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Fashionable Attractions: Fashion Parades in Popular Entertainment from Lady Duff-Gordon to Lady Gaga

Maura Edmond

In March 2010 the music video for Lady Gaga's 'Telephone' was released with much fanfare. The song also features Beyoncé, who joins Gaga in the nine-minute clip in which the two singers embark on a gleeful murder spree laden with pop culture references. The clip features no less than nine product placements, most of which were paid (Miracle Whip), or were the result of Lady Gaga's existing marketing partnerships (Virgin Mobile). The video is also, of course, an advertisement for Gaga's (and Beyoncé's) singles, albums, concert tickets and other merchandising. Between them, the duo undertake some sixteen costume changes, and subsequent online discussions of the video often named (and celebrated) the fashion brands responsible for the different looks. Academic writing on the relationship between cinema and fashion has often paid close attention to the use of synergistic industrial practices like cross promotion; product placement; and celebrity endorsement (see Eckhert 1990). Likewise music videos have regularly been dismissed as purely promotional content, designed to sell records, tickets and a range of interrelated lifestyle commodities (see Morse 1986). With its designer labels and commercial sponsorships 'Telephone' is a glorious capitalist spectacle which seems, at least at first glance, to demonstrate much of the existing theory about both music videos and the role of fashion in popular entertainment. On closer inspection though, none of the fashion brands in 'Telephone' were paid placements, and each of the outfits is sufficiently excessive, revealing and absurd as to render it largely unwearable. So this article considers whether the costumes in 'Telephone', which received so much attention in the weeks following the video's release, might be doing something more complex than simply advertising. Specifically, the article reconsiders the kinds of visual pleasure offered by elaborate displays of designer outfits and fabulous costumes, and whether fashion might sometimes function as a kind of attraction. Looking to the history of fashion spectacles in popular entertainment, I argue that as the elite, salon fashion parade was incorporated into the popular stage and screen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it underwent a number of important changes. In particular, it was remediated to suit the 'more bang for your buck' logic that underpinned the popular entertainment traditions of the day: spectacular, climactic, kaleidoscopic, exhibitionist, and astonishing. Moreover, I argue that it is this logic that continues to inform, in part, the sartorial spectacle found in music videos like 'Telephone', and in so many other contemporary entertainments.

In the mid nineteenth century, fashion houses in Paris and London began to develop increasingly elaborate means of promoting their creations. Marketing strategies included employing models to parade outfits for small gatherings of clientele, and later sending models or fashion-forward society women to the races and other high-profile events in a dressmaker's (often most audacious) outfits (Evans 2001: 274). The more organised fashion show emerged between the 1890s and 1910s, when designers like Lady Lucy Duff Gordon (known as 'Lucile') and Paul Poiret developed theatricalised versions of the salon showing, incorporating loose scenarios, music and dance routines (Evans 2001: 274-7). At the same time, the 'fashion-play' or 'society drama' featuring lead actresses in an assortment of lavish, couture gowns were also popular. The trend for contemporary costuming was soon incorporated into musical-comedy, vaudeville theatre and early cinema, which in turn introduced current fashions to much larger and much more diverse audiences. From the 1890s, the fashion show could readily be found, in some form or another, in the musical-comedy, vaudeville show, nightclub revue, burlesque show and eventually early film programs. All these formats were involved in the remediation of the salon fashion show; they also all belong to the popular entertainment traditions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which - like the fairground attraction, popular museum and magic theatre - were defined by an 'aesthetic of attractions', a term taken from Tom Gunning's work on pre-1908 cinema (1995). My use of the term 'attractions' draws on the characteristics commonly attributed to popular entertainments at the turn of the last century, not only by Gunning, but also by André Gaudreault (2001), as well as Richard Dyer's discussions of light entertainment (2002), and in particular Henry Jenkin's (1992) definition of the 'vaudeville aesthetic'. In contrast to the closed, linear, cause-and-effect logic of classical narrative traditions, the aesthetic of attractions emphasised brevity, variety, visual shocks and stimulation, and an exhibitionist address. Very little, however, has been written on how presentations of fashion in popular entertainment might have been shaped by this 'aesthetic of attractions', and what lingering significance this might have had on contemporary entertainments, which is what the remainder of this article deals with.

