Outfits and photography

Outfits and photography

What did 20th century photographers say to their models before taking their portraits? If you have a closer look at the pictures from those times – you’ll see, that all the models have exactly the same way they llok into the camera. But at the same time one can figure out their social origin or occupation from their looks, poses or outfit. Let us turn on the “explorer mode” and try to guess the occupations of these people of the past times, that were caught in a certain moment of their life by famous photography masters.

As a first example, let us have a look at a famous shot by August Zander, an outstanding German photographer of the 20th century.

We see three young peasants. It is 1914 and these people are very likely to go out and dance. Do they belong to high society or working class? What should we look at to answer that question: the fabric their suits are made of or the style itself? We can not touch the suits to feel the fabric, but if we look attentively, we can see that the suits they chose make them look rather awkward, than stylish. That impression comes, when one tries to present retro-clothes as trendy, when its time hasn’t come back yet. If the photographer took a picture of these three a bit later on – we would easily understand thir status. They would take off their jackets and neckties and start dancing after a couple beers. therefore, they’d look less awkward.

Another example is a musical band. At a closer look we see, that they also look weirdб bodies being kind of crooked.

Despite their decent clothes, this group looks awkward too, even more savage. Clothes don’t fit, puts even more emphasis on their “redneck” faces and shows us that these five aren’t lawyers, but simple working class people, who have self-respect, though. So why do their suits look so strange?

The thing is, that a suit as an outfit, was implemented by English gentlemen and was meant to show the modesty and restraint of their character. For a long time a suit has been a privilege of high society only. One could not perform any physical activities wearing a suit, because it would immediately loose the posh look. Only decades later mass production of suits was implemented for all the remaining classes of the society.

We are used to thinking that people wearing suits should be talking, thinking, performing rather than dancing, hunting, or riding a horse. Therefore these people aren’t really associated as rich ones from high society.

Their hands seem big from hard work, but their bodies are slim. That doesn’t mean, however, that back in the time photographers used to work only with weird-bodied people.

Let us have a look at a picture from the same epoque, where outfits appropriately emphasize the people’s status

Here we see four protestant missioners and their clothes reflect what we see in their faces. The suits look appropriate and fit their occupation.

So why did the working class adapt on the style of high society, when their routine never corresponded? Just because they were naive. The tried to dress posh and decent, but their way of life had nothing to do with it. So, despite all their efforts they were staying out of the welfare system, looking awkward and rude in those clothes.

Let us finish with another picture. What can you say about this model? Which social rank does she belong to?