Don’t Touch Me: Is spiky fashion a sartorial defence mechanism?
While high street shopping the other week, I observed a huge amount of garments and accessories adorned with punk studs, from the flattened, unassuming pyramid stud to a chromed, inch-long stiletto spike. They populate the shoulders of slubby sweatshirts and the undersides of soft leather bags, the pockets of denim shirts and the toecaps of ballet pumps. I am not exaggerating when I say, from earring to shoe, you can be fully spike-clad in one shopping trip.
I spotted a pair of spiky slipper-shoes, and asked to try them in my size. The sales assistant apologetically explained that what was out was all they had. “They fly off the shelves the second we restock them,” she explained “Everyone wants them.”
The idea of a hard edge to feminine fashion is nothing new or different: goth-inspired looks come up every Autumn/Winter without fail, and I can’t remember a single fashion season in recent memory that didn’t feature at least a touch of androgyny. But this is different. This isn’t a dark palette striking out against summery pastels, and it’s not a sharp suit jacket adding something businesslike to a tea dress. Spiky fashion weaponises clothes, adding a dangerous element to an otherwise pretty shoe.
I think there’s no other way to look at spiky fashion than as a direct admonition: don’t touch me. And what is that, if not a direct result of rape culture, an overt attempt by women to bite back against a society where accused rapists are lauded and escape justice, where survivors of rape are hounded online, and where it is estimated that only 2% of rapes end in conviction?
A common criticism of the way our society deals with rape, is that it educates women on how not to be raped, instead of tackling the subject head-on and telling men not to rape. If women are told that to avoid rape, they shouldn’t, for example, wear short skirts, should we be surprised when a trend comes round that allows a woman to don a pair of shoes that act as a weapon, and a pair of shorts that is, for all intents and purposes, a wearable barbed wire fence?
The war for female autonomy has always been fought on the battlefield of female flesh, often manifesting in the way we dress and adorn it. The bra-burning after the Miss America pageant, and the manner in which body hair has once again become a badge of honour for many young feminists, shows that where women are denied equality and justice, the desire for it will play out in fashion. Simply put: if the state will not punish rapists and protect women from harm, women will wear their own protection.
Of course, there’s a whole other argument: women are wearing spiky fashion because it looks cool. When someone suggested this to me last week, I had to ask them, but why does it look cool? To my mind, it has this essence of cool because it is an appropriation of the punk aesthetic that was traditionally more masculine, creating an image of a hard-edged, unapproachable woman in control of her body. She looks cool because she has draped her soft, attackable body with tiny weapons.
The H&M collection designed by the costume designer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was awaited with bated breath by many. A collection of washed-out jersey knits and supple leather, it offered the high street customer the chance to dress like rape survivor and all-round bad-ass, Lisbeth Salander. Before the collection had even been released, it was attacked for glamorising rape and capitalising on sexual violence and, though not publically pulled, the collection didn’t feature in many stores for very long. What was it that upset people about this collection? The idea that a rape survivor can be read as inspirational, or the idea that she can be seen as anything other than a victim? While I understood the logic behind the outcry, I had to wonder why Lisbeth Salander’s possible eating disorder (more prominent in the book than the film) didn’t appear to trouble the very people who were offended by this so-called capitalisation on rape.
The simple fact of spiky fashion is that it is a trend that resists wholeheartedly the notion of femininity as a vulnerable, soft state, and allows a woman to wear on her sleeve a pre-emptive rejection of unwanted advances. Unfortunately, while rape culture prevails, it may come to pass that spiky fashion is the only thing creating that aura of power and safety for many women. But no matter how loudly an outfit proclaims “don’t touch me”, it will still only amount to so much metal and denim.
I suggest we look at spiky fashion as an outward manifestation of a growing rage. The overwhelming emotional setting of this wave of feminism, in the face of rape culture, is anger. This trend allows women to wear that anger as a badge of honour.Tagged in: Assange, fashion, feminism, Lisbeth Salander, rape, spiky fashion, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, victim blaming, women's rights
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