fashion matters: the mao suit

Fashion and Maoism, never the twain shall meet? Sometimes a picture really does speak a thousand words.

verushka, mao, 71
(Veruschka as Chairman Mao from an issue of French Vogue 1971, photo by Alex Chatelain)


Obviously Mao was fashionable in the early 70s ala Warhol (his 1972 shot Mao – above – being my favorite, can’t believe Dennis Hopper’s estate sold it for 300Gs). So I google “Mao and fashion” to explore and I find this abstract for a paper on why there was no fashion in Mao’s China:

We examine the popularity distribution of given names prior, during, and after Mao Zedong’s rule over the People’s Republic of China to clarify how exogenous and endogenous factors act together in shaping cultural change. Whereas recent work in the sociology of culture emphasizes the importance of endogenous processes in explaining fashion (Kaufman 2004), our analysis demonstrates two ways that Mao’s regime impacted cultural expression, even in a domain that was largely untouched by its radical cultural policies: (a) by promoting forms of expression reflecting legitimate political ideologies; and (b) by creating a general feeling of insecurity, whereby citizens fear that any public expression of difference could signal political disloyalty. As argued by Lieberson (2000; Lieberson and Lynn 2003) and developed further in this paper, the latter condition is important because endogenous fashion cycles require a critical mass of individuals who seek to differentiate themselves from common practice. Our analysis suggests how exogenous and endogenous mechanisms interact, with the former setting the conditions for the operation of the latter; our analysis also sheds light on the nature of conformity under authoritarian regimes as well as the social conditions supporting individual expression.”

(and people wonder why I chose not to be an academic)

What IS interesting is that the Mao suit was an anti-fashion statement, which the west tried to make fashionable, and failed. Personally, I’ve ALWAYS been attracted to the idea of a uniform/onesie/jumpsuit. Probably why I wear dresses so much in the summer. I even designed a prototype about 5 years ago (ok, it was just sketches) for a basic over-alls-meets kilt shape for which there are interchangeable parts/add-ons to create some aesthetic and functional variability. Bauhaus textile and garment design obviously were a mega-inspiration.

I was obsessed then too with finding them online/vintage versions. Most were too retro (flared in the 70s, baggy in the 80s) and I wanted a sleek unisex look in hi-tech fabric. Of course soon enough they were popular, everywhere, and while most had no functionality, some were gorgeous, I wanted, but I couldn’t afford:(. Regardlees the uniform is appealing to many if only for the utility factor (if they’re not comfortable what’s the point?), and I hope someone makes a version so great – and affordable! – that I want to put it on everyday EVEN though I don’t have to!

This Stella McCartney (pre-autumn 2013) is nice but a bit too stiff/car mechanic-y (the sleeves could at least zip/button off, right?)…reminds me of Carl Andre who I shared a dry cleaners with near NYU (and the building Ana Mendieta “fell” from) ages ago. One day he came with a pair of bib overalls on – his artworker uniform (since the 70s I think), and after he left I said to the owner, do you know who that is? And he said, No. And when I told him he laughed so hard explaining he’d been coming like clockwork for years to dry-clean these overalls and they had no clue why.

Ah well, I will have to keep looking, or just make my own! Any seamstress interested in collabing, msg. me!