You only have to look at the cover of this book, featuring Viktor & Rolf’s bold topiary dress – a black tube layer topped by frothy aqua tulle, with a blunt cut-out section – to know that it’s not for shrinking violets. Why You Can Go Out Dressed Like That will appeal to anyone who rolls their eyes at the thought of ‘normcore’ and would hate to find themselves dressed like a Gap advert. Instead of celebrating the joy of sensible wardrobe staples, author Marnie Fogg champions the weird and wonderful pieces pushing fashion to its limits, like Jeremy Scott’s sequin-adorned leopard print niqab, or Franc Fernandez’s meat dress – famously worn by Lady Gaga.
With each design put in context thanks to detailed notes and rigorous research, we see that nothing stands in isolation – an idea can be inspired by a place, a film or maybe a moment in fashion history, then the design itself can kick-start a trend or leads to a copycat item once it’s been seen on the catwalk. Josephine Baker’s risqué banana skirt of 1926 is seen as the precursor to Prada’s 2011 banana-print skirt and Chloé’s pineapple swimming costume in 2001; the shock factor may have diminished today (Baker’s costume seems not a million miles away from Miley Cyrus’ recent wardrobe choices) but the creative link is clear. Wider trends such as zoot suits and the Sweet Lolita street style that swept Japan are also explored with the same critical eye.
Though it’s divided into sections such as ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Volume’, one of the overriding themes seems to be fashion as art, and the place of iconic clothing in a museum setting. Some featured designs have outright artistic credentials, such as Yves Saint Laurent’s Homage to Braque, an alternative wedding dress which pays tribute to one of the Cubist artist’s paintings, whilst others are made to take on the challenge of performance art; Viktor & Rolf, Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen have all staged conceptual shows to explain some of their strongest ideas. The garments they created belong in a private collection or a permanent public display, not in the corner of someone’s wardrobe.
Gentler nods to the art world include sculptural details like padded shoulders (courtesy of Thom Browne) or optical illusions like trompe l’oeil (adopted by John Galliano and The Blonds). Playing with form and silhouette isn’t just artistic, it’s also one of the best ways to really embrace style and have fun – highlighting your natural body shape one day, perhaps in Ashish’s cut-out dress or Jean Paul Gaultier’s op art jumpsuit, and transforming your body the next with Sister By Sibling’s pom-pom coat, accessorised with matching bonnet. Okay, so if you don’t have the confidence of Anna Dello Russo you may struggle to step outside the house in any of these looks, but it’s nice to have the choice of ditching everyday clothes for a show-stopping outfit with its own story.
To really make this an extensive guide to pioneering fashion, there could be a little more variety in the designers that made the cut. The distinctive US brand Rodarte is mentioned several times in notes but doesn’t have a proper profile in the book, whereas Galliano and McQueen take centre stage repeatedly. It would be great to see the recurring names given proper recognition with Fogg’s full profiling treatment. That aside, Why You Can Go Out Dressed Like That is a worthy primer for anyone interested in 20th-21st century fashion at its most daring.
Published by Thames & Hudson, Why You Can Go Out Dressed Like That: Modern Fashion Explained by Marnie Fogg is available to buy online here.