Between Gawking and Shopping

Academic writing on fashion in popular culture has paid particular attention to consumerism; capitalist spectacle; and the increasing role that women and their bodies play in such spectacles (see in particular the articles by Eckert, Allen and Herzog in Fabrications: Costume and the Female Body 1990). It is not surprising that discourses of gender and consumer culture have dominated the discussions. There is, after all, a long history of cross promotion and commercial tie-ins between films, theatre shows, stars, designers and department stores. More generally there are important continuities between the act of shopping and the act of spectatorship, between window displays and cinema screens (see Friedberg 1993). As a result, however, writing on the role of fashion in entertainment has not afforded fashion displays the same complexity or generosity of interpretations that other popular spectacles - musical numbers, action sequences, special effects, on-screen scenes of sex, violence and horror - have received (notable exceptions include Bruzzi 1997 and Berry 2000). While commerce can play a very important role in popular entertainment's use of fashion, there is often a noteworthy contradiction between wearable and affordable commodities on the one hand, and the excessive, expressive, expensive and otherwise unattainable and unwearable fashions that are actually on display.

Popularised fashion parades, which no longer addressed an elite salon audience of potential buyers but rather a large and even mass audience of spectators, often presented outfits that were noticeably removed from contemporary women's fashion in several ways. Firstly, early adaptations of the fashion parade to suit popular formats were frequently associated with fantasy themes, historical genres and other over-the-top costuming which seemed in conflict with a commercial agenda for selling frocks. London designer Lady Duff Gordon ('Lucile') is an important figure in the history of modern fashion, fashion marketing and importantly, in the popularisation of the fashion parade and its incorporation into Broadway and vaudeville theatre. Integral to Lucile's fashion brand were senses of fantasy and the exotic. She would, for example, give her models more exotic and glamorous names so that 'Susan' became 'Gamela' (Duff Gordon 1932: 76-77). The couture sold through Lucile's fashion house, with loose undergarments and layers of fabric, was certainly luxurious and sensual. The costume designs she created for the Ziegfield Follies in the 1910s, however, included glamorous versions of Egyptian queens and harem girls and were clearly in the realm of make-believe. In the 1930s, Hollywood became expressly interested in the commercial potential of fashion and there were close links between couture and costume designing (see Bruzzi 1997: 4-7), as there had been on the popular stage in the 1910s. However, as Berry notes, this was also accompanied by a trend for historical epics and the vaudeville-style films of Mae West or Marlene Dietrich. With costumes that were flamboyant or anachronistic or both, films like Blonde Venus (1932) or Mary of Scotland (1936) seemed entirely at odds with "Hollywood's increasing emphasis on 'wearable' styles that could be promoted through tie-ins and fashion publicity" (Berry 2000: 47-8). Moreover, even those films that did incorporate more realistic and contemporary costumes were still out of reach (except as inspiration) to most of the women watching. Few in the audience of a 1930s film screening could afford the original gowns, or even the cheaper department store knock-offs (Berry 2000: 55). For these reasons, Berry argues, fashion parades in films need to be thought of as more than just an advertisement for clothing, or a convenient commercial tie-in but rather as "a performance of fashion-as-spectacle" (2000: 56).

Secondly, fashion displays in popular entertainment from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century sometimes barely resembled clothing. Costumes could be so removed from everyday women's clothing that they existed instead in the realm of the sensuous, abstract and spectacular. In the Lumière Brothers' Vue Lumière No 765 - Danse Serpentine (1896), a dancer performs one of the routines made famous by well-known vaudeville dancer Loïe Fuller (the dancer's identity is contentious). The film has been tinted to imitate the colourful costume transformations (created by stage lighting and phosphorous designs painted onto her costume) that took place during live performances of Fuller's dances. Together, the unrealistic colour tinting and the fantastic metamorphosis of the dancer's outfit into spectacular, abstract swirling shapes inspire wonder and admiration: a costume becomes a special effect. This transformation of costuming into visual abstractions also occurs in many fashion newsreels from the 1910s and 1920s, as Hanssen has already noted; close ups of hats, shoes, legs, stockings, embroidery and fabric textures were sometimes coloured and presented to become patterns and shapes, serving sensual rather than narrative or instructional functions (2009: 116). These can both be seen as precursors to Busby Berkeley's transformations of costumes and bodies into pure visual attractions. The Shadow Waltz number from Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), for example, features a chorus girl performance in which the women are all dressed in identical gowns with a skirt that has several hooped tiers. As the dancers move, their skirts become abstract shapes - circles, cones, and ellipses - much like the large sleeves attached to bamboo rods in Fuller's serpentine dance costume did. In all these examples, fashion is used in unrealistic and visually exciting ways. Outfits are transformed into views to be looked at, into abstract patterns to be admired more than commodities to be desired.

