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Fashion Is Armour

“The wider world perceives fashion as frivolity that should be done away with. The point is that fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you can do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.” – Bill Cunningham

One of the most powerful statements of all time, this quote by Bill Cunningham is often referred to by fashion enthusiasts. We’ve often seen it splashed across social media and used in captions to express a mood.

Bill Cunningham was a New York Time’s street style photographer who wasn’t interested in anyone’s celebrity status or net worth. He was simply inspired by anyone’s ability to put together a unique outfit. He looked to the streets as a mirror of what was happening in the world’s socio-political arena. He preferred to ride his bicycle in the midst of the action with his camera in his hands, as opposed to being driven around by a driver in a vehicle. “It’s all right there!”, he would say, as quoted in his interview with Mark Bozek in the 2010 documentary, the Times of Bill Cunningham.


I will never forget the one class (in fashion school) that changed my perspective on fashion forever. As an exercise, we were told to simply observe the world around us, see how people were dressing on the street, read the news, understand the political, social, and economic status of events in the world – this was our window to understanding current styles, and for some of us, predicting what imminent trends were on the horizon.

By definition, something that is universal applies to all of humanity. It transcends time, cultural differences and geographic location. From ancient times to present day, the use of armour has always existed in one way or the other, and has evolved to suit the needs of the wearer through history.


Armour Through the Ages

Armour is essentially protective articles of clothing with the ability to deflect or take the impact of weapons that may be used against its wearer. In ancient times, armour was worn by soldiers in combat as protection, and reflected the status of the wearer within the group. Ancient Greek infantry soldiers wore plate armour, consisting of a breastplate and backplate attached together, long armour for the legs below the knee, and a cavernous helmet – all made of bronze. In such ancient civilizations, armour was laboriously fashioned and supremely heavy, but with the dawn of modern technology, lighter protective materials were introduced that could more efficiently adapt to the changes in dangers presented by modern warfare. Fast forward to the 21st century - with the rise of terrorism and powerful weapons, armour translated into articles of protection worn by police, military and non-military security forces.


Inspired by Armour

The notion of fashion is armour has been built into the collections of countless fashion designers, some more rigorously than others. British designer, the late Alexander McQueen, was renowned for taking the ethos of protective gear into his design concepts, creating fashion pieces that were both intelligently designed with an eye to history and also incredibly beautiful. From stylish glass corsets to fashioned helmets and giant antlers that perused the runway, McQueen took armour-inspired design to the height of couture. For example, let’s recall the cuirass, a piece of armour in ancient history that was used to cover the torso. It was usually made from a tough metal such as bronze or iron to protect the wearer in battle. Inspired by its shape, McQueen refashioned the cuirass using alternate materials such as plaster, leather, acrylic and even glass, into magnificent pieces of ‘wearable’ art.


Today’s Street Armor

Clothes and accessories technically keep our bodies covered so that we can fit into society’s expectations of what is considered normal and decent. They keep us warm when it is cold and expose the body to warmer temperatures. They can be used as articles of attraction to capture someone’s attention or make a good first impression. They express who we are and the way we want to be seen by the world. They can express our social status or current mood. They can also be used as weapons of mass destruction when considering the issues surrounding sustainable fashion. Clothes and accessories have the ability to empower us, make us feel confident or also have the power to debilitate us and restrict our movement. In so many ways, they are the armour of everyday life.

When we think about the current global social and political environment, the idea that fashion is armor – a form of protection from the world around us – is incredibly relatable for us today. The need to wear a face mask has become a necessary accessory to shield ourselves and others for the purpose of protecting our health and that of the public. We have entered a new era in history and once again we can see fashion’s intricate relationship with the rawness of life.

*Note – to add inspirational images: pics of ancient armour juxtaposed with street fashion today (person wearing a mask).



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