Global Economies of Fashion
The value and emphasis placed on fashion vary from culture to culture and these weeks readings on the global economies of fashion reiterate that very phenomenon. Wilson, Ko and Gondola all provided incredible insight in regards to fashion and the impact a garment, brand or style of dress has on a community. It’s necessary to consider in learning about the politics of fashion that what may be seen one way in one particular culture may not be seen the same as it is in a different culture and that ambiguity plays a huge role in the politics of fashion.
The author Verity Wilson discusses the Chinese textiles from 1850 to the present. She stresses how the dragon robe is an ambiguous garment. The garment is ambiguous because of the multiple meanings it has acquired throughout history. In the eighteenth century it was worn solely by men and was a way to identify a man of power who was not to be trusted. The robe was also worn be bridegrooms before their wedding. The Catholic missionaries wore the robe as a formal garment. It was not a required article of clothing so it transitioned into elaborate wear. Wilson also investigates how the production method of the robe played a major influence on its value and worth. The customer seemed to be more pleased if they knew the garment had been hand made. In the present dragon robes are souvenirs. This garment is a way for non-native individuals to take a piece of what they feel represents the Chinese culture home.
What are some other garments/items that have multiple meanings?
Dorothy Ko examines how high heels, platforms and lotus shoes function in society. She begins with an example from the classic Chinese film Wild Rose from 1932. A young girl has to impress a bourgeois family to gain permission to stay in their mansion. She does a complete makeover and is wearing heels. She is so frustrated with the clothing, shoes and almost falling on her face that she lifts her skirt up in a room full of graceful guests. The young girl is thrown out of the house for her actions and the camera zooms in on the high heels she discards on the floor. This film is mentioned to show “the class division in the China’s foreign and domestic relations” (Ko, 141). High heels present both a positive and negative relationship between modern femininity and historical time.
What role does shoes play in your daily dress? Are they extremely important or are they the least significant part of your outfit? What do high heels represent?
The final reading titled Dream and Drama: The Search for Elegance among Congolese Youth by Ch. Didier Gondola gave incredible insight on the lifestyles of the mikilistes or Sapeurs of Congo. The La SAPE represents a way of life; La SAPE stands for “La Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes”(society of atmosphere setters and elegant people) and through sape, fashion presides over everything. They are Congolese males who usually have humble occupations as carpenters, drivers, servants, and some are unemployed. Sapeurs also live troublesome lives as thieves, squatters, and other illegal occupations. However, despite their environment and circumstances, the Sapeurs aspire to live the “European dream” that is unattainable in Africa. Their ultimate goal is to reach a Europe because it consummates their entrance into adulthood. The European city represents a utopia to the Congolese.
“The mikiliste is an individual who first experiences Europe, his Europe, in Africa” (Didier, 28).
The clothing these men of the Congo wear provides an escape from their social circumstances and their image and they way they are perceived is extremely important to them. The Sapeurs (mikilistes) use their bodies as a “social metaphor” in which they portray themselves how they want to be seen by others, which is as grand and, essentially, more than what they are. According to Gondola, the mikiliste possess a psychological attachment to clothing because they will acquire griffe (labels) at any cost in order to fulfill his aspiration to live the “European dream”; if it means skipping a rent payment or if they have to sell drugs to afford the designer suit, they will do it. They are fueled by their desires to obtain expensive European labels because the aesthetic is more desirable and they want to be admired. While they can never fully escape who they are through sape, they are determined to provide an illusion.
What do you all make of the mentality held by the Sapeurs of the Congo? Is it superficial? Misleading? Or should it not matter what/why they choose to spend the money they do on their clothing? What’s your opinion of their obsession of European labels? Could it be seen as their abandonment of their heritage or do you see it as their culture? Is this type of consumption problematic (generally speaking)? Do you know of any other cultures, groups, etc., that possess a superficial mentality? What role does colonization have in all of this? Do you see that impact as negative or positive? What is your opinion on Gondola’s synopsis of the Sapeurs?