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Essay: In Education

by Lou Stoppard on 21 April 2016

The area of the Mad About the Boy exhibition, featuring two objects, looked at the way school life and uniform has inspired many designers and image-makers.

The area of the Mad About the Boy exhibition, featuring two objects, looked at the way school life and uniform has inspired many designers and image-makers.

Installation shot from Mad About The Boy

The schoolyard and classroom offer countless themes to the fashion photographer or designer: bonding, group identity, routine, and rules and regulations. On an aesthetic level, uniform is one of contemporary menswear greatest references, but it is often the more emotive or sensitive aspects of school life that spark the imagination.

When Raf Simons sent coats scrawled with rushed graffiti and cluttered wording down his Autumn/Winter 2015 catwalk he reminded viewers of the sense of community enjoyed and, in turn, struggled with at school, referencing the 'leavers’ shirts' covered in classmates’ signatures that numerous graduates hold on to even into adulthood. Simons’ was citing a Belgian- specific tradition from his childhood – a 'celebration' of a youth’s first 100 days at college, when boys from the older years engage in 'hazing' rituals to test the younger boys’ physical and mental limits. For Simons, this meant having his feet buried in buckets of plaster that set, forcing him to stand upright for an entire day before being handed a hammer to smash his way out. The coats were an ode to the long white garments worn by the persecutors, a nod perhaps to how we can even be nostalgic for the most painful aspects of youth – failure, embarrassment, unrequited love or unfulfilled potential.

School-inspired fashion conjures up a sense of rites of passage: memories of development, change and early significant achievements.

School-inspired fashion conjures up a sense of rites of passage: memories of development, change and early significant achievements. These routines and traditions are captured in Ian Macdonald’s Eton, shot during his year as artist-in-residence at the Berkshire-based independent school, one of many studies that focus on the rites and rituals of traditional British education, and the significance of school dress and hierarchies. There are few pieces of clothing so closely tied to life progression and human growth than school uniform – a prefect’s badge can turn a boy to a man and a new blazer may ignite a fresh confidence in a way no future garment can.

Objects featured in this section of the Mad About The Boy exhibition:

  • Raf Simons, Autumn/Winter 2015. Courtesy of Raf Simons.
  • Ian Macdonald, Eton, 2007. Courtesy of London College of Fashion Library, University of the Arts London.
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