Bricolage & Identity

“…our identities are sliding further towards something we collect, assemble and arrange. We are phasing into a new era of Bricolage.”

– Firth and Szymanska, 20151


This new era of bricolage differs from previous interpretations, as while in the past it has combined different eras and styles to create new meanings, it is less about the meaning it creates, and more about the identity that these different elements together form. This change can be seen from the two different women pictured below, the first from London, knowingly combining a 1920’s kimono, 80’s jeans and 1940’s blouse in a deliberate manner, the second, in Bath, jumbling together tops and jewellery without such definite history, the focus being rather on the attitude it expresses.

Traditional Bricolage (London) & Focus on the Attitude (Bath, England)

Through this more indistinct combination of eras and styles, the choice of garments is linked, like Firth and Szymanska suggest in their article, New Bricolage Living, to identity1, rather than to the past, the novel, or displays of wealth. This links into the desire to project “growing sophistication rather than raw wealth”, which is, according to Salter for Business of Fashion, a key motivator for many consumers2.  Through this, bricolage can traverse multiple markets, as consumers collate their wardrobe from a variety of sources, from the new fast fashion and luxury markets, to vintage, but also including borrowed, swapped and vintage–inspired pieces. Each, as Calefato describes bricolage items, “a ‘piece’ of society materialized in objects, styles, rites, modes of the body appearing”5, yet now the story of each garment diminishes in front of the story each wearer prescribes to it. This key correlation between dress and identity is seen across the market, as consumers are buying into brand identities, rather than trends, according to Kate Abnett for Business of Fashion4, and this itself is the new bricolage, how we create identity through our combinations of garments and our personal curation of our wardrobe.

Identity formed through combination

As many fast fashion brands spread globally, showcasing on trend styles released at astonishing rates, consumers are finding that while they may be wearing the latest thing, this doesn’t mean that they are wearing something different, one Londoner we talked to having found that they have seen two, three or four people wearing the same garment as them in one afternoon. This dislike of replication was addressed by the vulgar exhibition in their “classic copies” as they suggest that to copy is vulgar, however, it also suggests that in parodying such copies a more astute social commentary can be made5. This was observed through the graffiti in Shoreditch of the Chanel/Chapel perfume, its tongue in cheek attitude tearing down the idolised image just like the Cinderella singlet at Berlin’s flea market, both of which add a sense of newness and authenticity to a copy.

Chanel Graffiti (Shoreditch, London) & Cinderella Singlet (Flea Market, Berlin)


The way that consumers are reducing the recognition of mass market garments, is by layering them extensively, for although the clothing items on their own are not seen as unique or individual, once they are grouped with the many different items they form a unique message. An example of this is seen in the combination of the classic punk garments with more feminine elements as harsh ripped denim and leather jackets and boots have been paired with sheer undergarments.

Two women photographed at Premium (fashion trade show) in Berlin

This contemporary version romanticizes the punk style, and through revealing undergarments, reinterprets the original idea that things that were meant to be hidden were brought to the forefront both literally and figuratively6. Punk initially represented a nihilistic and anti-establishment vibe, the anti-establishment view is apparent within these styling choices through the use of torn and ripped denim combined with lace and fishnet undergarments.

Fishnets with Ripped Denim in Shoreditch (London)

Traditionally, fishnet stockings are an item of lingerie that is not worn as a utility but as a way to show off more skin, it adds a sense of sexuality. Typically worn by sex workers and hookers, fishnets have instant hostility towards them, even when worn in the present day. We found that girls can be seen wearing them underneath ripped denim jeans and long layered skirts so only a small amount is visible. This is a tasteful homage to traditional punk with a feeling of freedom, yet through its careful compilation it contradicts punk’s nihilistic ideas.

“Being over 50 years old, punk is very mainstream now. It doesn’t stand for what it did when it originated. There’s nothing antagonistic about it now.”

– Kim Jones for DA Man Magazine7

This quote from Kim Jones shows how bricolage is twisting punk to create new ideas and aesthetics, and while for some consumers the layer of these styles is largely aesthetic only, for some this new punk style represents their identity as belonging apart from the trends, capturing the rejection of the traditional so inherent to punk. Alex, pictured below, is an example of this, whose surprise at being asked to be photographed summed up how her bricolage of hoodie, pashmina, peacoat and tracksuit pants, as well a pair of doc martins was not chosen for public approval, rather for personal expression.

Alex (Tube station, London)

Transitioning into retail spaces, this idea of creating atmosphere through the combination of objects was exemplified in Shoreditch store, Ragyard, which sells both new and vintage garments in the same space, even the same rack, working together to create a consistent, and replicable aesthetic (they now have store on Portobello road too). Filling the room with brick-a-brac, the store hosts a mix of vintage and retro pieces, interspersed amongst their new, branded items, the differentiation of old and new unimportant when compared to the eclectic, yet modern atmosphere they create.

