What word first comes to mind when you think something or someone is ‘camp’?
Bold? Unique? Outlandish? Iconic?
Susan Sontag sums up the meaning of camp perfectly, in her 1964 book, ‘Notes on Camp’, saying ‘The whole point of camp is to dethrone the serious’, and she’s absolutely correct! The camp aesthetic has challenged the status quo and questioned conservative principles, outlooks and morals. Camp has defined certain individuals, and has transcended history. It is unapologetic, bold, outrageous, theatrical and delightfully confrontational. It has been associated with queer culture, from Oscar Wilde to the art of drag, and producing campy icons such as Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli and Cher. Camp art often intersects with queerness and the LGBT community, and Vogue says that Camp performance could be a coded way of signifying one’s queerness, specifically clothing and communication.
The term ‘Camp’ has evolved over the last few hundred years, taking on different meanings. Camp comes from the French verb ‘se camper’, which more or less translates to ‘strike an exaggerated pose’, this emerged from the lavish French court, during the reign of Louis XIV. The flamboyant posturing of the court was embodied by Louis XIV’s brother, Philippe I, duc d’Orleans, who was raised in a way that wouldn’t threaten his brother’s position as ruler and in turn, his masculinity, and became well-known for his effeminate behaviour. Since then, the term has been redefined and used in numerous ways. In Victorian England, the term was associated with queer subculture, and in 1870, two Londoners, named Thomas Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park were arrested for, impersonating women, amongst other things. Frederick wrote in a letter, ’My campish undertakings are not at present meeting with the success which they deserve’. The letter would later be used as evidence at court. Oscar Wilde described ‘camp’ as ‘actions and gestures of exaggerated emphasis’. The term would evolve and become used to describe the aesthetic choices and behaviour of working-class gay men.
Camp has played an integral part within culture, specifically fashion and film, with some films and characters shamelessly evoking the aesthetic. Some examples of films include, The First Wives Club, The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, The Wizard of Oz, Grease, Barbarella, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and To Wong Foo, Thanks for everything! Julie Newmar. Fashion is a perfect vessel to channel the essence of camp, and has proved time and time again, to be, works of wonder, awe, decadence and humour. In 2019, the Met Ball’s theme was camp, and celebrities didn’t disappoint.
Here are some iconic looks and individuals that exude camp realness:
- Moschino’s Spring 2018 Ready-To-Wear collection
Gigi Hadid served us this gorgeous bouquet ensemble. She wore Jeremy Scott’s envisioned finale look for his Spring 2018 collection in Milan. The outfit consisted of a sheer white material, which served as the silhouette of the dress, towering above her head, filled to the brim with flowers and foliage of all colours, with an exaggerated red ribbon around her waist, acting as a belt. Completing the look with clear pumps, and a white clutch resembling a note, that says ‘I love you’. This look served quintessential camp, overemphasis and theatricality.
2. Cruella De Vil
Whether it’s Dodie Smith’s, Glenn Close’s, or Emma Stone’s most recent portrayal of the fabulous Disney villain. Cruella De Vil is a style icon, who taps into the grandeur, extravagance and overemphasis of camp. Stone underwent 47 costume changes in the most recent film, ‘Cruella’, amongst them were pieces that gloriously shocked audiences, offering a camp style influenced by punk, as the film is set during 70s Punk London. This adds a whole new ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the aesthetic. Donning a pearl white hooded cape, Cruella quickly drops a lit match, sending the cape into a blaze, revealing a silk blood red gown, with a distressed asymmetric neckline, paired with red leather gloves. The look is pulled together with a feathered and glittery detailed black and white eye mask, accompanied with Cruella’s trademark black and white hair, and signature makeup. For extra campness, she walks with a slim black cane.
I don’t think you could make a list about camp fashion, without mentioning the iconic Madonna. Madonna is known for being outrageous and political, and she uses fashion as a vessel to channel this energy into. Throughout her career, she has made political statements about feminism, LGBT rights and ageism. However, her most iconic look has to be the cone bra corset from her Blonde Ambition tour. It is deliciously camp, and exaggerates the 1950s style of bras, and plays on the pin up models from the ‘50s. She reveals this look by removing an oversized black blazer. The corset is a baby pink colour, with a pink belt around the waist. She wears this with black suit trousers, paired with a monocle, playing with both masculine and feminine qualities. Bringing the look together with classic makeup that resembles the ‘50s, and a high ponytail. Simple, yet elevating.
4. Keiynan Lonsdale
Keiynan Lonsdale is another individual who plays with the gender spectrum and the aesthetic of camp. Leading up to the 2019 Met Gala, Lonsdale appeared in Vogue’s May issue, where he modelled a decadent outfit. The theme of the Met Gala that year was none other than, camp. Modelling a Vivienne Westwood gown, it screams the courts of Versailles. As we all know, the French court of Versailles was extremely opulent and indulgent, which Lonsdale effortlessly portrays. The baby pink gown features lace upon lace, ruffles upon ruffles and most importantly, bows. Bows of all sizes, which emphasise the femininity of the dress. The outfit is completed with simple pearl-like earrings and simplistic makeup.
5. Viktor + Rolf haute couture Spring/Summer 2019
Viktor + Rolf’s Spring/Summer 2019 haute couture gown is a prime example of camp’s subtle hilarity. Displayed in the Met’s ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’ exhibition, the tiered pink dress is made out of tulle, with emphasised shoulders and a close neckline, and plastered in the middle of the outfit, is a green and yellow appliqué, simply stating ‘Less is More’. Irony is one of the aesthetic’s best qualities.
These are just a handful of what the aesthetic has to offer, camp has delved into every facet of society, either critiquing or celebrating it. Camp has defined many aspects of life, and continues to make influences. Camp needs to be celebrated for its less serious approach on life, and after the year we’ve had, why not? So when July 19th rolls around, go out and look grandeur darling.