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There will always be fashion magazines that instruct readers which silk faille caftan is appropriate for lounging on a yacht over Memorial Day weekend, but what about one that traces the sartorial origins of the safety pin as an accessory? Or examines Mahatma Ghandi’s pacifist protest-chic? Or how certain colors were genderfied over the years? Or even one that doesn’t exclusively feature skinny white cis models? Thankfully, these topics can be found the in the pages of WORN, a Canadian anti-fashion ‘zine whose issues have now been compiled in one quintessential collection of clothing queries.
Developed in 2005 by current “editor-in-pants” Serah-Marie McMahon from the fashion section of a failed magazine, the grassroots publication quickly acquired a diehard following of Wornettes, who were moved by the personal, quirky, smart, edgy articles and photographs housed in its pages. Now, with the release of a hefty anthology titled The WORN Archive, published by Drawn & Quarterly, perhaps more people can discover their inner Wornette.
Divvied up into sections covering personal relationships to clothing, fashion’s role in forging identities, practicality in design, and more, The WORN Archive constructs a mosaic of fashion as it applies to everyone’s life and history. Instead of doing a shoot with Elle Fanning, the WORN team analyzes the style of obscure Italian heiress and muse Marchesa Luisa Casati. Instead of promoting skin cream containing crushed diamonds, they tell the story of beauty’s role for Rosie the Riveter types working during World War II.
Despite the forward-thinking and unique role the journal holds in the media landscape, it’s apropos that the title is in the past tense, since WORN sometimes dips too far into nostalgia or feels too much like something found under a riot grrrl’s bed. Waxings on Courtney Love as a style icon and dissections of a ’50s sun suit could have been combatted with more contemporary reflections on underground designers; as it is, a stale air cuts across some of the archive too hard. Even the visuals — like hazy Gregory Crewdson–esque photos of women in nighties with taxidermied deer or twee illustrations that look like letterpress greeting cards from a shop in Brooklyn — can seem outdated at times.
But the sometimes fossilized content may serve as an anti-trend maneuver against the faster-than-light pace at which mainstream glossies operate. Aside from being an underground fashion journal, WORN is a reaction against how fashion is thought about in our culture, a process dominated by the likes of Vogue and Elle.
The experience of flipping through one of the latter mags is a cocktail of equal parts intrigue and masochism (with a dash of bitters). They typically display a lifestyle unattainable by the general public, promoting clothing that, while radiant, is completely impractical in the context of modern life. Though fantasy is fine, it is perhaps this elitism that has caused severe resentment of an industry concerned with surface and divorced from serious consideration of fashion for what it is: cultural artifacts and memes that are part of human history, identity, and design.
The WORN Archive serves to bridge to the gap between fantasy and reality, embracing all walks of fashion, from musings on bakelite jewelry to the intimate story of Frederick Mellinger to delineations of collar styles throughout the centuries. With a mix of voices, races, genders, and body types, WORN shows us that fashion is something we encounter, react to, and participate in every day of our lives, and an important part of the fabric of our society.