While music merchandise has always had an aura of cool, this has never been the case for TV merch. To wit, Rihanna’s collaboration with Puma and Kanye’s Yeezy concert tees are a direct contrast to the geeky glow of television’s action figure hoarders. However, this is the case no more. From Netflix’s Stranger Things logo slapped on t-shirts by both Louis Vuitton and Topshop and designers buying wholesale into The Handmaid’s Tale aesthetic, I think it’s safe to say this is the dawn of a new merch era.
Over the summer New York-based label Vaquera collaborated with Hulu, the makers of the dystopia TV show based on Margaret Atwood’s novel. Though the collection was not intended for sale, only to make an artistic statement about oppression, it touched closely on key trends for this autumn. A story of female disempowerment and rank conservatism may seem like an odd topic for a brand that plays with queering ideas of representation and fashion. Yet, the show’s haunting design has seemingly resonated with more brands than you’d think.
It was costume director Ane Crabtree who was tasked with bringing color and shape to The Handmaid’s Tale’s dark vision. She offered red, the color of passion, menstruation and rebellion as the palette for the oppressed Gilead women and a rich sky blue for the powerful wives of the commanders. These technicolor uniforms are starkly contrasting to the patterned separates that the characters are seen wearing in flashback scenes. Crabtree washes away individuality and replaces it with a modest, high-neck, long-sleeve, ankle-reaching uniform.
Crabtree’s vision of the a patriarchal nightmare has surfaced as a political statement. Earlier this year, the women behind the Naral Pro-Choice Texas march protested anti-abortion rules while dressed as Handmaids. Similarly, in Missouri back in May, another anti-abortion group rallied while wearing red-and-white costumes. Likewise, students in Iowa gathered in scarlet costume to draw attention to a new law that forces women to wait 72hours before deciding to and having an abortion.
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Obviously, Crabtree’s designs struck a nerve in this current political climate. But, nor just with protestors, the fashion community have taken note. Sartorial trends are said to put a magnifier up to society and it’s subliminal shifts, which is certainly the case with the autumn winter 2017 collections. The tectonic plates of fashion have shifted and a new, conservative client has bubbled up.
While miniskirts and body-con will always have its place, more and more frequently the catwalk has come to showcase knee-length and longer dresses, sleeves that fall to the wrist and necklines that barely reveal a collar bone. The work of Emilia Wickstead, Rejina Pyo and Phoebe Philo’s Céline come to mind as instant examples. For spring summer 2018 Vera Wang took it one step further, creating a collection that showed models shield from the cameras by white bonnets, like that of Offred and her Handmaiden peers. These labels present an anti-Kardashian vision that crystallizes concepts of modesty with power.
In the past ‘modest’ has been a byword for pious fashion. It’s been twinned with the idea of covering up for religious reverence, however in recent months it’s become a way of describing the elegant sophistication of hemlines that are tugged to the floor and necklines that don’t plunge.
At the Met Gala, the event which is commonly considered the Oscars of fashion, the red carpet teamed with dresses of this calbire. This was illustrated by Katy Perry who donned scarlet Maison Martin Margiela, Felicity Jones in pale blue Erdem, Karen Elson and Sarah Paulson. But, it was at the Academy Awards itself that the trend showed traction. Ruth Nega appeared in a fire engine red Valentino gown that barely showed a morsel of skin, which was a look mirrored by Dakota Johnson in Gucci, Jessica Biel in Kaufman Franco, Ava DuVernay in Ashi Studio and Ginnifer Goodwin in Zuhair Murad.
With the female body still seen as a commodity by many, the decision to cover up feels political. It’s as if fashion designers have colluded to decide that there is a new language and it spells independence with a long skirt.