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Many people choose to wear avant-garde clothes because they want to break free from daily expectations. They want to define themselves outside the social norms that dictate how we should decorate and clothe our bodies. If you are one of those people and you want to find out more about how to dress avant-garde, you're in the right place. This article will help you identify the guiding principles of avant-garde fashion, so that you can go out knowing what to look for. You will also find out some of its more conspicuous characteristics, which you can easily integrate into your style.


What is Avant-Garde Fashion

One of the most fruitful artistic movements, the avant-garde permeates all fields of expression, from art to music, to fashion, in a way that challenges established norms through continuous experimentation and reinvention. A good definition for avant-garde fashion is “a forward-looking movement animated by innovative designers and artists who dare to go against the mainstream and propose ideas that stand out from the conventional”. Avant-garde clothes reshape the human body and suggest new ways of relating it to its environment, through constant deconstruction and reinterpretation. If you’re interested in finding out more about the concept, have a look at our modern definition of avant-garde history and influences.


Avant-Garde vs Haute Couture

One thing to remember is that, while avant-garde is definitely a norm-defying aesthetic, it is not to be confused with haute couture, which can break the rules as well as the limits of wearability. The difference between avant-garde and haute couture is evident from the name, as haute couture literally means high-end tailoring or dressmaking and is synonymous with expensive, often very intricate designs, produced by big fashion houses. Haute couture does not necessarily seek to go against the grain, but rather to createhighly conceptualized or elaborate pieces - the exact opposite of pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear). Of course, designers also create haute couture pieces that take inspiration from the avant-garde, but these are also destined for runway shows or artistic performances. Ready-to-wear avant-garde is generally meant to be versatile and accessible, and it features bold, often masculine cuts, monochromatic palettes and a remarkable amount of layering.


Avant Garde Haute Couture Barbara I Gongini

Haute Couture by Iris Van Herpen


What to Look for When Building an Avant-Garde Style  

Sporting avant-garde clothes takes courage and boldness, but that doesn’t mean you have to go all in at once. Take your time to discover which aspects of radical fashion interest you most and best fit your personal style. Let’s have a look at some guiding principles you can follow to personalize your look, so that you can start challenging conventions with your style.


Experiment: Mix & Match Your Wardrobe

The beauty of forward-looking fashion is that there are no set rules. This means that you can mix and match a variety of fabrics, cuts, textures and accessories to achieve that coveted avant-garde look. Experimentation is one of the essential values of the avant-garde movement and it is the only way to create innovative designs and achieve bold, inventive style combinations. When trying on new clothes, remember that avant-garde fashion looks are not so much about flaunting the body through the clothes, but rather adorning it in new ways and creating a dialogue between the body and the environment, through more sculptural and often menswear-inspired designs.


Drama: Tell a Story Through Your Look

Creating drama in your outfits is important because you want to be telling a story through the garments that you wear. For the story to be coherent, the different items must be in dialogue with one another, whether you choose to play on contrasting cuts, complementing accessories, or contiguous lines of tailoring.

The body is your canvas, so create your composition artfully and make sure every element is part of the story: from your clothes to your jewellery, makeup and even your attitude.


How to dress Avantgarde  Barbara i gongini

See the latest women’s designs by Barbara I Gongini here. Photo by Adam Katz Sinding


Pay Attention to Details

If you want to become a true avant-garde connoisseur, you have to pay attention to details. Whether it’s a particular hemline, the thickness of a weave or the stitching of a garment, it’s these details that make a difference when assembling your outfit. As the avant-garde approach to fashion is opposed to fast fashion, designers like Barbara I Gongini create multiways, which are versatile designs with innovative stitching, zipping and other details, such as buttons and belts, which allow the wearer to interact with and personalize their clothes. You will find many multiways in Barbara I Gongini’s collection. These garments are designed to give you a versatile piece of fashion with details that you can adjust, so that it seems you’re wearing a different piece every time. This makes it possible for you to always reinvent your style and wear an item in a multitude of ways, restricted only by your imagination. If buying an unusual piece of clothing seems daunting because you’re not sure how to wear it, think of what you already have in your wardrobe and try to find at least two items that you could combine it with, for two different occasions. This way, you can avoid buying clothes that you’ll never wear.


Get Started With Avant-Garde: Guiding Principles

To help you navigate the sea of opportunities, we have a series of avant-garde fashion tips to consider when creating your outfit. Start with the wardrobe that you have and the inspiration from your favorite style icons and gradually build your way up to becoming an avant-garde fashion guru.


Start a Mood Board

Before spending all your money on expensive runway looks, it’s useful to start a mood board that will help you figure out the kind of attitude and feeling you want to convey through your avant-garde outfits. This will help you keep your search focused and develop your personal taste in avant-garde apparel.


Have a Look at Famous Avant-Garde Fashion Icons

If you’re not sure where to start, have a look at who wears avant-garde clothes with gusto and pick out the elements that you would like to recreate in your look. Take your inspiration on how to wear avant-garde women's clothing from trendsetters like Michèle Lamy or Roisin Murphy, or icons like Björk and David Bowie, as each of them has their own personal style that they’ve built over the years.


Go Monochromatic

One of the biggest contributions that avant-garde has brought to fashion is the use of monochrome shades. Designer Barbara I Gongini explains that “Keeping only a single tone gives the opportunity to work on clothing like on a canvas”. If you opt for a monochromatic outfit - in black, white, or gray - this will give you room to combine more textures and cuts and to focus on highlighting the details of the garments and the overall composition. However, this doesn’t mean that all avant-garde looks are in black and white. You can opt for bold, contrasting or complementing colors to showcase your color mixing skills and even use metallics to underline your style. For a sharp look, go for block colors or abstract patterns and avoid combining too many colors in one outfit.


