Retro-Futurism Trend Alert: The Use of Luminous Fabrics, Nostalgia, and Irony in Fashion

Written by: Jenny Yang

Reflective garments have always been seen as more utility-oriented, worn by safety-conscious cyclists and construction workers. By reflecting more light at cameras than normal fabrics, reflective clothing also has anti-paparazzi uses, which has made it popular with celebrities and streetwear enthusiasts alike. However, now we are seeing a resurgence in reflective fabrics employed in a nostalgic, kitschy, or “retro-futuristic” manner.

For instance, we can trace this reflective trend to nostalgia for the 2000s at its best, seeing that Y2K-era clothing is back. Y2K-era clothing is heavily inspired by the “techno-utopianism of the early 2000s”, with its emphasis on the metallic fabrics, frosted makeup, tiny sunglasses, and futuristic hairstyles favored by 2000s-era ravers and hackers. Y2K-era clothing is loud and kitschy, celebrating logos and self-referentiality. Brands such as Vetements and Balenciaga have embraced this ethos steeped in internet humor with their subversive use of ugly-functional DHL logos, IKEA bags, and even McDonald’s uniforms at outrageously high prices.

However, the best example of this “retro-futuristic” trend would be Dior Men’s new Fall/Winter 2019 collection launched in collaboration with Japanese artist Hajime Sorayama. Hajime Sorayama’s art features hyper-realistic metallic robots in provocative pin-up poses, which begets questions on the nature of sexuality, beauty ideals, and authenticity in the digital age.

As an aesthetic, retro-futurism takes inspiration from a science fiction subgenre which examines how the past envisioned the future. Retrofuturistic art would feature flying cars, laser weapons, floating cities, and robots. In our digital age, a resurgence in retrofuturism could be rooted in dissatisfaction with the present and with how the present falls short in aligning with our often fantastical past expectations of the future.

In a highly polarized political climate where social networking, the creation of echo chambers, and “false news” have divided the masses rather than unify them, this trend takes on a more ironic tone that reflects our collective anxieties around the disruptive potential of technology and automation. To go further, when billionaires attending the World Economic Forum in Davos can experience the “virtual plight” of Syrian refugees by donning trendy VR headsets, does this technology invite compassion and empathy or does it lead to a “gamification” of the refugee experience by creating a spectacle?

About Author/Model: Jenny Yang (@jiaojiao.exe) studied International Relations at the University of Cambridge. She has published articles related to women in peacekeeping, separatism, and the ethics of lethal autonomous weapons.
About Photographer: As a visual artist (@iamshellshot), T. “Donatello” Fletcher’s style consists of colorful, energetic movement and imagery stemming from his background in dance. He embraces a conceptual approach towards literal wordplay, expressed through photography, videography, and directing.


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