Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, better known as Oscar Wilde is the most famous British author of the Victorian era. For many it is considered the archetype dandy and in its name there is an aura of mystery that dazzles for its talent but also for its image.
Few know that the characteristic image of Oscar Wilde is the result of an obsession with beauty to the extent that he believed that the dress should be the mandate of art and not of the dressmakers (before Anna, Oscar already expressed very clear opinions of how we should dress). In 1885, The New-York Tribune published the essay “The philosophy of dress” by Oscar Wilde, incredibly, this article remained forgotten by all who studied Wilde until just 6 years ago, when in 2012, John Cooper published it in the form of a book
“The philosophy of Dress” is the first work of Wilde as a commercial writer and is the only journalistic work (of more than 150 writings) that has copyrights, (meaning that the first time he was granted a space paid for publish his work, decided to write about fashion, and was so relevant that he decided to register his authorship).
Oscar Wilde explained in his article “The philosophy of clothing” that clothing has no value in itself but depends on the use that is given: “I hold that the dress is made for the service of humanity”; explains that the dresses of the time are not beautiful because they have hello and bows, but the beauty of the dress depends on the human body, and must respect the classical proportions (of the ancient Greeks and Romans) because a dress is not beautiful because it is ornamental, is beautiful because it does not prevent the freedom of who uses it, referring to its clear aversion to the corsets of the time.
On high-heeled shoes and high hats, it reveals that they have no use, because for him, the dress must be made in proportion to the body and that if a pair of shoes changes the position of the body towards the front and a hat makes the Larger head, these do not make the person more beautiful but destroy their proportions.
In “The Philosophy of Dress” was the first time that Oscar Wilde wrote the famous phrase: “A fashion is simply a form of ugliness so absolutely unbearable that we have to modify it every six months” and referred to that fashions were inconsiderate with their followers, because he thinks that it does not matter if someone is white or brown, tall or short, they all aim to dress in the same way until they reinvent another type of “evil”. On the other hand he proposes that, like a flower, the beauty of the dress does not depend on fashion and, like art, it orders the freedom of the individual, it does not limit it. For the famous writer the human body was perfect and should not be distorted by the creations of a dressmaker. Although much time has passed since the corset, we can believe that for Oscar Wilde the shoulders of Balenciaga, the silhouettes of Rei Kawakubo and the shoes of McQueen would be “groundbreaking” as are the flowers in spring.
Comme des Garçons Homme Plus, fall 2018
For many, Wilde’s criticisms may seem outdated and have little relation to our understanding of art, but in reality he challenged the status quo of the moment he lived. Known as English aestheticism (the artistic movement represented by Wilde), rejects the materialistic values of the industrial revolution, argued that the arts should present the pleasure of the senses rather than extolling the moral and feelings and divorce from the utilitarian idea that before it had been granted to art. For the aesthetists the desire to beautify by beautifying (“art for art”) all areas of life came to spaces that historically had been related to women; the decoration of the home and the body. Wilde’s image presented him as an heir to the world of women (traditionally inferior) and elevated him as an academic who understood women’s culture better than they did. In his work “The Importance of Being Earnest,” he wrote: “The only way to compensate for being occasionally well-dressed is to be absolutely over-educated.”
Raf Simons, fall 2018
Wilde’s femininity dangerously betrayed her homosexuality and signified the privilege of the patricians (who commonly adopted elements of female dress) although in reality she was a middle-class Irishman, which was also reprehensible to the order of Victorian society of her day, but at the same time his image gave him professional credentials because it allowed him to affirm his professional authority and distinguish himself from the women who dominated those fields, and his privilege alienated him from the mundane and the new materialism of the industrial revolution (being rich and literate, he could identify art and being an academic knew how to interpret the artistic world of women).
Maison Margiela Menswear, fall 2018
Few know it, but Oscar Wilde, was also a fashion magazine editor, because two years after writing his article he accepted the post of editor of the magazine “The Lady’s World” from 1887 to 1889, a high quality monthly magazine , but before taking the post said it was “a very vulgar, trivial and stupid production” and although the company owner of the magazine opposed, changed the name of the magazine to “The Woman’s World” and promised that “it would take a more broadly, as well as a high point of view, and would not only deal with what women use, but what they think and what they feel “and at the same time celebrated the decoration, the dress and other lands dominated entirely by Women of the time, Oscar Wilde understood that clothing is not important by itself but is the reflection of something deeper.
Rick Owens, fall 2018
Time later, in 1892, Oscar Wilde premiered his work “Lady Windermere’s fan”, in the first show, asked one of the actors to put a green carnation in the buttonhole of his jacket and asked some of his acquaintances that they carried the same flower in that event to be connected to the character. The public, dismayed by the mysterious green symbol, asked him about its meaning, however he replied that there was no meaning. Some felt that it was a way to turn the audience into an artifice, others saw it as a degeneration of aestheticism, because it was not art by itself, but an invention of fashion, and they wondered if in reality Wilde’s decisions his image was motivated by exalting art or if fashion was his true interest.
The image of a green carnation had many meanings. For some it embodied the idea that art was above nature because the unnatural color of a green flower was an academic point of view; for others, according to the suggestions of the first sexologists, green was the favorite color of the inverted ones (homosexuals), and for others it even represented belonging; but regardless of the meaning, the green carnation had acquired such fame, that in 1984, Robert Hichens wrote a satire of Wilde and his circle in which he denounced his homosexuality, calling it “The Green Carnation”. The choice of the title of Hichens made clear the identity of the main characters of the novel for Victorian readers and just a few months later began the trials for homosexuality against Wilde, who instead of referring to the meaning of his accessory, said: “I invented that flower … the flower is a work of art.”
Dries van Noten, fall 208
Thinking about the image of Oscar Wilde as a person who needed to explore his identity in a very personal exercise or think of him as an academic committed to his artistic values does not silence the language of his dress, even if it is each person who gives him a meaning. In the words of the writer: “Those who read the symbol do so at their own risk. It is the viewer, and not the life, that art really reflects.”