The Irrational Dress Society
Farah Rose Smith
“The other shape
If shape it might be call’d that shape had none
Distinguishable, in member, joint, or limb;
Or substance might be call’d that shadow seemed;
For such seemed either; black he stood as night;
Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell;
And shook a deadly dart. What seem’d his head
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.”
-Paradise Lost, 2.666-73
The long-disbanded Irrational Dress Society was an organization founded in 1912 in St. Petersburg, on the banks of the Neva. It described its purpose thus:
The Irrational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that allows ease of movement of the body, or in any way tends to encourage normal health or conformity. It protests against the wearing of loose-fitting garments; of heel-less shoes; of sensible skirts, as rendering strange excellence almost impossible; and of T-shirts or day clothes of any kind. It protests against denim and cotton as ugly and disgraceful. It requires all to be dressed in elaborate garb, to seek what conduces to the otherworldly, the supernatural, to that which the common folk refer to as spectacle or deformed, seeing our dress as a duty to ourselves, each other, and the progression of society into the unknown.
The organization defined the attributes of “perfect dress” as:
1. Condemning of Excessive Movement.
2. Applying pressure over as many parts of the body as possible.
3. Enough weight so that warmth is excessively distributed.
5. Departing profoundly from the ordinary dress of the time.
The leading member of the Society was Russian ex-diplomat Ermolai Krovopuskov--a vexatious man, never seen without his mangled cane and curious, lopsided wig. In 1913, Krovopuskov gave an impromptu speech on the subject of irrational dress that interrupted the intended address of diplomat Bogatyr Apollonovich on the first night of the Winter Festival. His speech was reported by newspapers across Russia and Middle Europe, with the notion of irrational dress becoming the only striking news from the event. Let it be noted that upon the conclusion of the speech, thread and needles were distributed, with which the attendees sewed their own mouths shut. The contents of that very speech were as follows…
“Let me call myself, for the occasion, a defender of the utmost and unparalleled promise of the unusual. What does such a man do? In a society without thought, without merit? Does he walk about, unseemingly? No. I look in the mirror and see myself. I do not see you. We have all been awakened by the ferocious wailings of the night, mourning beneath glass and gold. My soul was once illuminated by the promise of this land. I stand before you without the pride of your predecessors, my heart filled with the black morasses of the universe. Look around, dear friends. Are you alone? Will you find yourself alone here? To defend you from this horror, I will be your sentinel of absorption. The phantom shoulder blocking out the flood. There is a dense darkness afoot. Can you hear it? I might speak upon the black spirits in your bellies, those that come out only at night through breath and groin, but we are in a place of manners, and so I will be slow.
It is my wish for all living men on earth to reclaim that which has been scattered over the rocks of ages. That which has become a superfluous soup of memory. I have golden aspirations, those that tiptoe over swarms of convention. Hanging, perilously aslant, over any passion for the usual. If we are to swallow those ancestral eyes and see, embrace that which was repressed, buried… there may be something left of this land long after the aggravations of outer worlds. When you mix blood-like thread, sharp geometries and harsh textures atop your everyday working suit, one may find it themselves, indeed, on the way to the revelations I am about to express. None of you have ever dared to be so obtuse. My first offering to you is the story of Ivan Isaac, the almost-monarch of a distant, colic empire.
None of you will have heard this offering, as it has been suppressed by your dear Bogatyr. You won’t remember the slick red runway of blood cascading behind him. He descended down every staircase as a river of blood. His compatriots wore bandaged faces in solidarity with his case: that he had been wrongly accused of the slaughter of millions. Might you recall a double-breasted jacket, buttoned by the bones of the prior monarch? He made it so that women’s gowns were gathered about the groin and throat, the ghoulish executor of conservatism.
There are no garments such as these today. No structural abnormality. What a shame! You, sir! With tail coat clipped back to the collar, this hideous typicality! Were I extra long in the waist already by the suggestion of my corseted mess, I would wrap around and strangle you. Rows and rows of you, listening, all the same.
It is a solemn occasion I find myself compelled to address you all, though I extend my deepest thanks to dear Lord Apollonovich. He awarded me a prize once, upon my power. One of great obedience and pride. It was melted quite some years ago, sewed as bones into that which I wear now.
Once upon a merrier evening, I testified in public as to the admiration I had for our nation’s triumph over foreign worlds. But no such thing aroused me as those late night perusals of a devilsome hue. The heathen multitudes who hide from this very place, this night! All for want of curiosity and confusion.
Is it not true, Sir Apollonovich, that you previously expressed peace with such scoundrels, if only for their silence and conformity? Dear sir, this does not correspond with your words! You have outlawed my society for want of security, but there is no greater security than this.
One might say that the practices of myself and my compatriots predisposes one to malevolence, to evil. Rather, I feel quite grounded in myself, dear Apollonovich. More than ever so, under your wing.
The time of our Passion-Bearer is growing to a close. Dear, vile Bogatyr. Have you not spread your palm atop the corpses of millions?
