On Tarlo

I find it so fascinating how our Tarlo reading from last week puts a different context into how anthropologists understand fashion and clothing. Rather than something that is easily dismissed as frivolous and feminine – unworthy of academic consideration – Tarlo believes that we should analyze clothes based on the wearer and why they chose to wear those things.

Take Mad Men, for example, one of my favorite shows on television. January Jones (who plays Betty Draper) talked about how these girdles and corsets that she slipped on for the show clipped her strides, fixed her posture and gave a certain waddle to her steps. It’s a further example of Zane’s quote: “power both inscribes and prescribes the body as it is inflected by the histories and dynamics of power relations, to reflect the positioning strategies of who sets the norm.”

Take, for example, a conflict between Sterling Cooper’s secretary, Joan, and Peggy, also a secretary but transitioning into a role as a copywriter for the ad agency. The clothes they wear (or choose not to) is a clear indicative of how they want to navigate themselves through the world.


Or take for example, Betty Draper, the show’s tragic housewife. Throughout the 3rd season, she’s been trying to find a way out of her marriage and confront her husband’s infidelity. But during a last-minute vacation to Rome, she turns to role-playing to fix – even if only temporarily – her relationship with her husband.


When they return home, Betty is back to cleaning the house and taking care of the kids. But for the first couple of days she flitters around her home in a beautiful print dress she picked up in Italy – trying to remind herself of how happy she was with her husband. But it all goes back to the way things were – she’s stuck at the house, and Don is out doing whatever and whoever he wants, and Betty – in her European dress – sits on her sofa,  full of regret.

What I want to ask to our class is something very basic – how do we in this post-feminist, post-modernist, post-etc. world choose what we wear and why do we wear it? Is it all that different from the 1960s? Or do some things just stay the same?


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