Fear and clothing: The beauty of uniform behaviour
A weekly column on the vagaries and charms of fashion
While I railed against the terrible constraint of a uniform at school, I have subsequently often wished for one. Standing in your closet at a loss for what to wear can be a dispiriting waste of time. Some clever people develop a uniform early on and stick to it. Anna Wintour has worn practically the same shoe for 30 years – a nude Manolo slip-on – and dare I say it almost exactly the same dress topped off with an unwavering commitment to her hairstyle. Wintour has an empire to run, she can’t be wasting time with petty wardrobe confusions.Coco Chanel was brilliant with uniforms – Kemal Ataturk commissioned her for the Turkish army. And she went on to conquer the entire female population with the LBD – the little black dress that Vogue declared as the Model T Ford of clothes – a uniform for all women of taste. Black certainly works for that purpose: just ask the Milanese – an entire city devoted to the utilitarian joys of black but chic uniformity. Anne Marie Meintjies, the deputy editor of Visi, has always impressed me with her dapper black Chinese cheongsam paired with a ruby lip – thus neatly eliminating all crippling sartorial choices from her life.
I mean, not all uniforms need to be so severe or monochrome – Frida Khalo went with Mexican traditional topped with a consistent updo and flowers. A political statement if I ever saw one expressed as a uniform.Naturally there is a powerful tradition in uniform as politics. Take Hugo Chavez the erstwhile Venezuelan dictator. The first to really milk the red workers’ overall and beret theme. He was channelling Che Guevara in combat fatigues and a jaunty beret but it was a stroke of populist genius to update that look into the idea of a workers’ army uniform. He also had a way with an alpaca jersey.The EFF rejected the semiotics of the jersey for the obvious appeal of the Chavez fatigues. It’s a uniform that is really useful when having to make decisions about what to wear to parliament in order to manhandle journalists. I mean Floyd Shivambo really stood out compared to his two thugs. That is powerful visual messaging for you.Listen, this uniform thing is great. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg. The digital nerd uniform he popularised in Seattle is just brilliant marketing. Everyone wears dowdy grey T-shirts and yesterday’s pants and nobody suspects a thing. It is a stealth uniform. An innocuous way to blend into the background in your flip-flops while stealing all your information and selling it off to the highest bidder. And nobody suspects a thing as they write their daily diatribes and the minutiae of their lives into Facebook.Why? Because the the digital nerd uniform looks nothing like the dapper besuited Wall Street wolves of yore – which is the old school uniform for capitalist masters of the universe. This Seattle lot just look like a uniform army of nerds but they are out to conquer the world and your innermost thoughts one like at a time. Genius. Evil genius. Like I said I need a uniform.