Dec 3rd, 2012
What’s your uniform? Maybe dressing helps you create a new identity every day. Maybe you don the same items each morning because you know what works. We talked to some of our favorite creative people about how they suit up.
U: What is your uniform, the clothes and gear you need to face the day?
NG: Uniforms are not chosen, a uniform is what is imposed upon us. To that end, I wear jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, baseball caps, sneakers, etc. So you could say my uniform is the uniform of the working class, the American working class in particular. And I strive for good classic looks within that genre. Classics are safer than fashions. And if freedom is limited by consumer power, I do what I can with my market issue gear. For instance I could go bankrupt in the Polo store.
My preferred method of variation to this uniform are two standard color schemes, black and yellow, and red, white and blue. Both are regional, representing Pittsburgh, PA and the USA respectively. The only explanation I can give for this is psychological reaction. In the particular, I'm not from any single place. So I have a need to claim places. In general, I think a sense of homelessness, or at least a lack of identity, runs deep in the American psyche. Luckily, regionalism is a good field for creativity within American working class dress. Think of the proliferation of variations on popular sports iconography.
U: Why? Does it perform a function, embody an ethos, remind you of a feeling or time or place? Is it for you or for others?
NG: Well, its function is simply economic. I want to work and live comfortably and, no longer being adolescent, am not trying to get attention raising eyebrows in hipster dress. Within the functional and budgetary restrictions of working class dress, however lies a certain threat, or promise. The trajectory of cultural trends from bottom to top is not undocumented, and the working classes, particularly the youth, have always been stylistically ambitious, threatening to overthrow the style regimes of the elite. I'm thinking of things like the mods, skin heads, greasers, b-boys, things like that. I see this ambition as a response to two factors. First, a lack of opportunities. Otherwise, what else would you do with your money? And second, a reaction against the unfreedom of poverty in a capitalist society. In poverty here, your possibilities of signification are limited, so you have to get creative.
U: What would you add if you could?
NG: Cloaks, jewelry, make up, hair? In my mind's eye, I don't dress like an American working man. I dress like a witch. But that just isn't practical. At least not until I have the proper venue, as it were. Which I suppose begs the question, what kind of uniform does a witch wear? We think of a very specific style, the kind of psychic uniformity imposed by market forces. Or, our contemporary image of a witch, in black robes, pointed hat, and stringy hair is a piece of particular cultural history within our culture. Is this uniformity a kind of cliché, or genre convention? I'm not sure, but to oppose the fashions imposed upon us by economy is natural. And to replace those uniforms with a new, personally contrived one may be even more natural in a culture in which identity can only be constructed with purchasing power. So in an abstract sense then, we see the uniform as something imposed from without. On the other hand, we can also see the uniform as a contrivance of personal discipline in the name of affectation. The convict, shuffling in the shame of his dirty prison stripes, set against the young military cadet, beaming as he sets each medallion in place on his pristine dress uniform.
U:And what would you get rid of?
NG: I suppose the answer would be "everything." I'll try to explain. We can't really be who we want, or look how we want. We are constrained, both by our personal stature and appearance, and by popular convention. Even a person with good style has achieved that by compromising to reality as part of creativity. So to my mind, when I can wear the clothes I want, I will be in some performative setting in which new affectations represent not only a replacement of my clothes, but a replacement of all social reality. In a word, fiction. I don't bother too much working my ideal uniform into daily dress, because it can (practically speaking) only exist in the fictional performative situation. So when I would "get rid" of my usual dress, it would all go. Which brings us back to uniform as personal contrivance. As an external imposition, the uniform is what renders us uniform in appearance. Whereas a daily repetition of a personal contrivance is what sets us apart in consumer society, or, lets us think that we are setting ourselves apart. But this isn't really the case, I think. Which is why I see the costume, very definitely situated in fictional theatrical performance, as the only exception to the uniform. Because it is only there that all affectation imposed by the real can be done away with, even the pretension of disposing of the real itself. But I have always seen art as the space to be free of reality. A Buddhist teacher, when asked how to envision an ideal mental state, replied "It is as looking into an empty mirror". Let me put that in Marxist terms, for the cultural analyst. If nature is the negation, which imposes upon us, science is the negation of that negation. Man's technological drive (and make no mistake science is not a philosophical drive, it is a technological one) seeks to liquidate nature, reality, and replace it with a new, virtually identical form of completely explicated impositions. Art, on the other hand, affirms nature’s negation, but it does not reproduce it. It is only in the complete unrealness of art, that reality can be truly seen. This is why I think the uniform cannot be gotten rid of, save in moments of theatrical, fictional dislocation from the historical flow. If that is even possible any more!
U: Whose uniform do you admire, even if it's something that wouldn't work for you?
NG: Hide Matsumoto (RIP) circa X-Japan era, 1982-93. He looked like Stevie Nicks's evil twin.
Nikolaus Gulacsik recieved a BA in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003. He has been employed by MIT since 2005. In his spare time he produces comics under the name James the Vampire. He lives and works in Boston, MA.