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Straight Up Gangsta

Hi 2013, I’m going start a small series of quick blog posts pertaining to fashion trivia and discuss the “why” of wearing clothing. Hopefully this’ll be a fun ride. Let’s start with the German Landschneckt! 

From the 15th to 16th century the Landschneckt, derived from German for Land/Country and Servant, were roves of mercenaries with a reputation for being a brutal and powerful force (signature weapons such as the pike and the zweihander made them the heavy artillery of the time.)  To quote wikipedia: “ Landsknechte later went on to fight in almost every 16th-century military campaign, sometimes on both sides of the engagement.” So there you are, overlooking the battlefield and this is what you see:

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in color

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A sea of puffy party clowns. The Landschneckt were known for their clothing, often obnoxiously bright with large slashes throughout that would be emphasized with puffs of brightly colored fabric poking through. Parti-colored hose completed the look. They were there to be seen. The story goes that their outfits were actually modeled after the brightly colored Swiss, however being mercenaries the tears in their clothe came to symbolize their prowess in battle. The more slashed your doublet was the more battles you must have lived through and your honey badger attitude would rather show off your battle scars then pick up a needle. I give some credit to this explanation, it seems reasonable but having been unable to find reliable sources that back that up specifically, I’m going to keep spreading it as a rumor/theory only. What I can prove, however is that slashes and puffs were IN after that. The Landschneckt uniform started to deliberately accommodate and exaggerate the slashes, and in turn nobles everywhere adopted the look, changing it to suit their lifestyle. Slashing and “pinking” (cutting out shapes such as diamonds in the outer garment to pull cloth through) became popular throughout all of Europe.

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The Spaniards did it sleek and in black (because being the only country capable of dying the richest darkest black cloth, what else are you going to do?) the English, French, Italians did it to show off as much silk underlining as they could (silk also being a rare commodity) often making the undergarments significantly poofier than the outer. The English even folded it into their sumptuary laws, forbidding anyone but nobles (and even then there was a hierarchy) from using specific types of pinking and showing specific fabrics. Suddenly what was a symbol of bravado and brutality became the symbol of prestige and finery, though you could bet no court would entertain your average Landschneckt. It was fashionable to dress like a hoodlum. Something that has happened in no other time in history ever. Just kidding. We have examples of this everywhere. Even now, if you look at certain elements of dress you see a common theme of the hegemony adopting the visuals of the “dangerous” outsiders. For instance the oversized proportions in urban wear of the 90s-early 00s were a stylistic glorification of thug/prison culture, then applied and sold to suburbs everywhere. Because power and bravado are important in dress.

This actually makes me want to talk more about military culture and its changing influence on fashion, especially in the context of pageantry. And how we look more now to the rebels to pick up clues from then the more utilitarian military. But that’s a whole other story. Hope you enjoyed this first talk. Hit me with your thoughts/rebukes/etc. here or on my twitter @ohthatnumi

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