Visualise your wardrobe, picture the garments folded neatly (or not so much if you’re messy like us), and imagine your favourite pieces dangling off the hangers…now think of your weirdest or most outrageous item in there. It may have been an impulse buy, or something unique you found in a vintage sale, whatever it is- cast your mind to it. How often have you worn it? Do you get a lot of comments on it? Do you dare to wear it out or care too much about what people might think?
Wrapped in the knowledge that my items are not as crazy as some of the weird and wonderful things in other people’s wardrobes, there are still some pieces I always doubt whether I should wear or not. My personal favourite are my pair of bohemian style wide leg trousers, which were perfect for the summer, even if I did get a lot of comments about them. If worn right, they looked great but they did run the risk of looking slightly strange and funny. However, I chose to instead have fun styling them and braved them out.
Although it is only a tiny and almost irrelevant example, it does work as a reminder of the bold fashion choices people have made in history and how they have affected perceptions and behaviours. Daring people are what make change happen. This can be seen throughout history, and indeed everywhere in the fashion world. Without daring people, we may not have seen the changes and transitions exhibited from decade to decade, from century to century, not just in fashion but in society too.
Annette Kellerman, for example, dared to show. She dared to show her legs in a one-piece bathing suit with shorts above her knees…and was arrested for it. Kellerman soon became as famous for this scandal as she was for her swimming world records as an international women’s swimming champion. In 1907, when the iconic event took place, women traditionally wore knee-length wool dresses over stockings to the beach. However, following on from her example, a revolution was created in where women became liberated in their choice of swimming and beach wear. It even led Kellerman to start her own line of one-piece suit swimwear for women. Nevertheless, it was not until the early 1960s that the USA fully embraced the bikini, which had already been featured in Europe at the end of World War II. But it took the bold Annette to start a domino effect.
Similarly, a group of courageous men protested in 1935 topless and were arrested. Following that, a series of protests continued through to 1936 of men wanting the right to be topless, which was granted in 1937. Today, seeing a topless man at the beach is the norm.
While the flapper look was an iconic part of the 1920s, these women could easily be categorised as daring, as their look and behaviour raised a lot of disapproval. The heavy makeup, short hair, the straight-cut and short dresses and the scandalous behaviour of these women, which included smoking, drinking and casual sex became a statement trend. This era signified, and indeed bred, a new generation of daring women who disregarded and redefined social female norms. Furthermore, they chose to adapt their fashion for both style and comfort as the shape of the glamorous dresses meant the ditching of corsets and other uncomfortable undergarments.
Androgynous fashion has become a key element in blurring the lines between the genders and leading women to become empowered as they break out of social expectations. Many individuals can be credited for the rise of androgynous fashion, a trend that is still strong today, including Katharine Hepburn and Twiggy. Acclaimed as one of the most talented and famous Hollywood actresses ever, with her career starting in 1928, Hepburn’s classic look of a buttoned down shirt and trousers paved the way for western women to be able to wear trousers as a socially accepted look. Moreover, her independence and outspoken personality, which was reflected in her unconventional choice of fashion made her an icon for the modern woman. Meanwhile, the uniquely androgynous look of Twiggy, which was a combination of her boyish figure, short hair with large eyes and long eyelashes, gained her international fame during the 60s. Her famous fashion looks of female suits led women to opt for a more professional and defined look, which reflected an era where more and more women were working in higher and more important positions at work. Once again, being different and unique proved to be revolutionary and led her to become one of the most famous models ever.
On the other hand, metrosexual fashion and feminine beauty behaviour is also a trend that has revolutionised the fashion and beauty industry. Much like with Katharine Hepburn, Hollywood itself heavily influenced this occurrence with individuals like James Dean becoming icons in male hair, beauty and fashion. Suddenly, it became normal for men to take pride in their appearance. Again, like Hepburn, he can be credited to creating a generation of modern men who embraced both their masculine and feminine sides.
Following on from that, pop icons like Michael Jackson and Madonna popularised the interaction of both masculine and feminine elements in their style, music and personas in the 80s and 90s. Like much of the examples discussed before, these bold choices became part of a bigger effect as the mixing of the gender norms of the two sexes meant that different sexual identities were also becoming more widely accepted.
While many of these looks may seem normal to the modern eye, given the social and historical context of the various examples, these men and women should be applauded for their daring actions. These examples, selected from so many throughout history, signify that being daring and not caring pays off and can be done through something as seemingly simple as clothing. While it is unlikely that choosing to wear your unusual pieces is going to start a revolution or a new trend of some kind, it should be stressed how important it is to be able to express oneself through fashion…and to have fun styling! So our advice to you is, be daring, not caring.
Text by Akanshya Gurung