Finally, from the 1890s there was a large popular interest in spectacular fashions (both costumes and couture creations) and a growing trend towards using sartorial spectacle as one of, if not the, major drawcard for audiences. The clearest example of this is the development of showgirl, calendar girl, and chorus girl traditions, with their emphasis on an abundance of women in beautiful and outré outfits. The very successful 1899 musical-comedy Floradora climaxes with a double sextet number, 'Tell Me Pretty Maiden', featuring six similarly sized and similarly dressed 'Floradora Girls', a trope that became increasingly popular in the early part of the twentieth century. By 1905 this trope had already become commonplace:

the Theatre Magazine observed that almost every musical-comedy 'held as a pièce de resistance a number of stunning model dresses, to be exhibited upon as many stunning models at just the precise moment that a legitimate play would present a big climax'(cited in Schweitzer 2009: 188).

Musical revues like the Ziegfeld Follies also spent huge sums of money on costuming in an effort to make the most of this popular interest in fashion, including hiring Lucile to create the gowns for their showgirls and chorus girls. Indeed, the very premise of a 'showgirl' - who need not be any good at singing or dancing but simply 'showing' - demonstrates what an important drawcard the display of spectacular fashions (and beautiful bodies) had become. In addition to its musicals, Hollywood also made a string of fashion-themed films and films which featured runway shows, including several black and white films which used exciting new Technicolour technologies to colour the fashion parade scenes. One example of this is the ten-minute Technicolour fashion parade of Adrian's flamboyant designs in The Women, an otherwise black and white film. In this scene the characters sit with the other members of the onscreen audience and an announcer introduces the upcoming Technicolour sequence self-consciously as "a glimpse into the future". We are presented with a black and white view of a proscenium arch, behind which sits an audience who are facing away from the film spectator. This onscreen audience watches another proscenium arch and finally another set of curtains, this time in Technicolour, as the runway show begins. The on-screen announcer commands our attention and the ensuing runway scene is framed (quite literally) as the film's spectacular 'ta da!' moment.

Lady Gaga, Telephone from Jonas Ã…kerlund Film on Vimeo.

To return to more contemporary examples and the 'Telephone' clip in particular, we can clearly see echoes of the separation of fashion from 'wearable' or realistic contemporary women's fashions. As in the 1930s, so much recent 'frock porn' is historical - see for example Bright Star (2009) or Marie Antoinette (2006). Or it emphasises high-end labels and haute couture - such as the Vivienne Westwood wedding dress from the first Sex and the City film (2008). Likewise the 'Telephone' music video demonstrates a similar contradiction between costume and commodity. Beyoncé has her own affordable and wearable fashion label - House of Deréon - but she doesn't model it in the 'Telephone' clip or apparently any of her other music videos. Instead the spectacular outfits in 'Telephone' are bespoke pieces created by couturiers, vintage couture pieces, or costumes created by the 'Haus of Gaga' art department. The combination of one-off couture designs and in-house costumes is important for two reasons. Firstly, it makes the fashion in 'Telephone' difficult if not impossible to replicate for the majority of viewers. Secondly, while Bruzzi (1997) argues that it is important to recognise the distinction between couture and costume designs, Lady Gaga's videos conspicuously, and I would argue deliberately, conflate the two. No distinction is made in the clip between actual fashions made by commercial couturiers (like Beyoncé's yellow dress by Atsuko Kudo), and the in-house costumes (such as the studded leather lingerie). Both are treated equally in terms of screen time and any hierarchies of presentation. The 'Telephone' clip equates a Thierry Mugler dress or Viktor & Rolf jumpsuit with costumes made from plastic tape, Coke cans and paper maché. To reuse the phrase Berry applied to fashion films of the 1930s, this is 'performance of fashion-as-spectacle' more than it is a commercial display.

