Fashion went too far during Milan’s Fashion Week this past September. At the event, Gucci designer Alessandro Michele displayed his line of all-white uniforms. The problem with this is that many of the looks were high-couture representations of straitjackets.
Historically, straitjackets have been used to confine the arms of a prisoner or mental patient who is seen as a violent risk to themselves or others. The use of these garments have been retired and replaced over time with different means of preventing patients from hurting themselves. Typically straitjackets can only been seen on TV shows or movies that feature old asylum, prison or torture scenes such as FX’s American Horror Story.
An Instagram post from the official Gucci page explained the intentionality of the line:
Typically, Gucci fashion displays beautiful patterns, meticulous tailoring, and luxurious attention to details. Their models are diverse, creative, and symbolic of self-expression. The brand definitely made a statement with this line, but it was not the right one. Straitjackets are an infringement of a patient's liberties and confine them to the label of “crazy.” A person restricted by one is unable to have agency over their own body and movements. Gucci is a highly influential company that has great influence over the way people express themselves; for them to make a statement about prescribed social norms and hiding one’s identity goes against what they fundamentally stand for. Using sterile white garments could be enough for the audience to understand how society could be “uniformed” to one image.
By using straitjackets, Gucci is profiting from a device that was used to control and diminish those who were mentally ill. One model, Ayesha Tan-Jones, took their stance on stage by standing on the runway conveyer belt holding up both hands with “MENTAL HEALTH IS NOT FASHION” written across their palms. Even though straitjackets are no longer used, they allude to a time when those with mental health complications were treated unfairly, not being provided with the right help.
Today, it is important to bring light to mental illness in order to reduce the stigma. However, this could be done in a much more tasteful way. In an industry where models are constantly in the spotlight and often struggle with eating disorders or other mental illness, it is crucial to be mindful of the perspectives and experiences of those wearing the garment, as well as those in the audience. It would be nice to hear more models and those in the fashion industry discuss their own personal struggles with mental illness instead of allowing a silent show to make a statement on their behalf. Voices united and straitjackets left in the past, we can collectively make a difference in the fashion world and in our everyday lives by normalizing mental health.