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Anti-fashion is an umbrella term for various styles of dress which are explicitly contrary to the fashion of the day. Anti-fashion styles may represent an attitude of indifference or may arise from political or practical goals which make fashion a secondary priority. The term is sometimes even used for styles championed by high-profile designers, when they encourage or create trends that do not follow the mainstream fashion of the time. Anti-fashion is considered radical creativity in apparel. It recombines a hodgepodge of details that dramatically alters current fashions. The newly transformed styles are later incorporated into the mainstream through media hype and commercial sales which reduce its stature. Ultimately, those who wear anti-fashion pieces are simply "fad-followers".[1]



Grunge is an example of the oppositional style of dress while the rational dress of the Victorian era, which allowed ladies to swim or bicycle, is an example of a functional anti-fashion.[2] A trend for feminist women to dress in ways that do not follow the norms for women's clothing has been described as anti-fashion, though research suggested many women who dress this way do not choose to label themselves this way, in the opinion of author Samantha Holland this is because the women do not like the confrontational overtones of the term.[2] There were practical health reasons that a minority of women promoted radical changes in feminine dress in the early part of the 18th Century. The burden of wearing extremely heavy dresses in all seasons that could not be washed were a health hazard, especially for frail women who might be overly susceptible to disease. Long dresses dragged on unpaved streets and floors carrying filth and germs indoors that effected household members, especially small children. In homes, long dresses were also fire hazards with open fireplaces. It is well documented that fashionable styles requiring tight corsets, thin shoes, heavy tight hats, although considered beautiful at the time, restricted her movement and breathing.

Alternate forms of daywear were promoted by women's clubs of the time, especially The Dress Reform Association which began in Seneca Falls, NY. in the 1850s. The Bloomer costume was born. It consisted of a bifurcated skirt held close to the ankles, a softly fitted over dress that required only a non-restricting soft corset. This newsworthy pants-like costume created a huge fashion stir, both positive and negative, nationwide. Only the most daring feminists adopted it. It was not considered ladylike or beautiful, and only unfeminine non-conformists would dare to wear the new style.[3]


In discussing fashion and the nature of clothes, Lauer and Lauer discuss the eight meanings of clothing as non-verbal communication, representing people's personalities, clothing as a reflection of moral character, immoral clothing, clothing and conformity, and apparel as indicators of status and desirability. They believe that clothes can be as far-reaching to represent the state of a nation.[4] Fashions, fads, and anti-fashion trends can be connected to one or more of these eight principles.

A period of anti-fashion took place in the 1950s with the advent of rock and roll, especially with young adolescent women. Many young women wore jeans and plaid shirts, simple plain T shirts, and surplus military clothes in rebellion with the feminine gender roles and societal norms at that time. These fashion were the roots of many modern anti-fashion trends, such as punk and grunge, decades later. The origin of the word grunge started in the mid 1960s. For the hippy subculture, dirty was equal to grungy; a way to dress down, rather than wear the commercial fashions of the day. Mismatched and ill-fitting clothing, often unwashed, was completely acceptable with this group. Punk fashion arrived later in Great Britain in the 1970s with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. It was quickly adopted by disillusioned, discontented teenagers.  A shop named SEX run by Malcolm McLaren sold clothes with a fetish focus; leather bondage pants, offensive jewelry and T-shirts, and jeans that were ripped and defaced.  Other materials used to invoke a fetish vibe were rubber and PVC.  The most outrageous punk clothing was often studded and slashed, adorned with chains and safety pins. This anti-fashion was adopted in response to the 'overly fashion conscious' fans of bands such as the Sex Pistols.[5] Both Westwood and McLaren led the Punk movement which was short-lived, but newsworthy in the fashion press.  For punk followers, dressing to impress was not a motive, but shock value was.  It was easy to recognize those who followed the punk community with their spiky brightly-colored Mohawk haircuts, exotic makeup, tattoos, and body piercings.[6]  According to Worsley, “Punk style showed how fashion could challenge stereotypes of gender and beauty”.[7] By the 1980s, punk influences could be seen around Europe and America, although these blatant and provocative styles fell out of favor by the end of the decade, to be replaced by the grunge movement.

