Dec 9, 2016

Fashism: natty dressing and a history of violence

Dress codes are techniques of controlling people by regulating their bodies. And no one knows that better than fascists.

Mel Campbell — Freelance journalist and critic

Mel Campbell

Freelance journalist and critic

Leftist magazine Mother Jones copped massive Twitter heat recently for a profile on white supremacist Richard Spencer that called him “dapper” (the word has since been removed from the headline). The online critics’ argument is that Spencer’s politics ought to preclude any admiration whatsoever — including for his clothing.

Nattily dressed white supremacists are wolves in sheep’s clothing precisely because the liberal left is used to dismissing its opponents as distasteful, as lumpen slobs and vulgarians. Think of George Christensen’s instantly mocked whip-toting, blue-singleted Good Weekend cover shot, or Tony Abbott’s speed-dealer sunnies, or Pauline Hanson’s bright red jackets and animal prints.

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5 thoughts on “Fashism: natty dressing and a history of violence

  1. Djbekka

    While I am on a roll about why I pay for Crikey – see my comments on Turnbull article above), I am also very tired of reading the term ‘left’ used to describe people who are not of the Christian Right. Many of those described as ‘left’ today would have been described as centre or even soft right not so long about. Sorry Mel (and Crikey), this isn’t criticism, it’s simple unsupported sniping that has a meaningless go at those who polish their shoes, wear ironed clothes and keep their hair in a condition that used to be called ‘tidy’. There are lots of things that can be said about fashion, modes of presentation and the meanings behind them and perhaps even implied intentions, but…….

    1. Helen Razer

      HI, Djbekka. Notwithstanding the possibility that my byline might be one of your reasons not to pay for Crikey, I am gonna say I reckon you have got Mel’s v good piece a bit wrong and urge you to read it again. This could be that you have residual anger at other pieces, in this publication or elsewhere, but I think she wrote a really decent thing, and, finally, someone dared to say that the way that Christensen was pilloried was nothing short of elitism.
      It was hateful, even quite anti-feminist, to see him compared across social media to a butch dyke. Like being either a butch dyke or a person who enjoys whips and singlets was intrinsically bad. Like daring not to dress in Italian wool was unacceptable. You want “democracy”, people? This is what it looks like.
      I think Mel has made this case strongly. And has reminded us that fascists have, in fact, held on to power with some recourse to powerful dress. I think the brown shits wore Pucci, and the SS certainly wore Hugo Boss. There is no necessary connection between a particular cut of cloth, of course, and a particular political view. But I think Mel has said here that there is great recourse, through the arbitrary chain of meaning within fashion, to authority. We (not me, but people who say that they are “left”) applaud the good fashion choices of Clinton. People even cosplayed the white power suit, and there was a good deal written about its positive “power”. I am sure that Haitians, Hondurans and Libyans are very comforted by her chic superhero outfit.
      I do agree with you that “left” is a term that is used to mean nearly anything. As a material leftist, I find it really annoying that I have to say, “I’m saying this as a material leftist” as though the entire designation should ever mean anything else. But, you know, people get all idiotic about it and think it means you don’t “believe” in the culture, (to be fair, there are a few silly Marxists out there who do not) and that you haven’t thought about the complicated way in which the culture is often produced and policed by and lives in intimate service to the material conditions. They just think you are saying that everything can be explained by poverty, which we material leftists are not.
      I agree that in this age, where an interventionist liberal like Clinton, can be called left, or even “caring”, we need to be careful about our terms. But I don’t think Mel is particularly guilty here of misusing them.
      In short, I think it’s a good piece, and your criticism of the misuse of the term left may be very valid in a lot of places, but maybe not so much here.

  2. klewso

    And who can forget how Gillard was mocked and slagged off – and by whom – for her dress sense?

  3. AR

    I wish that I could forget the GQ cover of the Black W(r)iggle – the skivvie was bad enough but his trousers were the real gut wrenchers.
    Hey, and nobody mentioned burquas or halal beards!

  4. Bob Trussler

    Mel, I agree with you.
    When I dress in a standard dark grey suit I am treated very differently by almost everyone.
    I can say just about anything and be believed, whereas if I am workpants and a checked shirt I may get hassled in some way.
    It unnerves me when people act like this.

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