If we can’t transcend the news, we might as well wear it.
You got the slogan T-shirt—now it’s time to read the whole truth.
T he year was 2000 when Sex and the City’s stylish anti-hero, Carrie Bradshaw, sashayed into a restaurant wearing a clingy Dior newsprint dress designed by John Galliano to apologize to Big’s ex-wife for being “the other woman.” Yet somehow it was the dress, and not Carrie’s monumentally selfish behaviour, that triumphed by being the most memorable part of the show. Nearly two decades later, designer Bill Gaytten resurrected the iconic print for Galliano’s Fall 2018 runway, slapping it sideways onto slip-dresses, fluttery silk skirts and ghostlike transparent rain jackets. Time to wake up and smell the headlines.
The return of newsprint clothing is a refreshing change from the brash slogan T-shirts that dominated seasons past. Sacai’s Fall 2018 menswear collection valorized Donald Trump’s favourite punching bag, the “failing” New York Times, by emblazoning the paper’s rallying cry on basic tees, and Gabriela Hearst debuted a silky dress featuring “all the news that’s fit to print.” In contrast, Dior’s “We Should All Be Feminists” and Jonathan Simkhai’s “Feminist AF” shirts have begun to ring hollow without the accompanying actions to back them up, which suggests that the world aches for nuanced analysis over scorching hot takes. We get it—you’re feminist. Now read the fine print.
Newsprint clothing isn’t exactly new, of course; it dates back to 1911, when Paul Poiret designed a paper tunic decorated with ads and phone book listings. Surrealist designer Elsa Schiaparelli also lent her irreverent eye to newsprint, overlaying real-life press clippings of her work onto scarves, blouses and hats.
Beth Dincuff, a fashion historian and professor at Parsons The New School in NYC, interprets Schiaparelli’s appropriation of the press as “a unique way of controlling her message.” Whereas Schiaparelli used actual reviews of her work, Galliano’s early newsprint dress was based on somewhat self-aggrandizing fake articles. “Galliano would have had more artistic control in designing a print than he would have in writing a press release,” says Dincuff. “But both Schiaparelli’s and Galliano’s prints act as media for self-expression that bypass any non-design room editing.”
While previous 20th-century iterations of the newsprint trend were splashy and lighthearted (Franco Moschino offered up his own cheeky take on the pattern circa the ’80s), the current-day resurgence has taken on a more serious tone—one that prioritizes survival over aesthetics. The timing and prevalence of this trend suggest that fashion, which has typically been rooted in aspirational messaging, is coming down to earth. Political news has replaced celebrity gossip as the mainstay of current-day conversation, and even Hollywood, a place where the law of the land seemingly does not apply, seems to be making up for lost time with the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up campaign. Realism is replacing escapism as the appropriate reaction to what is happening in the world.
Since we can no longer escape the pulsating badnews cycle—nor should we—it has become natural to appropriate it. With politics at the forefront of culture, the newsprint trend appears to be the fashion world’s acquiescence to the cultural conversations of the day. If we can’t transcend the news, we might as well wear it.