Mode of Production: Reclaiming the Revolutionary Potential of the Uniform

Soviet playsuits by Varvara Stepanova, 1920.
Soviet playsuits by Varvara Stepanova, 1920.

By Annemarie Strassel, PhD

The following essay was written to frame an exhibition of new experimental work by Chicago-based fashion designer Jamie Hayes in an effort she dubs “The Uniform Project.”  For this show Hayes collaborated with 28 different participants to design a uniform or uniform-inspired piece. Check out the full essay here.

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In the past, the future was imagined as a world in uniform. The pages of comic books and the world of sci-fi have long been littered with sleek unitards and metallic jumpsuits. Sometimes boxy, sometimes skintight, the unisex bodysuit once established itself as the seemingly inevitable uniform of the future. Consider the crew aboard Starship Enterprise. Captain America. The villains of A Clockwork Orange. Even the Little Prince. The fashion of the future, these visions portend, will be summed up in a single garment, worn daily and universally to equip bodies for radically new ways of moving and being.

In its brightest moments, the uniform signaled the triumph of reason over fashion in a world where functionality and unfettered movement trump vanity or other base human desires. In more dystopic visions of the future like THX-1138 or Fahrenheit 451, bodysuit uniforms symbolize the darker side of modernity’s demand for technical rationality, where free will and individuality are subjugated to the broader determination of the fascist state.

The future, otherwise known as the present, has turned out quite different. Today, style is more fragmented than ever. While runways and top fashion designers compete to define the season’s latest trends, the streets teem with a dizzying kaleidoscope of styles that live contemporaneously. Fast fashion retail giants like H&M pump out 24 separate clothing seasons a year. In the Cold War of fashion, the communists lost.

. . .

Check out Hayes’ site to read the full essay.

Published by

Annemarie Strassel

Annemarie Strassel is a labor activist and fashion scholar. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University in 2008.

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