Jenna Rossi-Camus (Royal College of Art, UAL London College of Fashion, UK). Laughing in the Face of Fashion: Fear of the Dressed Other in Graphic Satires

Graphic social satires, which comprise cartoons or caricatures that lampoon fashionable dress, often embody fears and anxieties about groups of people and their expressed (through dress) identities. Although they deploy humour to express these prejudicial feelings, fashion cartoons can therefore be read as historical documents that embody societal fears. Xenophobia, in its broadest definition will be examined as a catalyst of fashion satire. This paper reviews a curated selection of fashion cartoons from Western urban periodicals, including Punch (London, UK, 1841–1980s), Fantasio (Paris, France, 1906–1937) and The New Yorker (New York City, USA, 1925 — present) to demonstrate how sartorial style was harnessed as an object of fear and an expression of anxieties around alterity.

Using humour theories (Critchley 2002), subcultural theory (Hebdige 1979), and fashion historiographical methodologies (Taylor 2002), I examine the historical contexts and fashion styles that have given rise to particularly vitriolic social commentary in graphic satires. A focus will be placed on satires that feature fashion styles associated with political radicalism, the ethnic “other”, queer identities and youth subcultures. In examining youth subcultures, a focus will be placed on punk and Gothic styles that arguably express an intention on the part of the wearer to frighten or unsettle. My study will refer to fashion studies scholarship examining these twentieth century fashion styles (Evans 2003), (Spooner 2004).

The case studies presented will be subjects of a cross-disciplinary analysis of the position of the creator, the geo-temporal context, the audience, and the fashion objects or phenomena lampooned. I will also discuss the graphic satires in relation to humour theory (Critchley 2002), (Bergson 1980), (Stott 2014) and with reference to studies of fashion graphic satire by other dress historians (McNeil 2018).

This study approaches the selected fashion graphic satires with an aim to discern the degrees of superiority, incongruity and/or relief humour that are part of their social function. These three main categories of humour (Morreall, 1987), will be used as a framework to discuss the fashion graphic satires in relation to how they address or express fears. The analysis will also rely upon the historical contextualisation of humour theories offered by Michael Billig, in his work towards establishing a social critique of humour (Billig 2005).

This paper works towards establishing a theory of fashion humour that uses graphic satires to interrogate humour theories and in turn strengthens understandings of fashion history and visual culture. It also seeks to invite discussion of the issues that surround the study of documents of “fear-of-the-other” and the knowledge to be derived from their critical examination.

Works Cited:

Bergson H. Laughter // Sypher W. (ed.) Comedy: “An Essay on Comedy” by George Meredith. “Laughter” by Henri Bergson. s.l.:s.n., 1980.

Billig M. Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humour. London: Sage Publications, 2005.

Critchley S. On Humour (Thinking in Action). London: Routledge, 2002.

Evans C. Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity, Deathliness. London : Yale University Press, 2003.

Hebdige D. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge, 1979.

McNeil P. Pretty Gentlemen: Macaroni Men and the Eighteenth-Century Fashion World. London: Yale University Press, 2018.

Morreall J. The Philosophy of Laughter and Humour. Albany: SUNY Press, 1987.

Spooner C. Fashioning Gothic Bodies. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004.

Stott A. Comedy (The New Critical Idiom). London: Routledge, 2014. Taylor L. The Study of Dress History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.