Ragyard store: combining old (top images of bric-a-brac) and new (sweaters in lower image)

Identity through Curation:

In contrast to the way that identity and self expression are being formed through the combination of garments in the previous examples and are thus replicable in some ways, other consumers pair garments together in a more effortless way, their ‘new bricolage’ being formed through their choice of purchases which form their carefully curated, and unique wardrobe.

In regarding this idea of a curated wardrobe, two women in particular stood, out, as their ensembles had an ease to them which suggested minimal arrangement, yet the garments themselves spoke a coherent message about their personality. The first was Sara, whose highly textured garments and discordant pops of colour had this quirky sophistication, and the second was Gitte, whose print combinations, while clashing in some ways, did strangely worked together. What is successful and eye-catching in these outfits, is that while neither match their garments to each other, in speaking such a clear message of what appeals to them, their style, in turn, appeals to others.

Sara (Portobello Road, London) & Gitte (Berlin)

Schiemer comments in Fashion Victims: on the Individualizing and De-Individualizing Powers of Fashion that we are all ‘fashion victims’ as our lens is narrowed by our absorption in our clothes and we become by-products of fashionable taste8. These women, or ‘fashion victims’ allow this preoccupation to reflect upon themselves, as each becomes a unique fashion victim, and in doing so form an identity from the way that they are influenced by fashion.

This idea of how the curated objects bring to life the individual identity extends into other spaces as well, as the Lives, Loves and Loss – Traces at Fenton House exhibition is discussed by WGSN as it recreates a traditional home from 17309. In using contemporary artists to refashion the objects within the home, it reconsiders how we look at the old and the new, the story told by each of the objects together immersing the visitors into an understanding so that they may, as Sarah Housley put it, “piece by piece, put together the story of the Gees’ lives.”9

From ‘Loves, Lives and Loss – Traces at Fenton House’ (Image by Sophia Schorr-Kon)

Combined and Curated – Bricolage Creates and Connects Identities

This idea of the curated is that within the gathering of garments and objects, in the bricolage of each wardrobe, the personal identity of each individual is expressed, and all that remains is to throw any clothes on, and their story will tell the individual’s. In contrast, for those whose bricolage lies in each day’s attire, their wardrobe – while each piece may not reflect their identity, and in fact may be the exact same as what their friend may wear – becomes extensively combined through dressing the body, which then forms meaning and identity as it is layered upon the wearer. Bricolage, as a trend, is translated into retail through how it speaks across identities as well as defines them, for in the way that Ragyard uses old and new items to represent their products creates an identity that consumers can buy into, and in adding to their own bricolage through their products, they bridge the gap between to retailer and the consumer.

This trend is not about the garments themselves, but rather how as a whole they reflect the individual, and how through individual combination and curation, a unique and unrepeatable story is told, the story of their beliefs and lifestyle, created through their choice of garments, more than the garments themselves.


by Julia English and Emily Owens


  1. Firth, P & Szymanska, A (2015, October 14), New Bricolage Living, LS:N Global, October 14 2015, viewed January 26 2017, <>
  2. Salter, G 2016, Op-Ed – From Luxury to Craft: Climbing the ‘Discernment Curve’, Business of Fashion, May 5 2016, viewed January 25 2017, <>
  3. Calefato, P 1997, ‘Fashion and Worldliness: Language and Imagery of the Clothed Body’, Fashion Theory, vol. 1, no. 1, pp 69-90
  4. Abnett, K 2015, ‘Do Fashion Trends Still Exist?’, Business of Fashion, January 9 2015, viewed 25/01/2017, <>
  5. Phillips, A 2016, ‘No.3 Classic Copies’, The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, exhibition catalogue, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017, The Barbican, London
  6. Leung, M 2013, ‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’, Ms FABulous, May 7 2013, viewed 20/01/2017, <>
  7. Jones, K 2017, ‘Kim Jones Talks Africa, Punk, & See-Now-Buy-Now At Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2017, Pop-Up In Sydney’, DA MAN Magazine, January 5th 2017, p.2, viewed 20/01/2017, <>
  8. Schiermer, B 2010, ‘Fashion Victims: On the Individualizing and De-individualizing Powers of Fashion’, Fashion Theory, vol. 14, no. 1, pp 83-104
  9. Housley, S 2016, ‘London’s new immersive art exhibition invites you to step back in time’, WGSN Insider, December 2 2016, viewed 26/01/2017, <;

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