‘A woman is more dangerous than a loaded gun.’ This is the credo of the jewelry and accessory label She Has A Gun. Designer Amy Barrett-Jones states that the symbol of a gun equals power. She translates it to her jewelry pieces who she feels embody empowerment, individuality and strength. Her label wants to create a network of independent, successful and powerful women. Her pieces are soft, elegant with malevolent armor.
It has been said that the status of fashion is highly ambiguous: we can simultaneously have a negative and a positive attitude towards fashion. Fashion entails differentiation through innovation, and this innovation goes against uniformity. Using actual fake gun handbags such as the Tommy Gun Purse (quick, there are only two left on Amazon) or wearing small earrings with gold colt handguns can be seen as an statement. After all, fashion is a form of non-verbal communication. Is the Tommy Gun Purse a statement of resistance against the conformity of fashion or is it a scream for attention? What draws us to danger in clothes?
The visibility of weapons in fashion is not new. On Etsy you can buy cute necklaces with real working mini switchblades. It is not hard to find jewelry based on the premise of combining beauty and self defense.
The premise of fashionable weaponry (and weaponized fashion) goes beyond novelty jewelry. The Amsterdam based designer Ted Noten made himself visible with his conceptual pieces such as a Prada bag emblazed with a gold plated gun and the Chanel 001 gun.
The Chanel bag was shaped as an 3d printed nylon gun and doubled as a make-up bag which conceals lip gloss, gold toothpick, antique hairpin, a small vial of perfume, usb flash drive, medicine compartment, and a gold bar. Noten started a project Design Against Crime to persuade people to give up their guns in return for a work of art. While doing research for The Pistol Saints Noten noticed that most people would say that wearing a gun makes them feel more secure. Hence, he tried to capture the ‘soul of the gun’ in pieces of jewelry. The Pistol Saints contains twelve golden brooches with imprints of a gun. Noten states that he doesn’t care if his work is wearable or not. He sees his designs as objects and not necessarily as accessories. Nevertheless, he didn’t object when his handbag Lady K 6-7 was featured in the video clip Free by Natalia Kills.
If fashion is armor for your way of life, Vlieger&Vandam make it aggressive and ironic all at once with their Guardian Angel. This is a handbag with the relief of a gun or knife. Now exhibited in Hendrikje Museum for Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, the design was created as ironic commentary on the idea that it was dangerous in the street without a guardian. Hence the explicit use of the shape of a knife or a gun on the bag. In their eyes carriers of the Guardian Angel made a statement about (in) security. The Guardian Angel is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Fashion as art, indeed.
All things considered, you can make a distinction between the ambiguity and ambivalence in fashion’s relationship with weapons. Ambiguity is the existence of multiple possibilities, while ambivalence implies the existence of contradictions. We’re made to feel ambivalent about violence because we feel helpless to stop it, because these constructs are mostly intangible to us if we’re lucky. Violence is for the movies, mostly. One would hope. Fashion lets us mediate the paradox that violence is too often unavoidable, at a personal level and a public one. It is the balance between ambivalence and our helpless complicity. Fashion is a grey space of possibilities that we define by personal choice: we all have our own messages to send using other people’s tools.
Some fashion designers send out a clear message. Jessica Mindich is a jewelry designer who, with her company Jewelry for a Cause, recycles pistols, rifles and shotguns into a line of sleek bangle bracelets. One fifth of her proceeds will go directly to the gun buyback program in Newark. Her message is short and clear: “[It is] a protest against illegal guns and what they’re doing to America.” Mindich doesn’t stand alone. Ken and Dana Design in New York have a collection of necklaces and rings made from recycled gun parts, and the organization Fonderie 47 makes high-end jewelry out of AK47s confiscated in the Congo.
Fashion is a system where social relations and positions can be expressed, but at the same time be acknowledged and recorded, naturalized and so reproduced time and time again. The construction of ‘woman’ is often predetermined and ready-made. These values and social positions are symbolically expressed and communicated through fashion – don’t wear this after a certain age, don’t wear anything too tight, don’t be too revealing, don’t try too hard. Don’t, don’t, don’t. These are cultural values; yet they are presented as naturally correct. In the end, as I wrote in the beginning — refinement in style is highly valued. It is the end goal. It means you are finished – a polished project, completed and tamed. It thus becomes more interesting then when you bring out the big guns… even if it’s a sartorial metaphor.
We can show with our style that we disagree with the binary oppositions of masculinity versus femininity. Thus, one can view an image through fashion in a hyperbolic way to criticize it and to draw attention. Because this is the power of fashion: it permits self-referential critique. Woman handling weapons is for some a contradicting image, but using fashion one may react against the dominant image in our society of the perfect woman and the idyll that has been created with the feminine traits of the modern woman e.g. the gentle, elegant and ‘soft’ lady. Fashion makes it possible to make us attentive to the destructive side of these ideals. Women and violence are often depicted in a narrative that views violence as an aberration of the ‘standard’ feminine traits. As a result, women are portrayed as irrational and their actions labeled as a deviation to “the way women should behave”. Fashion allows us to deliver legitimized criticism on the infrastructure of society and the social constructs that are always reproduced. Wearing a piece of jewelry with a gun or a knife is not a promotion of violence. It actually shows a grey area and it accentuates the contrast between the normalized feminine traits versus violence.
Jennifer Craik once wrote: ‘Fashion statements appear to mark a moment, but the fashioned body is never secure or fixed’. Fashion is an important means of expression and mediation of individual and social ambivalences and ambiguities. Through fashion we can question the prevailing socio-cultural constructs. In other words: fashion can question the established values and norms in society and become resistant. The fascination of the contrast of femininity and violence within the fashion world never fades. The mere reason is that fashion can wake us up out of the ‘norm’ and shake our seemingly unwavering foundations. Fashion can make us doubt ourselves and our environment, our beliefs and values. Fashion is both a means of expression of this doubt as a means of generating these doubts. Fashion offers a medium to express itself, contradictory and ambivalent feelings and tensions are inherent to fashion. Fashion can be uncomfortable, irrational and downright impractical. How long women will wear jewelry pieces, actual fake gun handbags or tote bags with guns, knives or cuffs remains to be seen.
In any case, it does bring a new meaning to dressed to kill.