This month the Europeana Fashion Blog dedicates its entries to the many forms and definition of ‘uniform’, reflecting on the intricate relationship fashion establishes with power, representation, identity.
Uniform is an adjective, characterising something as ‘not varying or changing: staying the same at all times, in all places, or for all parts or members’. It thus refers to those practices that are not affected by the time passing, and stay loyal to their original format. Uniform, as a noun, defines a particular kind of clothing worn by all the members of a group: uniforms delineate the ‘visual space’ of a community, while layering meanings on individuals, who get recognised by what they wear, both if they are in or out their environment.
The most direct image that comes to mind when thinking about ‘uniforms’ is surely the military; but many more are the context in which the uniform defines a job, a position, a role. The social value of uniforms as tools is bi-folded: on one hand, they are used by the wearer to state or dissimulate his or her identity; on the other, they are the first element used by the viewer to ‘sketch’ the life and personality of the person wearing it. Many contemporary designers have used the theme of the uniform as starting point to develop an aesthetic that builds on conformity and discrepancy, distorting the values universally linked to some items of clothing.
Apart from the more ‘classic’ examples, there are many objects that can be considered as metonymy of a uniform. Badges, pins and other insignia are worn proudly on more ‘socially accepted’ pieces of clothing; and also more ‘ephemeral’ things, as particular hair-dos and make-ups, have sometimes the aggregating force to unite people and create a community. Some artefacts and trends are created especially with the purpose to define the identity of a group, while some others become signs in the agency they get from how they get used.
This month, we will search into the collection to find the most interesting and unusual examples of uniforms, not only to unveil some undisclosed treasures, but also to challenge the very definition of uniform as ‘never changing’; to prove that change in clothing – and, most of the times, change in itself – is both subversion and adaptation, is a dialogue between the precepts of tradition and the will to innovate and go further.