Sartorial Statements: The Importance of Shock Value in Setting Trends
"I’d love to know how you feel about fashion, what it means to you."
"Honestly, we’ve seen me f****** glamourous for almost ten years, and it’s just boring."
So opens the dialogue on fashion in Lady Gaga’s new Netflix documentary, Five Foot Two. Notorious for her shocking approach to clothing, in recent times we have seen a retreat from meat dresses and cages of lace atop her head to a more conservative style. Yet her expression of boredom towards such sartorial statements contrasts to the rest of the fashion community: the 2017 Met Gala saw some of the wackiest and boldest ensembles in the event’s history. The appeal of these non-traditional approaches to style have been questioned time and time again, but limited conclusions have been reached: why are we so intrigued by shocking outfits; how do these trends infiltrate mainstream fashion; and how do trendsetters keep things fresh?
Perhaps it is the hedonistic and visceral aspects of statement fashion that draw fascination from a mainstream audience. Often these garments take on taboo topics; the reveal of the next Met Gala theme as ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’ has already faced controversy for its potential sacrilegious connotations. Haute couture takes the fantastical, grotesque, and abstract and puts them in the public eye. Gaga’s 2009 VMA outfit, in which she covered herself in blood and hung herself on stage received a series of complaints, yet gained her the attention that she desired. These garments break down the typical boundaries of societal propriety to make statements, be that political, cultural or religious, to give but a few examples. It encourages innovative approaches to textiles and prints, with no rules regarding clashing colours or mixing fabrics. Fashion is elevated to the status of a piece of art, more than merely a means of coverage.
“These garments break down the typical boundaries of societal propriety to make statements, be that political, cultural or religious, to give but a few examples.”
The scope of the trickle-down impact on high street style is debatable. Whilst most shocking fashion is unwearable in day-to-day life, the subtle influences of these high fashion looks are apparent in the fabrics and silhouettes of ready-to-wear garments. Rihanna’s 2015 yellow Met Gala dress was replicated in the colour palettes of Topshop and Zara less than six months later. The baroque print and fur trim inspired the season’s sell-out coats. Whilst the expense of haute couture is too much for most, its cheaper counterparts fly off the shelves.
Yet as Gaga expresses, eventually attempts to shock grow stale. Striking and outlandish ensembles that used to be shocking become absorbed into mainstream trends and expectations. Continuing to try and be sartorially provocative becomes the norm, and therefore fails to shock at all. Sometimes, stripping back to basics can have just as strong a visual impact. When Gaga steps out in an all-black ensemble, accented with only a pink hat, the shock value is just as significant as when she first appeared at the VMAs in the meat dress. She subverts expectations and flips them on their head – that is true shock value. Versatility and simplicity can be equally as effective in making a statement as trying to be bold and forge new styles. As Gaga states: "I can see now. I don't need to have a million wigs on and all that s*** to make statements. Really the truth of the matter is, I just want to have a uniform and I think my uniform should be a black t-shirt and black jeans and black boots."