You are trying too hard

Might I address something that hasn’t been spoken about much? I would like to say something a bit controversial in the fashion world, and I do not want to be chastised for it because these are from my own observations.

This phenomenon of celebrities and influencers wearing only “Camp” related clothing is becoming a bit much. Please don’t throw any random objects at my head or put a hit out for me, but I mean it. Let me explain:

In 1964, Susan Sontag published an essay she had written about the meanings and connotations of the word “Camp.” Now, this is not the Smokey Bear kind of camp, although he himself would be considered as both camp and Camp. He is camp, as in camping and being in the woods, but he is also camp in the way that he is a bear that can talk, wears pants but no shirt, and carries a shovel that he doesn’t seem to use. 

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 “Camp is the art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is ‘too much,” Sontag said. 

I believe this note is probably the most relevant of all at this time. To explain Camp, you have to give examples. Notoriously camp things and objects she named would be Swan Lake, Tiffany lamps, and women’s clothing of the 1920s, specifically referencing the feathered and fringed/beaded dresses.

All of these things are serious in their own right. Swan Lake is just a ballet, Tiffany lamps are just a light source, and clothing of the 20s was just clothing, but they all have something in common, they are just a bit too much… in a good way. They’re a bit too grand for their own good. 

There is nothing wrong with Camp. As you see by the examples given, none of these things go out of their way to be campy, they just inherently are. It’s like the movie “Mommie Dearest.” If you have seen the movie, you know that it is supposed to be a very serious testament to childhood trauma and domestic abuse. In reality it is just Faye Dunaway going through her Joker moment, rampaging around in oversized shoulder pads and screaming at a child actress to scrub the bathroom. That is Camp. If it is out of touch enough to be just a bit ghastly yet enjoyable, it would be described as Camp. 

Celebrating the famed author and the cult following the essay had created, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York used it as their main source of inspiration for the 2019 Met Gala and exhibition theme. Coming after a year where the theme was directly inspired from religion, this was quite the switch up, providing a dress code that was less regimented and more fun. “Camp: Notes on Fashion” gave the safe space for camp icons to do their thing and wear wacky clothes. This was Lady Gaga’s bread and butter, as she lives, breathes and exudes Camp. 

Although the Met Gala is just one night a year, it gives a big look at some possibilities for fronting trends and oncoming fashions. I would consider it to be the most influential fashion event of the year. Designers pull their favorite stars and adorn them in the finest garments money can provide.

This sets a big part of the mood for collections coming in the seasons ahead. As actual Camp couture designs were ripped off and manufactured around the world, and our clothing got more chunky and silly-looking without a lead-up, this market for out of the ordinary clothing boomed. 

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The problem with this peculiar case is that it never seemed to die off. People love their Camp now, but can it really be considered Camp if it is intended to be so? 

A really important quote from Sontag’s essay is the one that I feel has been overlooked the most.

“One must distinguish between naїve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (“camping”) is usually less satisfying,” she said.

Bingo. It’s not that this cycle of interpretation of Camp is not Camp, it’s that it is dissatisfying. Thus, as I watched this year’s award shows, I observed a distressing pattern. These trends are still creeping their way out of the woodwork.

Although trends have died down a bit, celebrities and influencers still see every event as an excuse to wear something that is considered Camp.

The amazing and talented singer SZA wore a Camp-ish outfit to the Grammy awards. The Jean Paul Gaultier gown she wore was… interesting. Fake flowers with black netting layered on top, all cascading down the front of a nude tulle gown.

Lil Nas X always has a flair for the theatrics through fashion, but the pearl suit he donned on the same night was an extreme act of trying to be perceived as Camp. Although not a Camp icon herself, Carrie Underwood looked like a freshly poured Malibu Sunrise in the worst way possible. 

Intending to be Camp can be more harmful than good, and in real Camp fashion, seriousness is what amplifies Camp. How am I supposed to be completely convinced that Yola, the English singer with four nominations this year, picked out this “serious” outfit for this serious occasion when she looked like the Purple people eater!

There are ways to be Camp and sophisticated. At the 1963 Oscars, long-time Hollywood star Joan Crawford wore a fringe dress, colored her hair, nails and eyes a bright shimmering silver. Nothing too fancy, but what upped the Camp factor is that she was not even up for an award that night. Crawford was there to possibly be receiving an Oscar on behalf of Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker. She went all out to just stand on that stage for ten seconds. Fabulous. 

The best executed outfits of the evening in my opinion were worn by Doja Cat, Lady Gaga, and Tiffany Haddish. The iconic custom-made Versace dress worn by Doja Cat to the Grammys was just sensational. Covered head to toe in crystals and sporting an opaque purse filled with candy. 

Hello, that is Camp!

Lady Gaga knows Camp better than anyone else and knows how to use it to her advantage. She also knows when to pull back and reign it in. You can see this through her choice of dresses over the past year. They were sophisticated and elegant while always having a nod towards the Camp in life.

Tiffany Haddish took the cake for me with her stunning Prada gown, champagne-colored sequins covering every inch of her body with a large statement bow on her shoulder. She had a balance of actual award show glamor and a bit of Camp culture sprinkled in.   

There has been an obvious decline in this trend that I loved and still hold very dear to my heart, but it is for the better. Time goes on, fashions change and mainstream trends will go underground again soon. We just have to wait it out. In the meantime, if you are still dressing in a Camp way, remember… just don’t try so hard.

Staff reporter Aaron Elliot can be reached at [email protected] To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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