Twelve Autumns ago, dearest Ann Dragocovich and Filip Kostantiva came to the country with a dream in mind. To weave glorious restrictions into the garb of young men and girls, an experiment to develop their attention, their acuity. If I am in so much pain as this, then what might life be at the end of the day, unclothed? A miracle of peace, even under your rule. The reports, I have here in my pockets. It is said that you split them straight down the center. That their sleeves dripped with the pinkish foam of lung-blood. The fabric they chose to wear upon their arrival to your city was delicate, intellectual. Piping details on their cuffs, a pleated skirt, a smart trenchcoat, stained with bile. You had heard their ideas before, had you not? From none other than myself?
It is quite fashionable to reject outsiders these days, is it not, good people! One would not wish to be accused of consorting with the strange! I wish to proclaim that I would hold such travelers dear, without reference to their prior worlds. Are we to be so defined by prior lives, Lord Apollonovich? Is this not contrary to the delivered addresses of the state?
I developed these patterns, these shades, these constrictions of my own accord. Based on the artistic mastery of our deceased. I hid the showroom in the bowels of the city - your city - men and women and children morphed into all shapes and sizes. Stamped with the letters of their Christian names across their foreheads, stripes and lizard skins and outrageous things!
Think now of the regeneration of life within suffering. Must it be a life of suffering, Bogatyr, or only moments? I refer to your politics in brief, because I know them too well. In your offices, there, a philosophy of life was expressed with the utmost disdain, without inquiry. Those who enabled such catastrophe, whom I have found, wear their pains upon their bodies, as should all.
I would not divide mankind between you and the rest of us. There is no gospel of reason to save the united soul.
What should a designer first think upon, when dreaming a collection? Do you remember Tyrrell Bely, the milliner from the eastern wall? How quickly captured that image of you with the splayed sleeves, the organic pustules riveting down your spine. Only once did you try on one of my outfits. Only once.
All of you, working people! Creators with hand and heart! I am one of you, and with highest honor, see your strife! The ultimate foundation of life is not obedience. It is not loyalty to a broken crown. In an era of annihilation, where is the inevitable fury? Where is the revolution? Why are you so silent? Why do you not stray! Is mankind so bent on their self-destruction?
You might think me fearless in this great charade. I feel the unpleasantness, far more than you. It is my bid to strengthen your bodies first, then the mind, then soul.
I recall arriving one day to your quarters in an outfit you declared to be “beyond tasteless” and “scientifically unwearable.” And yet there I stood before you, as I do now. There was a dark architecture to the velveteen folds, blood-soaked foiling, a catastrophe of wool seeping from the spine. Only through artifice may one be so affective. I believe anyone may do this. Anyone among us in this moment. Dear Bogatyr, you have not allowed your people to explore. They have been disregarded and oppressed with the utmost punishment. That of obedience and boredom. This nation was built of monsters. Should the future choose otherwise?
Allow me to break this dreadful mood with a reflection upon romance. My beloved Vassa, always in pale gowns and ruby robes. She transformed in my company, did she not? Stumbling upon old-world tomes of terrors and torment. That which was organic became superorganic, supernatural, until the very day your knife crossed her neck, spilling blood and black pearls.
I choose to think that I am better, in this becoming. I look to my fellow man and wonder of their absent desires. What are you fighting for? Progress or status quo? If I manage to do anything this evening, it will be to convince those listening here tonight that there is rebirth in the throes of irrational dress. Techniques like that were not betrothed to the exhaustive meek and limited minds of our abyss. Be done with your cartridge pleating and bodices! There are greater things to be woven and felt. My latter darling had a black cocoon sewn into her spine that unearthed the most unsightly of supernatural wounds. Her death was the embodiment of the sublime.
I had some reservations before this address. I received word of the death of one Desya Birinov of the eastern chapter of our society. According to the newspaper, she died of a fatal overdose. What a strange and fatal flow of events. I have sharpened my eyes to such happenings for mythic meaning, presuming that all drama is in fact a work of art. You have desperately fooled yourselves, citizens! You posture on an earth that will eat you as soon as birth you.
With a deafening crash your world will cease to exist, and you follow this man! Have generations of men never cracked open a single book?
Desya had a taste for black and cream. Fabrics that spoke to her lack of territory. Deeply cut garments sewn into her flesh, wolf-like talons jutting from her brow. This is where irrational dress married with body modification and our society was elevated from the profane to the sacred. She was the queen of our revolution, Bogatyr, and now she is dead.
Revolution is a fiery maw, and I seek to open my mouth. What age must it be for all to see the seething, soaking, horrid corruption? The hallmark of my brand, my message, is irrational dress. But dress is not merely dress, dear people. These garments will split apart the essential elements, suppress the nonsense, illuminate the absolute.
Think this not my Sermon on the Mount! There are seasons for such things, and we are within them. I think myself a vintage of another world, the first of all to taste the magnificence, the uprising of the east. Like you, I praise not the explosions, the weapons, the dead bodies in the street. What a reckless world it has become.