The outfits in 'Telephone' are not ever transformed into the kind of abstract patterns and shapes described in earlier examples, like the Busby Berkeley musicals, serpentine dances, or early fashion film reels. Nonetheless a good deal of attention is paid to the graphic and sensory spectacle of the outfits. Indeed it is difficult to describe many of the outfits as actual clothing, as they are so removed from functional, wearable fashion. Some, like the strips of yellow police 'caution' tape, the wrap made of heavy chains and a visor of lit cigarettes, are affective and visually dramatic 'views' more than they are outfits - hence the tendency among audiences to describe the different ensembles worn in the video not as fashion, clothing or costumes but as 'looks'. And these looks form one of, if not the primary drawcard for the 'Telephone' music video. 'Telephone' received considerable media coverage, much of which was dedicated to providing summaries of the 'looks' contained in the music video. Alongside stills from the clip, these 'look books' gave descriptions of the designers and fashion labels responsible for each of the outfits; offered interpretations of the trends sported by Gaga and Beyoncé ('statement hats'); or humorously described the outrageous outfits. It is a type of response that seems to have been anticipated and encouraged by the marketing for the clip. All the promotional stills released as teasers prior to the video's debut emphasised the different looks Gaga wore, which in turn framed much of the subsequent media coverage. An online MTV news post about the teaser photos, for example, describes them entirely in terms of Lady Gaga's outfits: "Gaga is seen talking on a pay phone with soda can rollers in her hair, much makeup and a heavily studded leather jacket" (Vena 2010: np). This practice (the examination and discussion of the 'looks') shows how central fashion is to the enjoyment of 'Telephone' as popular spectacle.

While department stores have become far more affordable than they were at the end of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century, the discrepancy between the fashion that an audience can reasonably access and the fashion actually on display is still profoundly evident in a clip like 'Telephone', and indeed many other music videos and contemporary entertainments. The costumes and couture designs are often historical or fantastic; or, they are flamboyant, revealing and outrageous as to be almost entirely removed from contemporary women's fashions. They are sometimes presented less as outfits than as 'views' or 'looks' to be admired and delighted by. They are often one-off creations, or so expensive and exclusive that they are inaccessible to the vast majority of the audience. Regardless, fashion displays remain profoundly important to the enjoyment of certain popular entertainments, which suggests that audiences of popular fashion spectacles are much more likely to be gawking than to be window-shopping.

Quick-Changes and Magical Transformations

Although fashion parades are now usually no more than twenty minutes in length, the first fashion shows could be much longer, like the epic three-hour parades that Lady Duff Gordon staged in New York (Evans 2001: 279). When Lucile's fashion parade-come-stage-drama-come-charity-gala Fleurette's Dream at Peronne was adapted for a vaudeville tour on the Keith circuit, it was cut from its original two and a half hours to less than thirty minutes in order to suit the speed, variety and modular structure demanded by the vaudeville playbill. The result, said Lucile, was "sixty-eight dresses in twenty-eight minutes" or more than one new gown every thirty seconds (Duff Gordon 1932: 239). The edited version of Fleurette's Dream was in keeping with existing vaudeville acts by female performers, which often included rapid outfit changes. According to Schweitzer, the typical female vaudeville performer employed three songs and three outfits, while "headliners on the big-time circuit made as many as seven or eight changes for each twenty-minute appearance" (2009: 126). The increase in speed and variety can also be seen in the changes that occurred between the elite salon fashion shows and 'fashion plays', and the more middle-class department store parades that had become popular in the 1890s. Open to the public rather than invited clientele, department store fashion shows became a popular and cheaper alternative to the 'legitimate' theatre (Schweitzer 2009: 179). In addition to being more affordable, they also dispensed with the pretence of a narrative and got on with the business of showcasing fashions: "Audiences at a Broadway society drama might see twenty or thirty different ensembles in a three hour period; at a department store fashion show they could see twice as many if not more outfits in half the time" (Schweitzer 2009: 179). The increased pacing and variety of looks that characterised the vaudeville and department store fashion parades can also be seen in fashion newsreels from the time, and in the runway scenes and calendar girl numbers from many Hollywood films in which women modelled numerous and dramatically different looks, in a brief, often modular, scene. While actual fashion parades may not have sped up until the 1960s, the fashion show as it was adapted for popular formats clearly did. As it moved from the salon to the department store, the vaudeville stage and later the screen, the runway show began to incorporate the faster, varied, 'more bang for your buck' entertainment logic of a popular attraction.

