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
Some time ago, I wrote about the complexity of burlesque costumes. Some of the ideas in that post were reinforced at my visit to this year’s London Burlesque Festival. As always, the costumes were fabulous, and here are some of the best…
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
Superheroes represent a hyper-masculinised stereotype. They are characterised by masculine traits of physical strength and muscular physiques, along with aggressive tendencies (manifested in their physical, combative engagement with villains). An equally important aspect of the superhero genre is the costume. … 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 numerous cosplay photography archives that litter the web have provided the world with images of some fantastic costumes. ‘Participatory fandom’ is becoming increasingly mainstream , and nowhere is fandom more overtly expressed than in costume.
These online archives are not only evidence of the act of costuming, but also of the importance of recording costume events. Attendees at events like Comic Con may take the role of cosplayer or spectator, and both are equally as important to the fan community. Rauch and Bolton argues that ‘the cosplayer is really only half the equation: the other half is the cameraman (or woman), and there is a strong sense that the photograph is the privileged end product of the entire enterprise’ . The spectator is a voyeur, and a record-keeper, enjoying and preserving the spectacle.
As in fashion photography, there is an ‘underlying assumption that the clothes exist to be photographed as much as to be worn’ . Cosplayers have invested time, money and effort on their costumes, and are keen to preserve this demonstration of their devotion to a source text.
The term ‘cosplay’ does not solely refer to the wearing of a costume. The ‘costume’ is only one half of the story – ‘play’ (or ‘role-play’) being the other. Photographs can preserve both the costume and the role-play, often in the form of a complete recreation of a frame from a comic or film. This act becomes a collaboration between cosplayer and photographer, as they stage a replica of a fictional scene.
Posing for pictures in this way grants fans closer involvement with the source text. It provides opportunities to demonstrate familiarity with minute details of the object of their fandom, thereby enhancing their status in the fan community, and also for the fan too more deeply embody his favourite character. In collaboration, the photographer and cosplayer work to ‘erase difference’ between the posed and original scene .
The desire to recreate perhaps stems from the origins of cosplay. Nicolle Lamerichs identifies it as a convergence of 1960s/70s Sci-fi fandom practices and ‘the tradition of Renaissance fairs and historical reenactment, as well as later practices such as live-action role-playing’ . In all of these related practices, participation is a combination of costume and action, in which participants aim to remain ‘in character’.
 McCudden, Michelle, Degrees of Fandom: Authenticity and Hierarchy in the Age of Media Covergence, PhD thesis, University of Kansas, 2011, p. 2.
 Rauch, Eron, and Bolton, Christopher, ‘A Cosplay Photography Sampler’, Mechademia 5, 2010, pp. 176-190, p. 176, doi: 10.1353/mec.2010.0027
 Jenkins, Henry, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, New York: Routledge, 1992, as cited in Josh, Stenger, ‘The Clothes Make the Fan: Fashion and Online Fandom when Buffy the Vampire Slayer Goes to eBay’, Cinema Journal, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Summer 2006), pp. 26-44
 Lamerichs, Nicolle, ‘Stranger than fiction: Fan identity in Cosplay’, Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol. 7, 2011, p. 2, doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0246
Black Widow cosplayer: http://geekxgirls.com/images/blackwidow2/blackwidow_cosplay_01.jpg
Supermen (left to right): http://www.fortressofbaileytude.com/supermanpodcastnetwork/?p=3197 ; http://www.organiconcrete.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/superman-alex-ross-2.jpg ; http://www.acparadise.com/ace/picview.php?p=s3422_355042&s=751#.UWW8K473C_E ; http://www.acparadise.com/ace/picview.php?p=s4515_667846&s=751#.UWW5rY73C_E
Superman v. Scoprion cosplay: http://cosplayquest.deviantart.com/art/Cosplay-Scorpion-and-Superman-293912338