Awkwardwear is spring's most revealing trend
From exposed thongs and visible bra straps to sweat stained knits, these designers make wardrobe malfunctions and bodily fluids fashion.
Photo by Kay-Paris Fernandes/Getty Images; photo courtesy of Ludovic de Saint Sernin.
Bra straps -- of the absolutely practical, elastic variety -- poking out from the sleeveless shoulders of tank tops. Bunched up shorts to mimic ‘tighty-whities.’ Jersey hems spilling out the waistbands of pants -- the way that your T-shirt might be too long to tuck into your too-short gym shorts. Thought they might sound like it, these aren’t exactly wardrobe malfunctions. They are the thoughtful details that made up CSM grad Josephine Sidhu’s Menswear BA collection. “There is something really fun about romanticising the most mundane or even supposedly ‘undesirable’ aspects of wearing clothes and getting dressed,” she says.
Sidhu’s not alone. In the last few seasons, and especially for spring/summer 20, many designers are embracing the aesthetic of awkwardness. It’s “awkwardwear,” if you will. At Heron Preston, G-strings peeked out the top of low-waisted sweatpants. Bevza’s layered dresses whispered to the untucked, undone crotch of a bodysuit. At Helmut Lang, thin bra straps dangled from the sleeves of tank tops. Vejas showed jersey tank tops that featured strained, twisted straps, as though they had gotten caught inside out. They also recall the kind of knots you might have tied, in your youth, to turn a full-length T-shirt into a crop top.
Sidhu drew upon her own memories of pre-teen awkwardness for her CSM graduate collection. “When I was younger I used to swim a lot in school, but stopped around the age of 12 and didn’t pick it back up again until about ten years later, which was the year before I started my final collection,” she recalls. “Once I started swimming again, I remembered a lot of the habits and languages that surrounded the sport when I was younger, most notably performing the ‘knicker trick’ so you don’t have to get naked in the changing room, which is such a funny idea to me now.” The ‘knicker trick’ -- a contorted maneuver performed to avoid flashing fellow locker room-goers -- takes shape in bunchy boxer brief-esque bottoms, awkward layers and half-untucked T-shirts. In fact, a lot of the collection’s silhouettes and draping come from Sidhu documenting herself getting dressed and undressing, and, as she describes, finding interest in the movement of the clothes. “Like when you pull your jumper off and your top gets caught underneath,” she elaborates.
Another component of Sidhu’s awkwardwear is the collection’s visible bra straps. Seen on the shoulders of tanks and worn over top of jumpers, these design details are also personal to Sidhu’s adolescent experience. “I remember there being such a stigma about seeing your bra straps through your top when I was younger and I still don’t really know why. I still find it confusing. Maybe it’s to do with when you first start wearing bras and it feels a bit taboo? Either way it was a completely unnecessary fear of mine,” she says. “It really embodied the awkwardness of being at that in-between stage of girlhood and womanhood, where your body is just embarrassing to you.”
For Sidhu, uncovering and embracing the awkwardness of her pre-teen years via design is a cathartic process. “I like that I can exploit those ‘clothing mishaps’ that once I would have been scared of and make them something interesting and beautiful,” she explains. “I’m now able to embrace the awkwardness that I couldn’t when I was younger, and I can make something out of it.” Especially in the era of Instagram -- Facetuned selfies, perfectly cropped and posed shots -- this display of purposeful awkwardness is a means of returning to and embracing the clumsiness inherent in our own humanity, of treating our natural bodies with more compassion and a sense of wonder. “There is something so beautiful in the design of the clothing, that it manipulates the traditionally negative connotations of ‘taboo-ness’ and makes it something desirable instead,” Sidhu says. “I find that a really exciting idea; bringing positivity and acceptance to these unnecessarily disapproved-of subjects.”
Ottolinger also explored awkwardness for SS20. Tops and leggings featured crooked seams that twisted around the body, as if the wearer had pulled them on haphazardly and never bothered to fix them. Lopsided blazers buttoned up below the armpit. Polo dresses with button plackets about to burst evoked the too-small cool of the baby tee. Sexy cut-outs strained their near-threadbare lengths across jersey gowns and going-out tops. The collection’s assembly of deliberately ill-fitting garb and off-kilter hemlines read as a chaotic take on fashion’s perennially covetable ‘effortlessness.’ They oozed a wild insouciance, the honest embodiment of “Oh this? I just threw it on.”
