You can’t unsee me: Lagenlook as resistance

Lagenlook is a term used lovingly and scornfully, with an appropriate whiff of pretentiousness. Lagenlook is the “layered look” where the layers are specifically natural materials, earth tones, and rumpled. Lagenlook is familiar in that artsy, slightly bohemian women of a certain age who tend to dart about in their Lagenlook layers, grounded by funky but soft-soled shoes.

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The aesthetic is natural, loose-fitting, with elongated vertical lines and pronounced accents, such as the large buttons and exaggerated loops and pockets in the boucle-woven jacket above. Pants tend to be cut well above the ankle and loose, and nearly all the pieces are over-sized. The style causes the body wearing it to take up more visual space than it would otherwise. Lagenlook makes the body bigger, not smaller, and so it rejects two requirements of today’s women’s clothing: clothing should unforgivingly reveal the contours of the body underneath, and that body should never take up more room than one (woman) should.

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Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas may have been the first modern Lagenlookers. These are clothes asserting an earthiness of personality, a philosophical simplicity of self, a lack of dissemblance, and above all, a refusal of traditionally-gendered roles.

Today’s Lagenlookers are not necessarily driven by this explicit non-gendered approach. In last year’s series Frankie and Grace, Lily Tomlin’s Frankie is a Lagenlooker. Her Lagenlook styles are dramatic, tumultuous even. Frankie is a character interested in inhabiting a specific kind of feminine space: she is a hippie, an artist dependent on her husband’s career and money (even after their divorce), an earth mother who adopts when she is unable to birth children. Thus in this promotional photo, Frankie wears circles upon circles, symbolic of her “earth mother” status and her fixation upon her own body’s refusal to be fertile.

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Her character contrasts with nervous, wholly traditional Grace, played by Fonda: Grace is geared towards men’s eyes and their approval; she wears the tight-fitting, tailored, preppy-glamour clothes that are really updates of the late 1950s regimented styles for well-off and well-behaved women.

Lagenlook has some high end versions, which are miles away from the clumsy cloaking of Lagenlook. Yohji Yamamoto’s extraordinary “Y” line for younger yohji yamamoto.jpg

women layers fabrics upon fabrics, clothing item on top of another item, and is grounded again with “sensible shoes”. Here, the young model floats in her tissue-thin layers; her smooth bob of dark hair neatly caps the flowing lines, and her heavy black shoes keeps her grounded even as she lifts up above the floor.

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And Issey Miyake’s Corona Jacket (seen here) even incorporates a layered look within the fabric of the jacket itself: the contrasting black and grey make it appear layered, the waistline, bust line, even hips are carefully obscured. Here, the woman’s face (ironically cut off in the lookbook) will be the center of attention. Even her hands are encased in irregularly-pleated fabric.

What is the effect of all this layering, these oversized proportions, these rough and darkly-tinted fabrics? For women who wear Lagenlook, the sensations imparted by wearing the clothing supersede how the clothes appear to others. It’s a statement of primacy of one’s experience over the possible pleasure others might derive from your physical appearance. The body under those layers is free, unbound, on display insofar as the layers of fabrics are read as extensions of that body. The self is hiding — not only physically, but psychologically. Ironically, this is a style that demands attention from onlookers. As a wearer moves through space, the boundaries of the body extend outward, not inward. Ivanka’s sheath dress, in contrast, through its shape and detailing, presses the body in on itself, promising nothing more than shrinking of the person within it. A woman wearing this dress will invite attention and request approval, and she will never take up an inch more physical space than absolutely necessary.                                                                           rnc-dress

Lagenlook aggressively demands that the viewer pay attention and then deflects that attention. Stein is posed for the viewer but her clothing rejects the premise that the viewer has any right to judge anything. She is not there to be commented upon. Stein will, in her own good time, shift her sight onto the viewer, and it will be she who will issue a judgement.

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4 thoughts on “You can’t unsee me: Lagenlook as resistance

  1. I love what you’re discussing in this blog. Curious about where you would see a designer like Gudrun Sjoden in this world. She clearly rejects slim lines and embraces layered, large silhouettes, but the colors are far from earth tones – jewel tones that make the wearer even larger than the cut of the clothes themselves.

    • And in the NYTimes in 2013, Alexandra Jacobs wrote a scathing, biting, mean-spirited analysis of that aesthetic (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/fashion/critical-shopper-gudrun-sjoden-in-soho.html). She argued Sjoden took women, especially middle-aged women, back to a pre-sexualized age. Well. For one thing, Jacobs’ analysis struck me as almost defiantly western in outlook — I think in many non-western cultures, the idea of wearing oversized, bright colors and layers, of not always focusing on revealing parts of the body, isn’t so odd. I do think that Sjoden is limited in her abilities — it often feels like there’s a love of the patterns and colors, but the lack of being able to work the fabric with its patterns around the human form leads to those boxy tops, cut-out cookie pants, etc. I think Eileen Fisher, in the same price range, does something in the middle: lack of pattern, high end fabrics, and shapes that allude to the body underneath in interesting ways (like the effort to make crop sweaters a thing from the Fisher line for the past 2-3 seasons.

  2. I love this article, and the lagenlook. However, I can’t resist the opportunity to attempt to reach the woman who would love my jewelry with her lagenlook. Some of the jewelry that Frankie wears is handmade, but a lot is manufactured. My jewelry is wabi sabi, deconstructed, distressed, fire patina, and one of a kind. www roxylentz dot com

  3. Pingback: Mean girls | Style of Resistance

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