How to dress avantgarde Leather Barbara I Gongini

Men’s Leather Jacket by Barbara I Gongini. Discover the men’s collection here. Photo by Adam Katz Sinding

Play with Volumes

How can you wear voluminous, elaborate clothes without getting lost in them or feeling like you’re pitching a tent? A rule of thumb that fashion-conscious wearers recommend is to combine voluminous pieces with fitted ones, but in the avant-garde world, you don’t have to stick to this rule in order to look good. Choose modern cuts, with voluminous geometric structures, asymmetric hemlines, or even exaggerated ruffles and pleats, if that sounds like you. As already mentioned, the point of avant-garde fashion is not to show off the body, in the way that mainstream fashion does, but rather to make an object of art out of it, through the sculptural elements of the garments. This principle applies to high-concept runway looks as much as to ready-to-wear avant-garde pieces. Avant-garde street style takes this concept and neatly integrates it in casual wear through draped materials and a variety of oversized coats and jackets.


Look for Clothes with Texture

Mixing and matching fabrics is very easy to do, yet you need a trained eye and to pick out textures that mix to great effect. The best way to achieve this is to experiment a lot and to try out different weaves and materials. Thanks to the minimalistic approach of the avant-garde aesthetic, you can leave out most prints when planning your look and instead focus on the weight and weave of the material. Look for cotton, linen and leather clothes, as well as sheer or lace pieces that can add value to your composition. 


Layer, Layer, Layer

Perhaps the best tool you can use to create a remarkable avant-garde outfit is layering. We all do it with our outfits during winter, so it’s a skill you probably have already. Start out simple, with a figure-hugging garment or another key piece that will be the pillar of your sculpture, and then add further elements to create a collage. Play with different textures and find contrasting combinations, but avoid mixing materials that are too different (for example, tweed and satin). If you’re wearing a long, loosely cut design, you can play with draping the material across the body for a dramatic effect.


How to Create an Avant-Garde Outfit

As you develop your avant-garde lookbook, you will discover new and unconventional ways of styling your favorite pieces of clothing. Shirts don’t always have to be worn as shirts. Avant-garde dresses can turn into skirts and cardigans into tops, depending on how you tie them. We like calling different items by different names, but in the end, fashion is about expressing yourself through your clothing, so feel free to wear them how you please. Have a look at these avant-garde outfit ideas and see if you can think of other ways of mixing and (mis)matching the items below.


What Avant-Garde Essential Pieces Should You Start With?

To set up your avant-garde wardrobe, you will need to start with some essential pieces that you can then easily integrate into your day-to-day attire.

1. Layering cardigans

One of the avant-garde basics that we recommend having in your wardrobe is a fluid top or a cardigan, which you can drape and style in a number of ways.

2. Shirts and jackets  

Some other pieces that are easy to match and would make ideal first buys for your avant-garde capsule collection include monochromatic shirts with asymmetric detailing and an avant-garde leather jacket.

A simple and very effective way to transform your wardrobe and revolutionize your style is to start with one item that you can wear with any outfit, such as a denim jacket or trench coat.

You can then use it as a starting point in building your outfit and work your way from the outside in when arranging your layers. For example, think about what kind of trousers you would wear with this avant-garde jacket: would you prefer a pair of Japanese inspired trousers or some loose fit parachute shorts? Would you match it with a chunky knitted scarf or a long cotton scarf that you can wrap around? Or maybe you'd slip it over a flowy satin avant-garde gown and finish the look with an intricate necklace?

After you decide on these items, think of the kind of top you would wear to match your bottoms and how you would pick the shoes so that they give unity to your composition.


Pick Avant-Garde Accessories

If you’re wondering how to make an avant-garde outfit stand out, or if you just want a statement piece to spice up your day-to-day garment combinations, you can opt for a remarkable accessory, such as a black multifunctional bag or a voluminous necklace. Avant-garde accesories are unique pieces will add an unconventional element to your casual outfits and speak volumes about your personality and fashion sense. Shoes are usually the most important part of your outfit because they tie it all together, so make sure you choose them well. For an avant-garde street style, look for dark shoes, preferably in a masculine style or with a distressed leather effect. They can be chunky or fitted, with a zip or with shoelaces, but they absolutely must be comfortable, so that you will wear them again and again. Everyone needs a pair of good quality dark shoes and these ones will end up being a key avant-garde piece in many of your outfits.


Where to buy Avant-Garde clothing

If you want to build up your mood board or grow your wardrobe, have a look at our avant-garde fashion blog post to find out who are the most famous avant-garde fashion designers, or browse our latest collections for more inspiration. Besides established avant-garde designers, nowadays there are a number of emerging designers with online boutiques that offer high-quality craftsmanship at accessible prices, so a bit of online digging might be very rewarding. However, you don’t have to rely on the up-and-coming fashion designers of the year to get hold of cutting-edge fashion. Sometimes, you can also find inspiring pieces in your local vintage shop, which you can personalize to your own taste.


Closing thoughts

Avant-garde fashion principles go beyond mere aesthetics to challenge ideas of mainstream fast-fashion. This includes the ways in which clothes are produced and consumed. Cutting-edge designers are now embracing the upcycling ethos, in order to minimize the waste produced by the clothes that are discarded every new season. For more on ethically-sourced, sustainable fashion, have a look at our interview with Nordic designer Barbara I Gongini.


How to dress avantgarde Runway Barbara I Gongini

Image: Michael Maximillian Hermansen.