Saturday, February 6, 2010

One man's trash is another man's... Wardrobe?

Now for a post that's totally out of left field.

I am beginning to see a trend in fashion.  Mostly centering on home-sewing publications that I've flipped through, but I am beginning to see it on the street, too...

For lack of a better term, I'm going to coin a title for the movement from a recent book I saw on a recent book: "Junky Styling".

The trend that I am noticing is also known as "Upcycling", or using pre-existing garments to make new ones through embellishment, cannibalization, or simply wearing them in a different way.  This feels like an old trend, one that (if I'm understanding it correctly) has some strong influence from the 1980's grunge, retro, and punk movements.  The ability to take something and use it for something else, emphasizing it's ironic placement or incongruity, was a hallmark of 1980's youth culture.  For example: the knit gloves on Madonna and Arquette in Desperately Seeking Susan: totally out of place and clearly a styling statement. Or the trashed prom dresses and hairstyles of Pat Benatar (worn with combat boots by the grunge movement, no less).  Or even the multitude of safety-pins holding garments together from the punk movement (incorporated into high fashion by such designers as Zandra Rhodes and others).

There's one particular publication that is centered on this movement--Stampington and Company's Altered Couture. It's interesting what can be done by adding trim, paint, and funky stitching to different thrift store garments. Combining heretofore unrelated garments into new and unique clothes resulting in a completely different stylistic esthetic is quite interesting.

People have recycled their old garments before into new ones, but not with this much overt zeal, I feel.  Part of the challenge, it seems to me, is to make sure that the original garment still shines through.  The "upcycling" nature of the garment is supposed to be obvious.  It should look enhanced from something else.  On purpose.

And I think that's the heart of how I am perplexed...  The feeling one gets from seeing and wearing this style of attire is not what you get from vintage or retro styles.  It's not the statement made seeing a grungy, lived-in look.  It's not the fuzzies you get from the nostalgic charm of the DIY and home-sewn garments.  It's also not quite the ironic juxtaposition of Victoriana resulting from Steampunk fashion...   It's an odd combination of all four...

I find some of the combinations used for Junk styling to be quite boggling...  In a recent edition of another sewing-oriented magazine, lime green cotton upholstery fringe was placed on a black tailcoat, resulting in a jarring and eye-wrenching contrast that seemed inadvertently mangey.   I've begun to see a lot of strips of 1"crocheted lace sprayed with dye and tacked onto jackets haphazardly in chunks, leaving the edges raw.  On the latest cover of Stampington and Company's Belle Armoire magazine is a jacket with the overlocked edges completely exposed and calling attention to it's intentional "scrap" charm...

And I understand the theory behind it.  I think.  But, I'm not sure the esthetic appeal is actually... appealing.    To me.

And I am not sure how to articulate what I feel about it...  Does anyone else recognize this trend, or am I completely making it up?  What do you sense about it?  Is it something that intrigues you?   Because for some reason, I'm... stirred... by it.  And I'm not sure if it's a good, bad, or confused stirring.

Until next time, Live Life with Relish!


  1. I up-cycle a lot when I make clothes and other things! It is fun. It challenges me in a new way.

  2. Perhaps I haven't found the right thing to up-cycle... I have noticed that with the advent of the trend into more of the general populace, the creativity and vision used to modify the garments is really more and more impressive. The things one can do with jackets, sweaters, boots and such is really quite inspiring! But have you noticed a decline in general sewing skills as well? I'm having trouble recognizing the difference between projects that are truly challenging and fun, and those that are too quickly thrown together...

    Ultimately, regardless of what it looks like to anyone else, if the person wearing it is happy with it and proud of it and enjoys it, who is anyone to criticize, right? I fear I'm sounding quite snarky and hoighty-toitee, and I don't mean to come across that way. I think I need to explore this movement some more, suspend any conclusions, and develop an aesthetic appreciation of it a bit more...

    And that's always fun, isn't it? Exploring creative clothing! Woot! : )

    Thanks for your comment, Erica! Very helpful for me! : )

  3. This is an interesting one for me too. Living in the Northwest, DIY Mecca (it seems), I've been seeing this for years on the streets, and then in the shops...and now in many magazines and books. While I myself find it hard to leave any edge raw, I do see a certain appeal to it.

    I am taken back even farther than the 80s though, hearkening back to the days of "Mend and Make Do."
    Where necessity was the mother of invention, taking something that has lost a certain use, then turning it into something with new purpose, was not a question of fashion. Sometimes, the items that were created, became meaningful, cherished and beautiful. Think Dolly Parton singing, My Coat of Many Colors.

    I think the appeal now is multi-fold; recycling, economical, individual, and we have all gone a little crafty crazy these days. I think the magazines are trying to sell to an available market and the market feels a certain self-sufficiency when attempting a project in the magazine thinking, "I can do this myself and exercise some of my creativity." Which I think is awesome. Like any trend...there will be some comedy, some tragedy, and some real stunning drama!

  4. Well, I guess we all have our different dramatic tastes, huh? LOL! That's an interesting thought--clothing as film... Hmmm... What would a Black Comedy look like in up-cycled fashion? Or a Documentary? Or an Art film? LOL! Oh my goodness, the categories could be endless! And hilarious! : )

    Oh dear, I hope I don't develop into an "Academy Award voter" snob... LOL! "Clothing Critic". Hmmm.... "The cinematography was excellent, but the directing was terrible?" Hmmm....

    You're absolutely right, Lola--ultimately, if a person feels good about what they're wearing or what they've created, who are any of us to judge? Trends come and go, but the creative and spiritual boost one gets from the making will never go out of style.

    Thanks for reminding me of that! : )


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