by Madeleine McIsaac
Society can be broken down into two distinctively divisible groups: those who understand the concept of “camp”, and those who do not. Yet.
The beauty behind “CAMP” is its near impossibility to define, as it is an ever-growing, ever-expanding aesthetic expression of nonconformity. It is an individual expression of counterculture and a love language often used in the LGBTQ+ community to showcase a unique phenomenon of a contrasting superficial yet serious style. This goes beyond fashion and includes things such as films, furniture, performance, and even people. Not to be identified through specific things, but more so of an aura of “ugliness” that just works.
Once ostracized and mocked for wildly creative manifestations of fashion and style, it has recently become a more recognizable expression of identity within smaller cliques and fashion circles. It has even come so far as to trickle down into some forms of mainstream media, including the MET gala of 2019. This newfound acceptance of an ironic art form is still growing and is often still misunderstood but it's definitely a step in the right direction. It’s clear to see some stars understood the assignment when others (while still styled glamourously) managed to miss the mark.
Photos (Getty Images): Janelle Monet, inspired by Picasso; Kyle Jenner glamorous outfit but missing ‘camp’ staples
Although the MET gala was one of the first times “camp” was mentioned as a ‘style’ in a mainstream event. It isn’t the first time that similar unusual styles had been showcased on catwalks. Designers such as Thierry Mugler and Vivian Westwood (to name a few) have brought new wave and avant-garde “campy” fashion styles that have trickled into elements of popular culture and positively affected our perception of art.
Photos: Vivienne Westwood F/W 2019, London Fashion Week; Thierry Mugler f/w 1995, Cirque D'Hiver
Known as one of the main commentators on CAMP, Susan Sontag, a Jewish, queer, and political activist wrote her most well-recognized essay, “Notes on “Camp” in 1964, in which she dissected her views on the fantastically ironic camp style. The “so bad it’s good” ideology is what really encapsulates the art of camp and allows it to flourish within its respective communities.
A large influence to “camp” and campy styles stem from the drag community. While drag is a main focal point of camp culture, that doesn’t mean that drag is inherently campy. The stylized over-exaggeration of womanhood or the ‘avant-guard’ genderless presentation of art through fashion creates a certain shock factor that aligns perfectly with the essence of what camp means. It emphasizes a bold opposition of norms and challenges the ideas of what art can and should be. Instead of saying that High art and beauty are one and the same, it takes away the seriousness— or the fact that people take themselves so seriously when it comes to techniques and styles synonymous with the art we see everywhere else in the world. Art doesn’t equal beauty, art is subjective, and everyone should be entitled to express it however they so choose.
Photos: Trixie Mattel in her exaggerated feminine style, (Magnus Hastings); Club Kids by Alexis Dibiasio, "Fabulousity" (Wildlife Press)
When I think of CAMP, I think of its artistic contribution to society and the way we view people, and how style can be shifted into a declaration of self that falls outside of the “rules” of fashion. It is a way to dismantle previous notions of what is the “right” choice when it comes to getting dressed in the morning and allows us to see art and fashion through a more subjective lens.
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