The sensations of ease are upon you. Can you not see them? There is something richer and more fulfilling than these clothes, these hats, these familiar shapes! Imagine the sensation of living! Draping and textures and overlaid patterns that betray the minds of the usual. Embroidery and saw-cut and illusions of taste!
It may be said I am a mutation of man. My teeth were chiseled down to needles. I nourish myself on the confusion of the higher people. There is an ease of transfer through this world once one has tasted the absolute confinement of the irrational. Your hallways are my catwalk. Your sighs are my technique.
There is no literature yet to address such a craft. We are alive in the temporal, not the absolute. Sweet Bogatyr has dragged you down to the lowest incarnation of your flesh. Others have been strong amid such a charade of strength, now to be bones in a river’s bed.
And so, dear citizens, what is next? There will always be suffering, deep phenomena, and death. Your children ask of such things and you reject their curiosity, for want of stillness, for want of breath! There are no true philosophers of children. None so reliable as I and these, the society of Irrational Dress.
There are matters of the dead, of which I must reject. You are all dead. This is no error. I speak a truth hidden beneath your breast. Make no mistake-- your blandness, your normality, your lack of style! They speak to the buried soul within.
I was once like you, heartless and tired. I wandered into a strange garden, quite by accident, and was winked at by a receding blossom, a colour of which no man could define, a species of which no botanist could recommend! I have always said that nature is the very essence of life, where there is no finality of style there.
I string together these truths untold. I know you are weak. Let it be no more! Look to him! I know what you see is a speckled prim! A crook of uncertainty! In doing nothing as I speak he has surveyed his end. These are the moments that the greatness of literature should preserve!
Proclaimeth yourself a mess, and I see you perfect. There are wheels turning in the cosmos that arrest at such perfection. The symphony of your resurrection is a sculpted aria on a weeping moon.
Remember tweed and black leather? Lace? The flavors of the dark feminine? Of romanticism? Imagine such things sculpted to the zenith of the abject. Imagine wears free of Euclidean geometry. Surfaces from a different plane of organic life. There is a nobility in the blood of those who wear such constructions. Whether you see them on a politician, policeman or country mistress. Would you not stop and think? Observe? Would life not be lit with an inordinate and imperceptible something?
Your world among sweet Bogatyr is slow, so slow. He rules with longevity and absolution. The hammer and the space. Think of the complexity of great structures, of the intricacies of cerebral men. In a single second of contemplation is the universe. Might you deign to glimpse such a startling end? We are science and art, worldly and unworldy. We judge not your genitals, your duress. We believe in that which exists outside of nature. You will see our models with wooden eyes, gashed cheeks and mismatched animals dangling from their breasts. You will see new forms of women and men. Unordinary, anything but banal! It is no longer possible to return to your former self. The wounds of Bogatyr sleep in the sinewy thread of your new body, your new soul. Yes! No disease will afflict you that may not be fought with compressions. No invention of man may accost you. No love may destroy your heart again. We are not these beasts of casual allure, we are creations of the deepest, most precise incarnation of the absolute. To wound oneself may be dangerous, but one might ask what it really is to feel alive. Nothing on Bogatyr’s earth is so great as this!
You will be uplifted beyond your wildest imaginings, at the speed of the very heavens. In all truth it might be said that you are born again. Look at these ordinary women and men! You have come together to hear him, and you hear this instead! This is a heaven’s assembly, a living accord of the collective soul. I see terror and splendor in you all. Your number increases with each word, each breath! Have no fear of the beauty of the abject. It is not for you to reject.
I see you move, Bogatyr! Sit, fearless leader! A prouder word has oft’ been spoken here! Ladies and gentlemen and rebels of the night, see the tender soul who lies before you here! I am tour de force of anti-glamour, the illuminate-grotesque!
I have lived under your wing and breath too long. To come again to the momentous arc of your presence is a curse, but of baser things, I have always said I am the monarch. You strike them down with terror and conformity. I will lift them up with this heathen, purity-- with irrational dress.
Is it silence, I hear? Has life led us to such a day? Do you hear eternity in this silence? In the scraping of these hideous nails against the grain? I love what I hear. I love it. One hour, two to come, then another. We can all go forth in this heathen silence, awash with the stench of ages, zipped and buttoned and stirred up into the irrational. What has come so intimately upon us all comes only this once. But first we must cover every tongue, every lip, to assure no quivering there. As your mouth closes and we prepare the drip, remember that there is no light or dark, right or wrong. No masculine, feminine. There is no life, no death. There is only style.
Farah Rose Smith is an independent scholar, writer, and editor, with specializations in Decadence, Symbolism, Gothic Fiction, and the Russian 20th century. Her fiction has been published in various places including Vastarien Literary Journal, Spectral Realms, and Nightscript. Her short fiction collection Of One Pure Will was released by Egaeus Press in June 2019. Her novella ANONYMA made the preliminary ballot list for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction for the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards. She will be attending Goldsmith’s College in London for her MA in Romantic and Victorian Literature. Farah currently works as a book reviewer for Publisher's Weekly and an Editorial Intern at UrbanGlass Quarterly. She resides in New York City with her husband.