What you wear is political. Whether consciously or unconsciously, through choice or not, dress – clothing, tattoos, jewelry, bodies and their extensions – provides visual clues that position (or erase) a person relative to others.
Within the evolving OWS discourse, refracted through mainstream media, social networking sites, and the blogosphere, a number of competing narratives and representations of events have emerged. Central to which are various subject positions: ‘occupier/protestor’, ‘banker’, ‘State’, ‘police/cops’, ‘journalist’ and ‘American worker’. Dress often determines and delimits these categories, but can also blur them.
In this collection of images, I draw your attention to the visual representation of the competing discourses of OWS and suggest that dressed bodies are used to produce, support and amplify these positions: from ‘street’ wear, police uniforms, business suits, ‘Anonymous’ and gas masks, military fatigues, to the (un)clothed bodies of the ‘hot chicks of OWS’. On the one hand, we have an account of protestors as unsafe, homeless, lazy, violent, anti-democratic, anarchists, a minority pitted against hard-working Americans, including ‘bankers’, and the professional, ordered ‘police’ and ‘State’ who protect them. On the other hand, protestors are represented as non-violent, peaceful, ‘beautiful souls’ (women’s gendered bodies feature prominently), they are democratic, the 99%, victims and martyrs. ‘Cops’ and the ‘State’ are anonymous, violent automatons (‘robo’ and militarized riot cops – think ‘casual-pepper-spray-cop’) protecting greedy and amoral ‘bankers’ in suits.
Dress renders these positions both highly visible (sometimes international) and enables the embodiment of these subject positions, so that any business suit becomes a visual metaphor for Wall Street or any mask becomes an anarchist. Dress enables a mapping to take place between bodies and subjects, reducing individuals to ‘bad cops’, ‘dirty hippies’, or ‘fat cats’. Dress functions both symbolically, and as a shifting signifier. It enables, like photographs, a shorthand form of politics; a framing device that may both enable and restrain certain forms of political engagement. It produces logics or common sense of the different competing narratives of the protest, including who instigates violence and the legitimacy of their competing positions whilst eliding other aspects (such as diversity within groups).