I suggest a uniform, a national costume, or whatever you want to call it … I know of nothing that would be more advantageous as the introduction of a costume in which dressed, fit and pleased everybody, but which was still inexpensive.
— A.Z. (1790)1
The New York-based unisex label Telfar is often described as the new radical interloper of the mainstream. Working backwards in time to understand this claim, I would like to offer a brief preamble to suggest the modern sartorial mainstream through the dialectics of fashion and uniform. In his 1944 MoMA exhibition “Are Clothes Modern?”, Bernard Rudofsky ridiculed the criminality of fashion and its spurious treatment of the modern citizen. An enlightened body contorted into abstract doppelgängers, restrained and subjugated by the mercurial irrationality of “vogue,” equally possessed by the creed of conspicuous consumption. Rudofsky, like so many other critics of consumer culture, understood fashion as the apotheosis of a sign detached from reality. The dozens of pockets on the men’s suit or the jeopardous heels of the women’s shoe were absurd rituals to be mistrusted. Included in his assessment of dress reformation were gender and modesty, two superstitious impositions for real modernization. Rudofsky neatly illustrates this through the humble button: from whatever Neolithic past the button emerged, its mysticism persists in industrial 20th-century society, in that its orientation on a shirt, either fastened from left or right, determines the gender of the cloth. The 1940s development of the slide fastener (what we now know as the zipper) abandoned the requirement for overlap—and with it, the imputation of sex. It was this pursuit to efface ornament and illogical frill, even that of the one-inch button tab, which lay the ability to realign fashion from an applied art to an ethical zero-point. The promise of this modernist fashion is envisaged in the design theory of Adolf Loos, the psychology of John Flügel and the social realism of Russian Constructivism. Fashion’s finality, Rudofsky understood, must be the functional uniform: seamless and mobile, genderless and utopian.