in melbourne, club looks are about expression and protest
Some of the city’s brightest nightlife stars explain how getting dressed up when the sun goes down is a powerful expression of self and community.
Brooke at Cool Room. Photo by Tomas Friml, courtesy of Cool Room.
The club is a unique space that encourages self-expression, be it through movement, socialising or presentation. It's a place where statements can be made and fantasies achieved. While the particularities of music and atmosphere are all equally important, few things can articulate more than a club look. Whether it be dramatic, kinky, optimistic, ambiguous, satanic, angelic or confrontational, club wear is a sincere demonstration of style and identity.
Clubs, and thus, the outfits worn inside them, have long-standing ties to queer culture. For many in the LGBT communities, these clothes are a way to exercise gender identity and sexuality in an environment that functions as a safe space and an escape from systemic oppression. It's a historical relationship: contemporary club music stemmed from queer African-American and Latino communities in Chicago and Detroit in the 1980s. Three decades later, halfway around the world in Melbourne, club culture is still a tool for LGBT kids.
Additionally the city's flexible licensing laws, a plethora of successful club nights and a focus on establishing safer queer spaces have created a party renaissance of sorts. Aesthetics are playing an important role in defining this new period and the city is becoming increasingly engaged with the identity politics at the heart of these fashions.
For Brooke Powers, a DJ and performance artist, the club is a crucial part of her life. She tells i-D "clubbing, my expression as a transgender person, and my personal fashion sense, they're all interconnected for me, they're all part of one project." Like a lot of queer people, she explains "I found my home on the dance-floor." Club wear has become an intrinsic part of her identity.
Specifically she's referring to emerging nights like Le Fag and Cool Room, who have lead the change in creating queer spaces where the safety and comfort of patrons is valued above all things. Their efforts to remove predatory behaviour at parties has allowed guests to cast aside any lingering sense of judgement or threat for how they dress. "Le Fag is my favourite queer night in Melbourne", Brooke tells us. "The crowd is so great, every time I DJ at Le Fag I'm just totally in my element and my set flows out of me so easily; I just feel so at home."
As much as fashion after dark is about personal expression, it's also a language that can be used to critique social norms. RMIT architecture student Darius Le recalls using her club aesthetic as a way to subvert the predominant gay masculinity of Berlin's nightlife. "There is a deliberate resistance in the way we dress and visibility becomes a valuable tool for that", she explains, "whether it is through dressing femme or beginning to parody the aesthetics that are so ingrained at these parties." In Melbourne, she plays with gender and cultural dress as a way to reflect, distort and critic the culture of whiteness and patriarchal dominance she's experienced in parts of the city.
The atmosphere of a club provides a unique hybrid of mystique and community where one can play an exaggerated character while remaining cloaked in a feeling of solidarity and togetherness. "Community is immensely liberating but so too is the element of anonymity in a club environment, this is something I like to celebrate through my looks", student and dancer Jasper Salomonsz reflects. Thanks to many venue's aforementioned focus on safety, this atmosphere can also generate a sense of privacy where clothes are shed and body positivity and celebration is seen as central to a good and supportive time.
"I am happiest with my ass out dancing with my mates 'til I can't feel my feet", self-described "busy bitch" Kristina Miltiadou explains. Like so many young Melbourne party kids, clubs and fashion are both intensely positive aspects of Krissy's life. She concludes that she feels "so fortunate to have the club and great friends who work so hard to run nights where we can be ourselves feeling safe and celebrated."
For Krissy, and the crowds of queer kids that flood the city's dance floors every night, the evolving club look is about more than just clothes and accessories, it's a modern expression of the way clubbing can make lives and cities better.
For more club culture catch Big Night Out on SBS VICELAND Tuesdays at 9.20.
Text Sasha Geyer