18 October 2015

Men in Uniform: A collection by Sally Edwards

Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae

“I love a man in uniform.”

It’s a phrase that’s perhaps been uttered by everyone from Samantha Jones to Chairman Mao. 

Uniforms, particularly military garb, embody everything that it is to be stereotypically male: practicality, utility, strength and boldness. And, as the word suggests, the clothing forces the person wearing it to conform and assimilate. Namely, it forces uniformity.

Sally Edwards sets out to explore these ideas (and challenge them) in her collection ‘Men in Uniform’. 

“[Uniform is] made for practical purposes, it’s made from hardwearing fabrics and the shapes - exaggerated shoulders and focus on utility aspects such as pockets,” she says.

“Those are the things that give them that masculine look.”

Her collection focuses on the classic shapes of uniform. There’s a double breasted coat, navy-style wide leg pants and military pocketing. But it’s all a bit, well, camp.

Jackets are in blush PVC or covered in tangelo fur, uniforms are turned into short playsuits and trousers are made from red port corduroy.

“I’ve tried to focus on military tropes. So specifically one of the things you’ll notice in the collection is experimentation with silhouettes that would be associated with military uniform.

“Such as like there’s a coat in there that’s referencing... an overcoat that’s utilised in the military and trying to play with the proportions and exaggerate the shoulders and cinch the waist and kind of playing with the cuts.

“And also exaggerating the pockets, so it’s something that’s known as a utilitarian aspect. 

“Sort of exaggerating them to the point where there’s purely aesthetic and lose their functionality.

“Mainly just playing with cut and trying to evoke a campy aesthetic through slightly altering something that’s familiar.”

Sally’s collection shows how “menswear can push the boundaries in a way that womenswear had done many years ago”. Now, there’s very little in womenswear that’s considered outrageous. The likes of Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Rei Kawakubo really did all the hard work in that area.

But Sally’s collection raises another issue: does fashion need the “codification of gender identities”? I mean, in order to be new and innovative, do we need the established? Is it possible to be outrageous and progressive unless there is an accepted idea of normality? In a way, fashion is generally trying to be avant-garde, but it relies on conservative ideals to push against. What I’m trying to say is, do we need uniforms so fashion can be nonuniform?

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