“Humans are clothes-wearing pigs. In that case, I will dominate them. Rule over them.”
-Satsuki Kiryuin, Kill la Kill
When I was in my last year of junior high school, I bumbled my way through a grueling week of standardized tests for various preparatory schools. I ended up choosing none of them, and attended the town public school as originally intended – regardless of whether I would have presumably had a better education – in order to be with my friends.
Upon graduating, my only regret in not attending a private institution, much like my decision on where I would receive my high school diploma from, was based solely on fashion. I wanted to have worn a school uniform.
Yes, I was one of those disgusting “pigs in clothing” that Satsuki Kiryuin loathes.
Kill la Kill continues to have interesting thoughts on clothing, how it affects the attitude of the wearer, and how the attitude of the wearer affects the way that article of clothing is presented, and received by, a viewer. In episode five, the series shows Ryuko Matoi has come to accept Senketsu, her vampiric sailor uniform, as a friend. Likewise, Senketsu is shown to care for Ryuko’s life above his own. This is opposed to Satsuki’s viewpoint, which requires dominion over Junketsu.
Fashion is transient and, most importantly, wholly reliant on communication. It is a modern industry influenced by mass production and advertising. In order for influence to occur, it requires an origin point, often from a prominent figure in the upper class. In our example of Kill la Kill this would be Satsuki. Additionally it requires a method of communicating that style down to the masses. In Satsuki’s case, Honnouji Academy is the perfect framework, as an existing communication structure is already in place. Satsuki bestows her star uniforms on various underlings, enhancing their existing abilities. Their experience with clothing is similar to Satsuki’s personal experience with clothing: they both depend on a system with Satsuki ruling over all. They are wearing their clothes enough to do what Satsuki wants them to do.
Interestingly enough, the star uniform recipients also show glimmers of self. For example, the leader of the Gardening Club genuinely cares for his garden, and his uniform uniquely enhances his ability to garden. They treat their coveted uniforms with care because they were handed down from Satsuki, and also because they feel as if they too can best achieve their personal ambitions with these specific clothes.
Junior high school was a rough time for me personally. In elementary school, I had discovered that I felt more comfortable wearing clothing for boys than I did for girls. My obliging parents allowed me to choose my own clothing, so I typically wore baggy jeans, sweatshirts, overalls, and flannel. I had my hair cut short so that it didn’t get in my way. These choices suited my lifestyle of playing at least one sport a season, while additionally climbing trees, rollerblading around the neighborhood, and habitually spilling paint on my clothes from various artistic endeavors. Just as the Gardening Club President felt as if he could garden better in his star uniform, I felt that I could do the things that I loved in my clothes. My family gently teased me when I said that I would never wear dresses. In junior high, it became apparent to me that my style was not fashionable or popular. Instead of being a happy, athletic girl that one would want to befriend, I became “that weird girl who looks like a boy.”
I grew out my hair (it took the full three years of junior high to grow it to my shoulders). I dragged my mother to Abercrombie and Fitch. I traded my glasses in for contact lenses. I started wearing dresses. In spite of these attempts to fit in, I somehow was still doing it wrong. My hairstyle had no volume, the clothes purchased from popular name brands were still somehow not the correct ones, my eyes were too large for my face without glasses to hide behind, and dresses felt like a betrayal of my childhood self. I felt more awkward, not less – much like Ryuko did her first few times wearing Senketsu – in these clothes that would presumably allow me to achieve my social ambitions of upward mobility.
Wearing a school uniform would have been easier for me at that time, because it removed the choice. One could argue that this is the uniform working exactly as intended, as it removes individuality from every student, adding a militaristic touch for a dash of discipline. For me personally, wearing a uniform would have meant that I couldn’t have chosen the wrong outfit if I only had a specified and narrow list of clothing to choose from. I wasn’t confident enough, or defined in what my “self” was in order to use clothing as a tool of expression anymore. Anything that I did wear mimicked something else, first worn on someone else far more popular than me. Applying the previous model of how fashion is dispensed, the person with a higher status than me set the trend while I, the lowly underling, followed their lead, looking for acceptance. In a way, this made me worse than the star uniform recipients. At the very least, they had tennis and boxing matches to look forward to, gardens to tend to, or music to play. I often hid my interests as I relinquished my clothes, and a uniform requirement would have completed my assimilation in with the masses.
“As long as I beat these guys, it doesn’t matter how I look.”
-Ryuko Matoi, Kill la Kill
Ryuko is first forced against her will into wearing Senketsu. While the inclusion of that scene is still uncomfortable – and difficult to justify with the camera angles and presentation of the first three episodes – it was not a directionless decision. In order to fulfill her ambition, Ryuko must wear this uniform. The growing relationship between Ryuko and her clothing evolves because Ryuko’s perspective changes in the third episode. This doesn’t drastically change society’s view of her – one only has to look at the reactions of Mako’s family to see this – but it at least allows Ryuko to manage. She can set aside what society is telling her to think of how she looks in order to accomplish her goal.
Satsuki’s occupation of Junketsu occurs after she witnesses Ryuko and Senketsu. While she may state that it is she who controls the uniform, her decision to do so was directly influenced by Ryuko’s appearance. In this model, Ryuko is the trendsetter and it is Satsuki who follows her lead. Additionally, the two have different transformation sequences, with Satsuki crying out “Life fiber override!” as opposed to Ryuko’s, “Life fiber synchronize!” The latter statement implies the symbiotic relationship between Ryuko and her clothing: Ryuko uses the uniform as a means to an end, with her inner strength driving the power that she receives from wearing Senketsu.
Personally, what I wear currently may not wholly reflect who I am. It is also influenced by others as well as societal expectations, particularly when I have to follow a dress code and put on a suit to go to work. However, unlike in high school where I yearned for a uniform in order to aid in hiding myself, putting on the uniform of a suit is a means to an end. As long as I do my job, it doesn’t matter what I am made to wear in order to do it. I am very successful at my job and that power comes from me. Like Ryuko, the clothing began as a necessary adornment as deemed by others, but now I consider it my partner in achieving what I want.