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The Uniform, Irony and Eroticism

Uniforms stand at the meeting point between fashion and power. With their ability to define roles, in particular contexts their importance reaches a different level – above all when irony and eroticism get involved, contributing to their timeless appeal.

The strong relationship between fashion and power – two defining forces of our society - is especially felt when considering uniforms. These garments summarise both the striving contrast of appearance and identity, in their being neat and precise; yet, they hide the wearers own identity behind a role that takes form with the shapes, the colours and the accessories constituting the uniform itself.

'Varieté-Kostüm: Liftboy', drawing by Herbet Mocho, ca. 1925. Courtesy Dietmar Katz, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

'Varieté-Kostüm: Liftboy', drawing by Herbet Mocho, ca. 1925. Courtesy Dietmar Katz, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

In this sense, these elements hold a special place in comical representations, plays and caricatures. Extremely exaggerated or reduced, they help to visually render a particular aspect or fault of what they stand for. A bigger lapel may recall the lust for badges or decorations, a looser fit a certain lasciviousness, inflated details a symptom of frivolousness.

Dancer in 'Varieté-Kostüm', drawing by Herbert Mocho, ca. 1925. Courtesy Dietmar Katz, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

Dancer in 'Varieté-Kostüm', drawing by Herbert Mocho, ca. 1925. Courtesy Dietmar Katz, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

As they serve to represent a precise character in society, thus in this sort of ironic and satirical representations to precise uniforms are attributed precise roles, portrayed by both men and women. In this kind of shows at varieté theatres and cabarets that the erotic connotations attributed to uniforms took form: daring costumes were worn by dancers and performers, deliberately to get the audience to laugh at them.

These connotations still complete the imaginary that surrounds uniforms and contribute to their fascination. Instead of corrupting their power, irony and eroticism help constructing their popular identity, from which fashion draws constant inspiration.

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