Stitch by Stitch: The Cult of Fashion in Kill la Kill

“People are people! Clothes are clothes!” -Matoi Ryuko

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It’s not about who you are–it’s about what you wear. Or is it?

While Kill la Kill‘s never aimed to be a profound show, as evidenced by the above declaration made by a screaming Ryuko as she stops her insane alien-possessed mother from turning humanity into a planet-sized bolt of cloth, it’s been an unabashedly honest show.

Watching Kill la Kill requires a certain amount of fortitude for plot twists and tolerance for absurd whimsy. The feeling one gets from watching it is not unlike the sensation of trying on a bunch of clothes one is only vaguely excited about because “Why not?”

Let's fight against this insane little girl with half a pair of giant scissors while wearing nothing but lingerie because why not?
Let’s fight against this insane little girl with half a pair of giant scissors while wearing nothing but lingerie because why not?

Whether you’re the type of person who has to meticulously color palette match and coordinated every outfit, or if you’re a casual slob who’ll just put on anything comfortable that’s located conveniently in front of your closet, everyone (at least if you’re going outside) wears clothes. Besides serving their primary function of covering our private areas and protecting us from all sorts of weather conditions, clothes matter because they are telling of who we are.

Enter Matoi Ryuko, your not-so-average Japanese schoolgirl.
Enter Matoi Ryuko, your not-so-average Japanese schoolgirl.

In Ryuko’s case, she dons a sailor fuku–a type of Japanese school uniform–named Senketsu. Because this is anime, her sailor fuku isn’t just any old school uniform, it’s an sentient, talking one made from extraterrestrial threads of origin called Life Fibers. Because this isn’t absurd enough, the story playing on the origin of sailor fuku as military uniforms, has Senketsu double as a provocatively revealing combat suit that gives Ryuko superhuman agility and strength.

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Somehow, I don’t think this would fly by most dress code regulations…

While Kill la Kill starts off with the premise that “Clothes make the man” through its school battle tournament episodes that make up the first story arc of the series, it becomes clearer later on that too much preoccupation to one’s clothes and clothes in general is an unhealthy obsession. We root (perhaps a bit too enthusiastically) when Ryuko overcomes her modesty when she dons Senketsu and becomes a more confident and less self-conscious fighter.

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At the same time that clothing can empower people, it can also trap them. Ragyo is the quintessential cautionary example of what happens when a person allows themselves to be enslaved by clothing.  As much as clothes can make us look good and shape how we and others look at ourselves, we must not forget that “clothes are clothes” and do not dominate our selves.

“The bliss of being worn by clothing..an experience beyond compare!” -Kiryuin Ragyo

Ragyo crosses the line that must never be crossed–the point where she willingly gives up her own humanity for the sake of wearing beautiful clothes. While her slavish devotion is repulsive to us, in some ways we are not so different from her. Clothes are a necessity but we often spend quite a bit of money and time for clothes that not only feel good, but also look good and flatter our bodies.

How to look badass...even while wearing practically nothing.
How to look badass…even while wearing practically nothing.

Clothes may reflect who we are but they shouldn’t reflect all that we are.  As visual creatures who constant judge each other based on appearances, it’s easy to be locked this pattern of evaluating people’s worth solely based on how they’re dressed. In this manner, we end up taking the appearance of the person for the person himself, and by doing so, the clothes eclipse the person along the similar lines the Life Fibers take over their wearer.

Senketsu: There comes a time when a girl outgrows her sailor uniform. Now you’ll be able to wear other clothes, Ryuko. Clothing that is cuter than I.

Ryuko: I will! I’ll wear clothes so cute they’ll make you jealous, Senketsu!

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While excess sentimentalism over clothing is shown to be a largely negative thing in Kill la Kill, not all emotional attachments to our wardrobe are necessarily bad. Sometimes the clothes that we wear often, the ones that get worn with time and wear and tear,  are so beloved to us that we can’t bear to part with them even when we’ve outgrown them. Like the well-loved tattered remnants of a favorite stuffed toy or the dog-eared yellowed pages of a cherished book, the clothes of our childhood can speak strongly to us and renew memories neglected or otherwise forgotten.

Because as much as we might be reluctant to admit it, clothes are part of who we are. They shield us from the elements and wandering eyes, they help identify us from others, they serve as a form of self-expression, and they provide a home for our bodies to rest in.

Not that there's anything wrong with naked group cuddling...but having clothes on would be a big plus, yeah?
Not that there’s anything wrong with naked group cuddling…but having clothes on would be a big plus, yeah?
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4 thoughts on “Stitch by Stitch: The Cult of Fashion in Kill la Kill

  1. “Clothes are a necessity but we often spend quite a bit of money and time for clothes that not only feel good, but also look good and flatter our bodies.” I’ll add that when we buy expensive clothes we don’t buy just good-looking clothes (you may find cheaper equally neat and of good quality) but we buy ourselves power. We purchase social status. Ragyo doesn’t obsess with how pretty they look rather than how powerful they are first and foremost. It was great seeing nakedness become equated with power as well -power to revolutionize (see also Freikörperkultur).

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    1. I agree. If clothes did nothing but cover ourselves, there wouldn’t even be a fashion industry. But people judge what we’re wearing because what we’re wearing correlates with our social ranking or place in society. Ragyo capitalizes on this and uses it for world domination. Great point about the nakedness becoming an act of empowerment rather than of vulnerability. However, at the end of KnK when the world’s been saved, the Nudist Beach guys end up breathing a sigh of relief (“Finally, we can wear clothes again”), which suggests that clothes still have a place…maybe we aren’t ready for worldwide nakedness yet at this point. 😛

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