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NEPTUNE AND FASHION (a history in images)

Brian Lee

Let’s start with a little guided meditation. We’re sitting here in the twenty first century. We’ve
got TV, movies, magazines, we’ve got advertising posters all over the street and even the
Internet. There are images wherever you look.

But imagine the world before photography was invented just over 150 years ago. Back then
the only images were hand-drawn or painted pictures. A likeness was something only the well-
to-do could afford. You had to employ an artist to have a painting done. If you were one of the
masses, the only place you would be likely ever to see an image was when you went to
church. There you could find the icons, the frescos and the stained glass; splendid, glorious
saintly images, all celebrating the power of established religion. You wouldn’t have seen books
much if at all, since the mass technology of printing didn’t exist yet. Not a lot of point really
since most people couldn’t read.

Then in the 1840s, the technology of photography was developed and images became more
easily available. You no longer needed to pay an artist to draw, sketch or paint. All you needed
to do was arrange objects in front of this apparatus and the light reflected from the objects
would be focused through a lens to be chemically fixed on paper. Et voilà! A photograph.

Around the time photography was invented, the planet Neptune was discovered (1846).
Astrologers often look for events around the time of a planet’s discovery to get an idea of the
associated energy. With Neptune it’s the world of the dreamlike and the mystical; images,
imagination and fantasy.

With photography it becomes possible for anyone with the right equipment to make an image.
And when you’ve made an image there it is. It’s something you can buy and sell, something
you can possess. If you’ve got a photograph of me you can compare me with my photograph.
This is me when I was younger/fatter/thinner. When I had less hair/more hair. We no longer
have to rely on memory to perceive our physical changes; photography shows us the ageing
process and changes how we look at ourselves.

Also with photography it becomes possible for ideals of beauty to be generally available. A
woman’s appearance could be captured (for wasn’t it usually men photographing women,
objectifying them) and compared to an image of ideal beauty.

Families in the nineteenth century dressed up to have their photographs taken. There they are
in the old family photo albums: the sisters in identical dresses and button boots, the brothers
in sailor uniforms. Everyone in their best clothes. The poses were stiff because you had to be
lit in a certain way and you had to hold still. The spontaneity of the snap shot had yet to arrive.
The photograph at the end of the nineteenth century was an image of bourgeois formality.

Then in our own century, the photographs begin to move. It’s almost impossible for us with our
VCRs and umpteen TV channels to imagine the impact that the early silent movies made on
people at that time. The creation of a virtual ideal world populated by early movie stars like
Rudolph Valentino and Theda Bara; there for you to psychically project your fantasies onto,
just as the images are physically projected on the screen.

Sound came in in the thirties and the images started to talk. (Pluto was discovered in 1930 by
Clyde Tombaugh after searching through thousands of photographic plates of the night sky.)
When Neptune is allied to Pluto, the images (Neptune) have a power (Pluto) which affects us
all - the hidden persuader with the power to sell.

The generation that grew up with the early cinema were the first generation that modelled
themselves on mass produced images. Those of us that have grown up since the end of the
second world war have had images delivered to our homes in a constant stream, so much so
that our world is one that has been pretty much defined by the mass media.

But Neptune isn’t just about the power that images have over us. It is also about how we
create and project our own image, as individuals, as members of a group, an age group or
whatever. A fashion era is defined not so much by which sign Neptune is in at any moment in
the sky, but where Neptune is in the charts of the particular generation that is making its mark.

In the sixties, the generation that had Neptune in Libra was coming into its own (somewhat
stimulated by the conjunction of Uranus and Pluto in the middle to late sixties). The imagery of
the flower-power period reflected the energy of Neptune in Libra (the generation born 1942-
55) with images of peace and love. The previous generation had Neptune in Virgo with quite a
different approach to both spirituality and image. Virgoan neatness came out in the Teddy
Boys with their obsessively well-kempt appearance, all slicked-back hair, skinny trousers and
shiny winkle-picker shoes. The shock of the psychedelic, multicoloured Neptune in Libra could
not have been greater.

By the early seventies flower-power was getting past its sell-by date and the Neptune in
Scorpio generation (born 1955-1970) were just beginning to earn a bit of money and could
express their own thing. Everything changed. The energy of punk came in snarling and fresh
with black and red, spikes and chains, cool and sexy rather than sweet and loving. The
aggression wasn’t suppressed and there was just a touch of bondage and sado-masochism.
What jolly fun! And thank you Neptune in Scorpio for bringing it all out into the open.

The mid-eighties saw the Neptune in Sagittarius generation (1970-1984) moving in to claim
centre stage. The Scorpionic punks and goths had never quite seemed at home in the
daylight, their scene was more to do with clubs and secret hiding places. The Neptune in
Sagittarius dudes and home-boys however, were quite happy hanging out in the open air with
their baseball caps and trainers, baggy jeans and ethnic look: the outdoor style that Sagittarius
loves to sport. Suddenly the hippie thing didn’t seem quite so affected and over-the-top any
more (Sagittarius is in an easy sextile to Libra). The whole mad mix got a boost from the
Uranus-Neptune conjunction in Capricorn and the 1988 Summer of Love with its ecstatic tribal
dance scene and world music influences happened, not to mention the fall of Communism.

This year (1998) looks like the beginning of the end for the rave scene now that books
documenting its history have started to appear. The Neptune in Capricorn generation (born
1984-1998) are waiting in the wings. Watch out for them once they’ve got a bit of cash, it’ll
soon be time to say goodbye to the sloppy Sagittarian look. Expect well cut and well designed
clothes (Capricorn is into structure, perfection and prestige). Expect colours to be subdued:
brown, navy blue and black. Individualism may vanish for a while under a post-modernist

Don’t worry, it’ll be back when the Neptune in Aquarius kids (born 1998-2011) come on
stream with their fluorescent colours, crazy hair and sci-fi look. There could even be a flower-
power revival. So hang on to the sixties satin and tat, it could be worth a fortune come 2020
or so.

© Brian Lee 1998