This spring, Seattle will have a bounty of fashion exhibitions. We’re less than a month out from the openings of Seattle Style: Fashion/Function at MOHAI and A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes at MoPop. While Seattle Style focuses on the historical and day-to-day influences of our region, A Queen Within, opening May 11, goes the more philosophical and artistic route.
Curated by Barrett Barrera Projects, it features six archetypal aspects of a queen (or woman): The Sage, Enchantress, Explorer, Mother Earth, Heroine and Thespian. These archetypes are interpreted using over 100 fashion designers. The list includes Adidas, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Chanel, Comme Des Garcons and Vivienne Westwood to name a few.
From Barrett Barrera Projects:
In storytelling, archetypes exist as powerful figures that consolidate certain human universals. Through female archetypes in particular, we may glimpse the essence and multiplicities of feminine resolve. In this exhibition, each form of the queen stands as a powerful wellspring of creative inspiration for contemplating the relationship between dress, society and our shared history.
The Context of Fashion
When we think about and talk about fashion, context is everything. Certain conversations and influencers can conjure images of moderately wealthy suburbanites caught up in buying the latest statement handbags in an effort to keep up with—if not outdo—the Joneses. Perhaps these fashionistas are just another type of addict, being strung along by marketers and peer pressure.
In other settings, we might understand that out there—in a sophisticated, urban and cultured environment, among the chic art cliques and patrons of society—there is the avant garde, wearing those strange pieces that display an otherworldly comprehension of personal brand and image that most find odd, uncomfortable, or even ridiculous. Yet, they may see themselves as next-level curators of their own lifestyles.
Between these two fashion-conscious groups are an array of subcultures, whose style is more of a uniform, which tells mainstream society exactly with which tribe the individual has aligned themselves. Our social class, ethnicities, professions, age, gender identity, and even geographical location all influence how we choose to brand ourselves. (I expect Seattle Style at MOHAI to provide inside into how the Seattle version of this looks and why.)
The fact is, there is no way around doing it. Even when we rebel against aspects of fashion or to try to free ourselves from how our clothing choices brand us, we simply can’t escape having to choose something that will ultimately be representative of who we are.
As much of a trap as this can be, the act of fashioning ourselves can be liberating. We can become entirely different people and influence how others see us by simply changing our style of dress. More importantly, we can influence how we understand ourselves by simply donning certain clothes.
Dressing by Archetype
The majority of us live on the default setting acquired from our family and culture, meaning the roles and personalities we learned to assume in various environments were taught to us from birth. We dress to reinforce the person we became in our teen years, our college years, and our professional roles. It’s something that often happens to us more than something we actually get to cultivate for ourselves.
Sometimes it happens that we don’t fit into the mainstream identity that we’re expected to fit into, by virtue of being an ethnic outlier, or by not having enough diversity in our region to make sense to others, which happens so often in adolescence. Once in a while, some of us find that there is something strange within our hidden knowledge of ourselves. We may also simply be part of a family or community that coaches us to be more self-aware. There are a few who discover at an early age that fashion can be a tool for cultivating unique aspects of our hidden or more desired self. The experimentation with one’s image can be alienating and even scary—but should it be?
There are moments when we see in others the things that they can’t see in themselves. In these moments, we may become aware that we might also be lacking insight into aspects of ourselves that everyone else has already come to accept about us. The realization may make us feel like outsiders or, worse, like weirdos. Often, this is such an uncomfortable idea that we cling to our typecast roles to avoid dealing with these shadowy aspects.
By dressing in the most mainstream way, we tell our peers, “Hey look, I’m just like you.” This is why we are so captivated by performers who seem to have a fine-tuned level of self-awareness allowing them to step in and out of characters. A person with such gifts can be alluring and dazzling. We admire them because they seem to have no fear. They seem to know themselves completely.
Humans share a collective experience that is ancient. As much as culture changes over time, there are aspects of humanity that are universal and undying. They are the characteristics from which come great stories, lasting stories. The characters of these stories—be they heroes or villains—have deep roots in our psyche, and they are unavoidable. We call them “archetypes.” Archetypes live above and beyond the mundane aspects of human characteristics. Even though for most of us they will go unexplored, undeveloped, and not integrated into our personae, we are each one of us a host to several. Each archetype offers a key to freedom from the more confined roles into which we are acculturated.
In the last two centuries, women have been challenging the limitations of their gender roles, often seeing feminine archetypes as traps. Perhaps, there is more liberation in integrating rather than rejecting these aspects of ourselves. Perhaps that’s where the real power lies. In advance of the opening of A Queen Within at MoPop, I’m already excited about the possibilities—how the show will look, and how it might make us look afresh at ourselves.