For Athenian designer Dimitra Petsa, these on-purpose clothing mishaps aren't awkward at all -- they convey a political message. “Everything that is personal is political,” she says, describing her “Wetness Project”, a series of designs and performances dedicated to the visibility of female bodily fluids. Di Petsa’s ‘Wetlook’ dresses arrive as intricately draped white gowns -- reminiscent of ancient Greek chitons -- that appear to be completely soaked-through with sweat, clinging to the body between pockets of wetness. Other components of the collection include the designer’s “Pee Stain” denim and “Lactating” tops, garments that have been printed with pigments and oils to look as though the wearer has wet herself.
The wetness of Di Petsa’s womenswear is meant to oppose what the designer describes as a patriarchal dryness. “We are taught to strive for dryness, poisoning our body in the process. If you cry in public you need to hide it, if you sweat in public you need to hide it, if you breastfeed in public you need to hide it,” she explains. “And that censorship comes from the notion that the fact that we are wet, that we come from water is something to be hidden.” Di Petsa’s 'Wetness' pieces are a means of de-stigmatizing female wetness. Wearing them is at once a revolt against the way society controls women's bodies, and an act of healing. “[They] are all intended to be worn both as aesthetically pleasing garments, but also performative acts through which we can potentially heal shame and create an alternative narrative for our bodily waters and the fluidity of the female experience,” she says.
Ludovic de Saint Sernin visits wetness from a different perspective. The French menswear designer describes his SS20 collection, titled “Wet’n’Wild”, as a “hot summer fantasy” tied to an adolescent memory of wet clothing. “One of the first homoerotic memories I had [was of me] laying on the beach and tanning. All of a sudden I see this gorgeous man, he’s taking off his clothes and he didn’t have swimwear so instead he went in the water with white cotton briefs. When he came out of the water it was like a dream, as you can imagine,” he explains. “That image stuck and became the inspiration for my SS20 collection.”
One of the collection’s stand-out motifs -- and one that has gone viral on social media -- is the “Sweat” knit series. A selection of tank tops and sweaters that have been crafted to look at though the wearer is, well, sweating. A transparent knit bit of ‘sweat’ pooling at the garment’s chest and shoulders. For de Saint Sernin, and much of the gay community, this sort of wardrobe malfunction is not all that taboo. It’s sexy. “For some of us out there, sweat is actually a really sexy thing. Like watching someone at the gym working on their body and getting all wet,” he says. “And there’s a whole Tumblr world of sweat fetish and they usually feature guys wearing either a white top or a grey top with sweat marks and I thought that it would be really cool to translate that into a knit. And with white it often becomes transparent, which I love.”
Designer Sinéad O’Dwyer seeks to liberate women from any awkwardness associated with clothing all together -- and the constraints that garments impose upon their bodies. The concept is embodied best -- and quite literally -- in one of her signature moulded silicone pieces. The garment in question, moulded from a lifecast of friend Martina Dolcimascolo, is embedded with the silhouette of a bikini, its top permanently scrunched up above the breasts, its tie-up bottoms riding up. Visually, it’s a powerful rejection of the ubiquitous and unattainable “bikini body,” the “one-size-fits-all” beauty ideals prescribed by fashion glossies. It’s also a reclamation of these types of garments -- like bikinis, crop tops -- the ones that many are shown or told they can’t wear because of the shape or size of their bodies. O’Dwyer’s designs are what she describes as a “fuck you” to these prescriptions. Through them, she seeks to carve out a space within fashion for all bodies.
It doesn’t matter what you wear or how you wear it; the garments we don will always have bearing on our bodies. Further, they influence the way we think about ourselves. The newfound movement to explore all that is awkward, uncomfortable or taboo in this body-clothing relationship reacquaints us with the humanity to be found in the act of dressing. Describing the inspiration behind her awkward-wear, Sidhu says, “For me, I’m drawn to the familiarity I feel in the awkwardness.” Yes, clothing can constrain or oppress the body. But it can also affirm the self.