In the 1990s, a minimalist style described as anti fashion emerged on both sides of the Atlantic where young people would typically wear simple clothes such as black jeans and white T-shirts without a visible brand name. At this time, grunge was considered street style, an extreme departure from the 1980s featuring designer labels and ostentatious looks, especially exaggerated shoulder lines for both sexes. Yet, it did not take long before designers like Donna Karan, Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs, Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren and so many others in America and abroad to quickly absorb fashion inspiration from the streets and imitate the youthful trend on designer fashions. The fad expired quickly and the 'wheel of fashion' soon turned in another direction.[8]


Another example, this time from the early 20th century, was promoted by the legendary designer Gabrielle Chanel – a "poor girl" woman's style where rich ladies could look like regular women while still dressing in clothes that showed their quality under close inspection.[9]

The dress sense of the Charles, Prince of Wales has been described as anti fashion, in that it reflects indifference to current fashion in favor of traditional style.[citation needed] Anti-fashion has also been used to describe simple fashion adopted by hardcore punks in the 1980s. At its strictest, it consists of a plain white T-shirt, black trousers or plain jeans and black boots, with the hair cut short.

2017 Museum exhibition studying anti-fashionEdit

Starting in May 2017 fashion/anti-fashion is one of the thematic fashion pairings which was examined in an exhibit studying the works of Rei Kawakubo at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's in New York.[10] Andrew Bolton, the curator for the Kawakubo exhibit at the Met stated that the exhibit in May 2017 will be an austere, all-white maze hosting approximately 150 Comme ensembles. Both the exhibit and accompanying book by Bolton are based upon the recurrent fashion dichotomies concentrating on eight thematic oppositions listed as: (1) fashion/anti-fashion; (2) design/not design; (3) model/multiple; (4) then/now; (5) high/low; (6) self/other; (7) object/subject; and (8) clothes/not clothes.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Muggleton, David (2000). Inside Subculture: The Postmodern Meaning of Style. Berg. p. 131. ISBN 1-85973-352-2.
  2. ^ a b Samantha Holland (2004). "Anti-fashion and feminism". Alternative femininities. ISBN 978-1-85973-808-5.
  3. ^ Lauer & .Lauer, Robert H. & Jeanette C. (1981). Fashion Power: The Meaning of Fashion in American Society. Prentice-Hall, Inc. pp. 246–259. ISBN 0-13-306712-2.
  4. ^ Lauer & Lauer, Robert H. & Jeannette C. (1981). Fashion Power. Prentice Hall, Inc. pp. 33–65. ISBN 0-13-306712-2.
  5. ^ Malcolm Barnard (2002), Fashion as communication, Routledge, pp. 12–19, ISBN 978-0-415-26018-3
  6. ^ Sims, Josh; Peachey, Mal (1999). Rock Fashion. Omnibus. ISBN 978-0-7119-8749-4.
  7. ^ Worsley, Harriet (2011). 100 Ideas That Changed Fashion. Laurence King Publishing Ltd. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-85669-733-0.
  8. ^ Worsley, Harriet (2001). 100 Ideas That Changed Fashion. Laurence King Publishing Ltd. pp. 196–197. ISBN 978-1-85669-733-0.
  9. ^ Wilson, Elizabeth (1987). Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. University of California Press. pp. 40, 184. ISBN 978-0-520-06212-2.
  10. ^ "The 2017 Met Gala Theme Is Commes des Garçons' Rei Kawakubo". Time. Retrieved 2019-09-12.
  11. ^ Yaeger, Lynn (2017-04-14). "On the Eve of the Comme des Garçons Retrospective, the Notoriously Reclusive Rei Kawakubo Speaks Out". Vogue. Retrieved 2019-09-12.