Today’s lecture has been really insightful, based on all aspects we covered. Our main focuses were Kay’s Catalogue, Modernism and Fashion Persuasion. The lecture mainly focused on Fashion persuasion; taste; modernism and catalogue design; active and passive consumption. In preparation for the lecture we were asked to read a small passage from John Berger’s ‘The Suit and the Photograph’ (Berger.J, 1980). I found this to be the most interesting reading of the entire lecture, as it was referring to a concept I had never heard of before, Hegemony.
To explain this lecture further, I have looked at two of the seminar questions we looked at in the task during the end of the lecture. The first question was about focusing on Berger, and what he was writing about in ‘The Suit and Photograph’. It was broken down into a variety of questions, the first being:
- Who was August Sander and what was he attempting?
August Sander was a German portrait and documentary photographer. He was attempting to find, around Cologne in the area he was born in 1876, archetypes to represent every possible type, social class, sub-class, job, vocation and privilege. He aim was to take 600 portraits. Unfortunately, his project was cut short by Hitler’s Third Reich.
- How is John Berger using Sander’s work?
I think that Berger is using Sander’s work to explain this term Hegemony and this idea of fashion persuasion, ultimately how the two coincide. How something, in this instance ‘the suit’ as a fashion item has a dominating air about it, it creates a controlling presence and atmosphere for social classes beneath the more established and upper class who wear these ‘powerful’ suits.
- How does Berger suggest you look at the photo of the village band?
- What does he argue about their suits and bodies?
Group Portrait of a Village Band taken by August Sander in 1913
Berger wants you to understand that the way a suit is worn and whoever it is worn by you are able to tell the class of that individual, for instance here is talking about the ‘peasants’ as he calls them who are in the village band. The suits do not disguise the social class of the individuals wearing them, no matter the professional and powerful air the suit gives off. The states that the suits “deform them” (Berger, 1980).They don’t fit them properly, it gives of this impression that the men wearing them are ‘un-coordinated” and “barrel-chested” (Berger, 1980). Ultimately how these men dress and adapt their appearance, you can still determine their social class.
- How does this compare with the photo of the four Protestant missionaries?
Group Portrait taken of Four Protestant Missionaries in 1931
Compared to the previous image of the Village Band, the suits appear very different on the Four Missionaries in the image opposite. Berger states that “here it is clear that the suits actually confirm and enhance the physical presence of the those wearing them.” What he is saying is that the suit essentially suits them. They are cut for their physiques, they look right wearing them. The stances these men hold are powerful and dominant, this is reinforced further by the physical and atmospheric power of the suit.
- What does Berger argue about the creation the suit?
Berger states that the suit, as we know it today was developed in Europe in the last third of the 19th century. It was the ‘first ruling class costume to idealise purely sedentary power.’ I have never heard of the word sedentary, so I decided to look it up. This is what I found on a website called Oxford Dictionaries: ‘Sedentary means characterised by much sitting and little physical exercise.’ Essentially, having a lifestyle where you don’t have to do much physical labour, addressing the upper classes. They are able to model, advertise and show off these clothes to the lower classes. Berger states this clearly “It was the English gentleman/which that new stereotype implied, who launched the suit.” Its an example of capital passed down through the generations. By the turn of the century, the suit was mass-produced to rural and urban mass markets. Suits became the “antithesis” of the idealistic figure/silhouette, to shape the form rather than hang from it. Over time, Berger argues, Villagers, like those in the Band group portrait were persuaded to wear suits. By the media, publicity, by salesmen, setting an example. However, the working class and villagers came to accept the power of the classes above them and ultimately conformed to those values. Leading on to one of this lecture’s main points, Hegemony. In this case cultural Hegemony.
Even though I have looked at the first question from the list of seminar questions for this lecture, we were asked to look at the second one too,which was more focused on Hegemony and what it actually means. This was really helpful, because it made me understand Berger’s text better and get a greater insight into what cultural and social issues are identified through the power of fashion persuasion. For the first part go this question we were asked to look at how Berger constructs an argument about the men and their suits via Gramsci’s use of the Marxist theory of hegemony, we then had to choose the main points from the passage, these were mine:
- “They wear them with a kind of panache. This is exactly why the suit might become a classic and easily taught of example of class hegemony.”
- “The working class – but peasants were simpler and more naive about it than workers – came to accept as their own certain standards of the class that ruled over them – in this case standards of chic and sartorial worthiness.”
- “Within the system of those standards, to being always, and recognisably to the classes above them, second rate, clumsy, uncouth, defensive. That indeed is to succumb to a cultural hegemony.”
Based on choosing these main points, we were asked to use them to help us create our own working definition for what Hegemony means. For me Hegemony means how one group or social class is able to have power and dominance over another. Essentially this lecture has looked at how this term Hegemony, has coincided with fashion persuasion. How the working class conformed and were willing to, by accepting fashion and concepts from the more powerful and dominant classes above them, a clear example of this was in Kay’s Catalogue. This concept is also very evident in magazines today. We feel obliged or encouraged to buy an item of clothing based on how it looks on someone else, like a celebrity. This essentially and unconsciously has influence on what we choose to wear no matter how ‘original’ we try to be or believe we are. Everything, we choose regarding fashion has been influenced and been an aspect of persuasion. Overall, this lecture has taught me a lot about classes, the power of social groups and the impact of fashion.
Berger, John (1980). “Uses of Photography”. About looking. New York: Pantheon Books. pp. 27-36. http://www.uni.edu/fabos/seminar/readings/berger.pdf
Oxford Dictionaries Sedentary definition: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/sedentary