.B. Tauris, 2012, p. 2.
 Twemlow, Alice (2005) ‘The Decriminalisation of Ornament ‘, Eye 58 (Winter 2005) http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature.php?id=126&fid=553 (visited 24/10/2010)
‘11 Fresh, Modern Ways to Channel The Great Gatsby’, http://www.refinery29.com/twenties-style/slideshow?page=5#slide-11
and for those of you who would rather ogle at the Gatsby menswear:
‘Go Behind the Scenes of The Great Gatsby Style with Brooks Brothers’, http://www.gq.com/style/blogs/the-gq-eye/2013/04/exclusive-video-go-behind-the-scenes-of-gatsby-style-with-brooks-brothers.html
Great Gatsby stills: http://screencrush.com/the-great-gatsby-trailer/ and http://www.hitfix.com/galleries/most-luxuriously-opulent-images-from-the-great-gatsby-trailer
Vogue Gatsby photoshoot: http://pinterest.com/pin/185703184607566993/
Vintage 1920s dresses by Poiret and others: http://doloresmonet.hubpages.com/hub/WomensFashionsofthe1920-FlappersandtheJazz-Age and http://angelasancartier.net/art-nouveau-and-art-deco and http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/spivy/spivy5-15-07_detail.asp?picnum=11
Close-up of beading: http://ehive.com/account/3009/object/120074/1920s_beaded_flapper_evening_dress
A colleague, Danny Graydon, recently conducted an interview with Alan Moore, during which they discussed Moore’s recent short film, Jimmy’s End. Moore makes a cameo appearance in his film, dressed in an embroidered suit and golden winged boots. When Moore first steps onto the screen, we are shown the costume before we are shown the man. For a while, Moore’s Pegasus boots fill the screen, and the camera does not reveal his face until after panning across the awe-stricken faces of every man and woman in the crowd that watches from below. Moreover, we hear the sound of the costume before we hear the sound of Moore’s voice. The Cuban heels tap as Moore steps into frame, and the creak of leather echoes through the room.
The shot of Moore’s boots is reminiscent of the shot encountered in so many Westerns – the close-up of spurred boots as the cowboy arrives for a duel. These shots are remembered for the sound as much as the image. The scraping of heels against gravel, and the jangle of spurs, expose the eerie silence that seems to descend on every Wild West town as a hero and villain prepare for a standoff.
The sounds of clothes tend to go unnoticed in the real world. They are so quiet that they tend to form part of the soundscape that is a background to more significant noises. If we want to hear them, we must cancel out every other sound, and listen closely. In film, this requires all other noises to be hushed. It is a kind of audio-equivalent to zooming-in on the subject: an audio close-up. These diegetic sounds – that is, sounds that originate from something that appears on screen – are often considered secondary to the visual experience of film. They add “surplus value”, complementing objects and events that can already be seen on screen: enhancing, rather than adding to, the narrative .
Not all diegetic sounds originate from something seen. Clothing can appear offscreen, its presence signified by sound. These are “acusmatic” sounds, similar to a gunshot heard in a neighbouring room, or a scream from the off-screen victim. Such sounds often accompany actions that may be too distasteful to depict directly. When clothes make sound off screen, it may be for the same reason. The sound of a dress being unzipped can signify that a woman is getting undressed, without the filmmakers having to show her nudity. These sounds do more than simply enhance the narrative – they drive it forward. They describe events that are a crucial part of the plot, and without them the visions on the screen would be confusing or incomplete.
The parts of a garment that make the loudest noises tend to be fastenings – zips and poppers. Equally noisy is the snap of elastic. The sound of clothes, therefore, often does not belong to the garment, so much as to the act of dressing or undressing. These sounds are unavoidably erotic, signifying the transition between clothedness and nudity. Even when they do not involve fastenings, sounds are created by the relationship between clothes and the body. The body caresses itself against cloth as the wearer moves. It is perhaps for this reason that filmmakers choose to enhance the sound of clothes: they signify exposure or bodily contact without being explicitly erotic.
 Lupone, Mario, ‘The Sound Dimension in Cinema,’ http://www.ecayp.net/pdf/ftc_lupone2.pdf
Alan Moore’s boots in Jimmy’s End: http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/23595/watch-alan-moore-and-mitch-jenkins-short-film-jimmys-end-here
Girl unzips: http://pinkfancyblack.tumblr.com/post/1359432781
Live and Let Die, Bond gadget: http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/48178/charlie-higson-reveals-favourite-bond-gadget