The rapid alternation of many different looks was not simply about achieving a fast-paced and heterogeneous performance; the act of changing outfits was also incorporated as a demonstration of a performer's skill. Critics applauded performers who could cram as many costume changes into as short a time as possible, says Schweitzer, because regular costume changes demonstrated versatility on the part of the performer - in terms of the variety of looks they could successfully adapt but also the skill with which they could transform from one to another (2009: 126). An extreme variation of this style of performance was the 'quick-change act' in which individual artists would transform their looks strikingly, quickly, smoothly and often. Schweitzer posits the quick-change act and its clever transformations as 'magic demonstrations', which "urged audiences to delight in the skill of the performer, to watch for gaps or slips in the execution" (2009: 129). Indeed contemporary quick-change artists like Arturo Brachetti are typically categorised as magicians or illusionists. Audiences and critics were delighted by the speed and diversity of a performer's costume changes, not just the fact of their costume changes. In this way, dramatic outfit changes became not only a demonstration of versatility, but of virtuosity. In other words, in its move from the salon to the popular stage, the fashion parade was not only reworked to accommodate the frenetic pace and heterogeneity preferred by the vaudeville format, but it was reworked to accommodate vaudeville's competitive 'wow' logic as well.

With its sixteen diverse costume changes in nine minutes, from studded lingerie to leopard print chauffeur drag, the 'Telephone' clip shares much in common with the 'more bang for your buck' logic of the vaudeville stage, and in particular its quick-change acts. Although Gaga is an extreme example, numerous female performers in contemporary music videos change on average three to four times in a single clip, sometimes many more. This rapid rotation of outfits can also be found in the many shopping or makeover scenes in contemporary Hollywood films in which characters (usually female) adopt a variety of looks in a very short period. In the first Sex and the City movie Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her cohorts transform Carrie's walk-in wardrobe into a runway. They model nine wildly different but equally over-the-top outfits in two minutes to the tune of 'Walk This Way', by Aerosmith and Run DMC. In Pretty Woman (1990), the well-known shopping montage has Vivian (Julia Roberts) changing outfits and looks seven times in under a minute to Roy Orbison's 'Pretty Woman'. It is a familiar montage trope and one that can also be found in scores of other films, especially those with fashion themes, including Clueless (1995), Marie Antoinette (2006) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Importantly, as with music videos, the bulk of these scenes are accompanied by a pop song that subsumes almost all diegetic sound, as well as faster and non-continuous editing. The effect is to position music videos and these Hollywood quick-change scenes as far removed from a classical narrative paradigm. Without a narrative to motivate or require costume changes, the outfits are free to perform a spectacular rather than narrative or functional role.

In music videos and in the shopping/runway/makeover montages of contemporary film and television, the quick and plentiful outfit changes function as a demonstration of virtuosity, much like the quick-change act from a century earlier. The diversity of fashions on display and the speed with which performers change between them, solicit the audience's delight and wonder at the skill with which a performer can dramatically transform her (and occasionally his) appearance. However, Schweitzer argues that the quick-change act provided entertainment because of the way costumes were changed, but ultimately the emphasis was on "contemplat[ing] 'the methods of transformation' rather than the implications of the transformation for those watching" (2009: 129). In other words, audiences were not meant to think about the significance of the kind of identity play undertaken in a quick-change act (cross-dressing, for example), so much as enjoy it as a magic demonstration. By contrast, in the 'Telephone' clip it seems as if we are being asked to acknowledge each of the 'looks' as self-consciously stylised and playful. Most of the outfits are cartoonishly overblown or perverted variations of different pop culture gender stereotypes - the beautiful female crime scene corpse, the femme fatale, Wonder Woman, diner waitress, lesbian prisoner and so on. It is the specificity of the 'looks' that the duo alternate between that asks us to contemplate the implications of their transformations. Evans has argued that the runway's role as a space of artifice and theatricality has not been properly acknowledged. She writes, "to understand the fashion show solely as symptom of the objectification of women is to miss its complexity, for the fluid and theatrical space of the catwalk simultaneously permits the modelling of gendered identity as a cultural construct" (Evans 2001: 273). Like the runway fashion show, the quick-change act, at least in its contemporary manifestation, also presents a space for the construction and performance of flexible and multiple gendered identities, which can be easily adopted, readily manipulated and even magically transformed.

