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  • Charlie Sandles

AIDS and Fashion: The Poignancy of Identity During Crisis

© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri

The meaning behind ‘It’s a Sin’ fashion that goes beyond excessive shoulders and bold prints.

Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin is a triumph; the raw, realistic account of the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s is depicted in the gut-wrenching five-part series. A contributory factor to the show’s success is the sensational fashion; Ian Fulcher- costume director- celebrates individuality, homosexuality and youth culture whilst accurately depicting the fashion styling of this era. The lives of Colin (Callum Scott-Howells), Roscoe (Omari Douglas) and Ritchie, (Olly Alexander) illuminate three narratives of young, gay men moving to London in the early ’80s to pursue a life in the urban landscape of the capital, and in-turn the realities of prejudice to homosexuality.

The series explicates homosexuality and resonates well as a form of entertainment illuminating the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals; from the gay director to the majority queer cast, the show provides a representation for the growing community. The importance of the subject matter should also not be subsided- It’s a Sin brings to light the discrimination and prejudice towards the gay community and the harsh reality of ignorance towards the AIDS epidemic ripping through the lives of innocent homosexual individuals. The series draws parallels to the struggles of modern LGBTQ+ individuals who are seeking representation and acceptance.

The 1980s was a decade of excess- silhouettes, colour, makeup, accessories; icons such as Elton John, Madonna, Joan Collins, and Princess Diana became synonymous with the decade’s fashion style. Androgyny and gender fluidity were key concepts in fashion at this time, and groups such as the Blitz Kids championed genres of new romanticism to new heights. The economic hardship of the 80s brought on by the privatisation under Thatcher inspired boredom and longing for escapism; fashion became the outlet, and an excess of excess became the prime principle.

© Copyright: Ben Blackall/HBO Max.

Fulcher’s exploration of identity is profound and contributes heavily to the narrative of the series- modest apparel in the form of Ritchie’s button-down shirts and Colin’s formal suit wear. Paramount to the notion of homophobia, these styling details emphasise the reality of living as a homosexual during this era- the necessity to conceal their identity in order to fit into the ‘functioning’ societal concepts. Painfully we are reminded of the shame and vulnerability of the characters through this and the restrictive nature of society that constantly confronted their lives and decisions. We are forced to reckon with the discrimination and prejudice inflicted on these individuals and the lack of support available to them in a point of crisis.

Fulcher’s styling, whilst showcasing the harsh realities of this time, also champions anarchy and empowerment. Omari Douglas’ character, Roscoe, is exotic, free-spirited and unapologetic- his open homosexuality as a black man is refreshing and exciting as he navigates the series in brute fashion, representing an underrepresented character on screen. The symbolic notion of Roscoe dumping his tie and suit jacket in the trash is exhilarating, as he abandons Arthur Garrison (Stephen Fry) and joins Jill (Lydia West) and friends in the ‘AIDS needs aid’ protest rally. Smaller details of hair and makeup- or even the lack of clothing- define the empowering nature of the youth and the anarchy of their actions; Ritchie invites viewers to despise his actions when in reality, he represents what the majority was doing at this time- living their life, experimenting and exploring their sexuality through sex.

© Copyright: Ben Blackall/HBO Max.

The lasting impression the series invigorates is the notion of acceptance; all characters were in search of their place in society, regardless of the AIDS crisis, and wanted to make their mark without any prejudice or shame attached to their actions as a result of their sexuality. Davies’ has defined the realities of the era and the battle faced by the queer community, and Fulcher illustrates these struggles through accurate, purposeful costume efforts. He utilises fashion and styling as a method to illuminate the stories of the individuals in It’s a Sin and as a result, engages the viewer into the personalities, hardships and vulnerabilities of each character. When it boils down to it, identity is what defines us and the liberating opportunities that fashion presents to truly represent ourselves as we want to be perceived and allows us to embrace who we truly are.

More resources and information with regards to the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be found here, and other portrayals of the AIDS epidemic include Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, and Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Kramer’s screenplay for a film.

© Copyright: HBO Max.


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