by Maya Sidhu
In 1968, Yves St. Laurent debuted the Safari suit, a pivotal moment in fashion history–not because of the innovation of the design but in the way that St. Laurent appropriated an everyday, functional men’s clothing item into high fashion for women. When thinking about the uniform, this suit stands out as an example of a moment of departure from conventions. Not only was the jumpsuit unconventional or visionary, it also revealed a turn of St. Laurent’s gaze back onto the everyday as a place of inspiration or innovation. As a designer, St. Laurent saw beauty in function, in the lines of a simple suit, in uniforms and in military attire. After all, fashion is not simply a progression from the past to present day, but a constant return and renewal, a reconceptualization of our former garments. What we create has an implicit relationship with the past—all of the clothing of the past stands before us, offering itself up like a vast network of underground roots growing in different directions. Perhaps what makes St. Laurent such an iconoclast is that he was able to transform this network and open up a new field of possibilities for future designers by demonstrating that there can be beauty in the mundane. The uniform can be an aesthetic object or an inspiration for high fashion. Yves St. Laurent’s Safari suit presents a compelling example of a uniform-inspired garment through which we can trace the sources of its inspiration, honoring the connection between utility fashion, and history.
In my piece, the references to the uniform are much more subtle than St. Laurent’s. I chose a jumpsuit because I like that it has an origin in the factory or the mechanic’s garage but is also especially flattering to the female figure. I wanted to do it in rayon because rayon jumpsuits make me think of the 1940’s, a period from which I am drawing particular inspiration lately. I’m attracted to the way that the 1940’s represent somewhat of paradoxical time; fashion was influenced by the fantasy of Hollywood glamour and therefore very heteronormative. However, the sudden ubiquity of pants or broad-shouldered suits reflect the way that women’s social roles were changing as many women worked during the war. The combination of cream and black is an allusion to the 40’s.
Bio Born and raised in St. Louis, Maya moved to Chicago at age eighteen for college. She currently resides in New York where she is completing her dissertation on French cinema.