While we congratulate Beyoncé and Gaga for the variety of wild transformations they can successfully undertake, the 'magic' of the live quick-change act that Schweitzer describes does not carry over into the pre-recorded and edited transformations found in the 'quick-changes' of film and television. Instead, the magical act of transformation begins to be conducted more by media technologies and less by the individual performer. In the serpentine dances, the colourful transformations of the costumes both on stage and on screen were undertaken by innovative technologies: stage lighting and colour tinting. In the film Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), for example, an invisible cut magically transforms the dancers' costumes from black to white (Berry 2000: 49). Editing is also used to playfully speed up the costume changes in films like Pretty Woman, Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada. The music video for Jennifer Lopez's 'Get Right' uses clever editing to enable Lopez to perform as nine personalities all occupying the same diegetic space. In other recent music videos, these magical metamorphoses between different looks and outfits have been updated to incorporate digital special effects. Outkast's 'Hey Ya' and Erykah Badu's 'Honey' both employ digital post-production effects to create the impossible illusion that the performers are wearing many different looks simultaneously. This begins to shift the delight in the quick-change from the appeal of what Neil Harris terms 'the operational aesthetic' to what Gunning describes as 'an aesthetic of astonishment' (Harris 1973, Gunning 1995). Although live quick-change acts are still popular - in the stage performances of illusionists like Arturo Brachetti or more commonly in the stage performances of pop stars like Lady Gaga - more often the clever transformation between one look to another is a feat undertaken by media technologies. As the fashion show was incorporated into popular entertainments, it was remediated not only to accommodate the speedy, varied and climactic structure demanded by the popular attractions tradition; it has also incorporated the technological virtuosity and aesthetic of astonishment that is integral to the attractions format as well.

Between Exhibitionism and To-Be-Looked-At-Ness

From a very early stage the popularised fashion parade began to solicit heterosexual male audiences through the use of suggestion, double entendres, risqué outfits and beautiful models. As Evans describes, in the 1890s as the salon fashion show became more theatrical it also became more self-consciously titillating - revealing a change in the spectators' presumed gender. Evans writes: "As the fashion show became theatricalised by Lucile and Poiret, the gaze that was solicited shifted from an exclusively female form of consumption to a male gaze that rested, judging from contemporary accounts, as much on the mannequin as on her dress" (2001: 277). In addition to looser undergarments and otherwise 'immoral dressing', Lucile would give her gowns patently suggestive titles ('The Sighing Sound of Lips Unsatisfied' or 'A Frenzied Song of Amorous Things') in order to create a sexually charged atmosphere (Duff Gordon 1932: 65-77). Similarly, on the popular stage and screen the fashion show combined spectacular gowns with the flesh-flashing qualities of the beauty pageant, burlesque show, nightclub revue, corps de ballet and chorus girl acts that were also popular at the time. For some writers, these attempts to cater to male audiences through sexual titillation and beautiful models positioned the women as commodities, more so than their clothes. Schweitzer, for example, argues that the models, showgirls, chorus girls and calendar girls, with their matching ensembles and mechanical on-stage performances, had the appearance of mass manufactured commodities available for sale or exchange (2009: 191). The women were also often likened to livestock (chicks, broilers and birds), which also framed them as commodities to be bought and traded (Glenn 2000: 191). So did the industrial connotations of the term 'model' - which once referred to the specific design of dress, but quickly came to describe the women wearing them. Echoing Laura Mulvey, Schweitzer argues the revue fashion show encouraged scopophilic male spectatorship and "thus facilitated the production of modern male subjectivity" (2009: 191). The popularised fashion parade, however, seems an unlikely place to identify scopophilic pleasures because, to use Mulvey's turn of phrase, what is seen is so manifestly shown (1999: 835). How can a 'showgirl', whose primary task is to show and be seen, be subjected to the controlling and scopophilic gaze of a peeping tom?

