Fashion is Dead
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The Long, Strange History of Deadhead Style

Anabelle Walsh

 
KEYWORDS

Design, Ethnography, Media

Project

Fashion is Dead: The Long Strange History of Deadhead Style is a written and project-based thesis that explores the role of clothing and visual identity amongst fervent fans of the prolific American rock band, the Grateful Dead. As a self-identifying fashion enthusiast and second-generation Deadhead, I always viewed my two greatest interests — fashion and the Grateful Dead — as two antithetical worlds. That’s why it was so curious to me when, in 2017, I noticed a handful of high-end, contemporary designers co-opting the iconography of the Grateful Dead. It led me to wonder what might have caused this sudden phenomenon, and what implications it presented for the Deadhead subculture.

 
challenge 

Historically, the wearing of a Grateful Dead t-shirt was a means by which Deadheads could recognize other Deadheads outside of a live show context. The recent influx of Dead-inspired designs has diluted the meaning and value of the primary icons long affiliated with the subculture. The wearing of an icon no longer explicitly signals subcultural involvement. Therefore, there is an opportunity to create new designs that speak to the more niche and nuanced references that exist within the subculture, so that Deadheads can continue to recognize other Deadheads outside of a live show context and form meaningful connections through the powerful medium of clothing.

 
Outcome
 

My investigation into the Deadhead subculture is a three-year long subcultural study which I will continue to explore in my graduate studies and beyond. For my capstone, I was focused specifically on creating new Dead-inspired designs. For this endeavor, I partnered with several self-identifying Deadheads and designed t-shirts in collaboration with them, employing lyrical, visual and cultural references that resonate with them personally
and that fellow subcultural members would recognize and understand. The collaborative aspect of my work was especially crucial, because it created an opportunity to bridge the gap between the fashion scene and the Deadhead community.

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