I finish this article with some observations on the complex role that gender has historically played in the formation and function of fashion as a popular attraction, and how that might provide a context for thinking about the risqué displays of flesh and frocks in contemporary entertainments like the 'Telephone' clip. Firstly, parading fashions is a fundamentally self-conscious style of performance. Modelling is premised on an act of display for the benefit of an acknowledged audience. In the popularised fashion parade, as on the runway, the women would often pause in a sculptural S-curve, use flamboyant actions to demonstrate features of the outfits, and turn their heads dramatically - movements that were gestural rather than realistic or natural. On screen, the models would often also look directly, or almost directly, at the camera (and by proxy the audience). Popular attractions are defined by their direct address to the audience, not just in terms of eye-contact, but more broadly an exhibitionist display and an "energy [that] moves outward towards an acknowledged spectator rather than inward towards the character-based situations essential to classical narrative" (Gunning 2006: 384). They are also defined by the active solicitation of audience reactions - laughter, gasps and applause - in a way that privileges a solidary mode of consumption, as distinct from the solitary voyeurism of classical Hollywood cinema (Gaudreault and Châteauvert 2001: 190). The entertainment formats which have readily incorporated the fashion parade - vaudeville shows, night club revues, beauty pageants, burlesque routines, musical-comedy, the cinema of attractions, the musical numbers, runway scenes and fashion-themed montages of Hollywood cinema, and more recently the music video and staged pop performances - all belong to the popular attractions tradition; a tradition defined by a level of self-conscious exhibitionism and public address that is largely irreconcilable with a voyeuristic spectatorship.

Secondly, although male audiences have been solicited, the popular fashion show is a form of attraction whose target audience has historically been acknowledged as specifically, and at times exclusively, female. Private salon showings were initially only for invited female clients, while the vaudeville and department store fashion parades that came later used fashion expressly for the purpose of luring 'respectable' female audiences, and more generally to help distance themselves from the rowdy, masculine tavern and saloon entertainment of old. Early film exhibitors followed the vaudeville theatre's lead in petitioning female audiences. Berry describes one 1910 article from Moving Picture Word which recommended that the "theatrical uses of fashion and costume for publicity be emulated by the film industry in order to attract the 'refined' women who attended stage productions to see the gowns" (2000: 54). As Bruzzi argues, fashion "is marketed and consumed in a gender-specific way", men read men's fashion magazines and women read women's (1997: 23). Referring to presentations of fashion in film, Bruzzi says that sometimes discourses of fashion actively exclude men, or a fascination with clothes makes a women fussy and undesirable to men, or the clothes are 'defiantly unsensuous' (1997: 19-25). All of which makes the assumption that women are always dressing up for men (be they male characters or audience members) mistaken. Bruzzi's observations hold especially true for the 'Telephone' clip. The women in the video are interested in each other. The only male character is a boorish murder victim who does not admire Beyoncé, heaving in a plastic, yellow fetish dress, but rather a comparatively plain girl in denim shorts and cotton shirt. Drawing on Richard Dyer's observations, Herzog argues that certain 'girlie', tactile materials - 'silk, velvet, fur, feathers, chiffon and taffeta' - connote commercial sex and sexual display (1990: 156). Many of the outfits in 'Telephone' are also extremely tactile, but in aggressive, 'defiantly unsensuous' and wholly 'un-girlie' ways: masses of studded leather, plastic, vinyl, paper maché and metal, not to mention many sharp angles and edges. Beyoncé and Lady Gaga may have been on display in a series of flamboyant and very revealing outfits, but that does not automatically equate to sexual display or a display for a male gaze. While many fashion spectacles, with their beautiful and beautifully dressed models, may sometimes cater to the eyes of 'tired business men', they often defiantly reject such a gaze, while their address to female audiences, and the role of the fashions as the primary attraction 'to-be-looked-at', have remained integral.

For all their so-called 'MTV aesthetics', music videos like 'Telephone' and the runway, shopping and makeover scenes of contemporary cinema often present current fashions in ways that are doggedly old-fashioned. They continue to employ many of the same tactics that defined the popularisation of the fashion parade and its initial incorporation into formats like the vaudeville theatre, musical comedy and Hollywood film from around a century earlier. The outfits are variously fantastic, excessive, impractical, expensive and exclusive, all of which makes them largely 'unwearable'. At times they become spectacular, sensorial 'views' and 'looks' more than actual items of clothing meant to be bought or emulated. Meanwhile, the rapid alternation of different looks they deploy has often emphasised not so much the individual outfits worn, but the amusing, playful, self-conscious and at times even 'magical' transformations between them. Together, this presentation of fashion positions the audience as more of a spectator and less a potential consumer, a gawker rather than a shopper, and ultimately, the fashions as attractions more than commodities. Finally, reconsidering contemporary fashion spectacles in relation to their historical predecessors and an 'aesthetic of attractions' also has the unexpected result of calling into question some of the assumptions we make about whom the women are dressing up for and why, what precisely is being framed 'to-be-looked-at', and what visual pleasures are offered by a beautiful woman in a beautiful dress (or indeed, plastic telephone hat and paper maché shoes).


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