What Does A Designer Look Like?

Vivienne Westwood, acknowledged as a fierce, creative force in fashion design.

When we discuss race and labor in terms of the fashion industrial complex, we often consider these questions in terms of industrial production — the sweatshop, for instance. (And when we do watch Made in LA next week, we’ll see just how important race is in this equation.) But how do questions of race and labor pervade all the levels of the fashion industrial complex? Whose labors –industrial, technical, creative, and intellectual– are scrutinized, questioned, or degraded, and whose are not? And, as we read about this unit, how do certain bodies and persons interact with those meanings and try to challenge, transform, or negotiate with them?

Consider the following quotes collected by a former student about Chloe Dao’s win in the second season of Project Runway:

In reference to my first comment (first entry above), yes Chloe is a traitor to her race, but also to fashion. Not only does she dates a Caucasian male, but she designs for the Caucasian body! Hell, she has a fat Caucasian body herself! Buttermilk butt and cancer-prone buttermilk boob. Here’s a chance for a prominent Asian female to stand in the spotlight and what does she give us? Rehashed satin evening gowns to go prancing to the prom. C’mon now. Where are the ao dai’s, the sarongs, the modified kimono’s? Let’s see some avante garde Asian influenced designs instead of run down oppressive Anglo-Saxon garb… or should I say, “garb-age”?

Comments posted after the Season 2 Finale: http://www.realitytvmagazine.com/blog/2006/03/08/project-runway-winner-is-chloe-dao-viewers-disagree-with-judges/#more-9680

I think Santino said it best, Chloe, while talented, is a great pattern maker but not a great designer. I am also surprised….why did nobody mention anything about the fact the Chloe had much more help than any of the other designers. Are we to believe all her other sisters did not “give her a hand” in designing the 12 dresses for the finale? Give me a break, we all say where she was when Tim Gunn visited her in Texas.

Comment posted on: http://www.rickey.org/?p=967

Thank you for being you. You make me happy. You make people laugh, make them think, make them question whether life is , whether it should be, a popularity contest. Chloe will always be a robotic pattern-maker (Tin Man – no heart) and Daniel is a whiny backstabber (Scarecrow – no brain) who will someday, if he is lucky, have the passion and creativity and COURAGE (The Lion!) you have in your heart. As one artist to another, I have the greatest respect for you. Best wishes to you!

You know Chloe pulled together variations of her greatest hits from her shop. If they cut her first she would have been forgotten. As it is they got the immigrants and asians vote.

Comments posted to Santino Rice’s blog: http://santinorice.com/blog/2006/03/turn-it-around-people.html

A pattern maker, hard at work also creating.

How does Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu’s work help us make sense of what is going on here? What does a designer look like? What does a patternmaker look like? What does a seamstress look like? How do we make sense of Asian Americans’ overwhelming presence in fashion design? Tu intimates that Asian American designers are often positioned differently in the industry because of their Asianness. At the intersection of culture and economy, Tu addresses “how Asianness has become a resource in this creative economy, and how the economic terrain has worked to shape what we know or claim as Asian American.”

In doing so, she wishes to demonstrate that aesthetic productions rely on labor, capital, and other material resources, and moreover, to show how processes of immaterial (creative, intellectual, etc.) labor mirror and are linked to other forms of work – industrial and entrepreneurial among them.

How does the fashion industry seek to delink garment manufacturing from design, and why? How is this a false dichotomy (one perpetuated in the comments about Dao)? How might this “high culture” distinction between art and craft be racialized in particular ways? How do Asian American designers disrupt this distinction?

How is some work –critical to the design process— nonetheless deemed “unskilled,” while other work is understood as “creative”? What differences in value accrue to each designation?


Notes on Presentations

The presentation should be about fifteen-twenty minutes long, and focused on your analysis of the discussion point. The length is never the main concern for me in grading; the length is more a guideline than a requirement. What is required is a discussion point that opens up the themes of the readings for more exploration — it can and should be equal parts your analysis with reference to the readings as a springboard for your thoughts, but also invitation to the other students to consider other dimensions and questions.

The readings can BOOKEND the presentation. (Do not summarize the readings for your presentation — FOR REAL.) First, it can be incorporated as a sort of a prompt that helped you to think about the discussion point; for instance, a quote or an argument that you can pull out and identify as a springboard for thinking about your point. Second, the readings can reenter at the end of the presentation as questions to pose to your classmates to get discussion going. So, if you use one author to think about a point, you might ask what questions about what the other authors might say. Or if you’re not sure about an analysis in the reading, you can just put that out there as well.

You can ask the other students to participate in your presentation by asking/answering questions, or having them do a quick writing exercise, et cetera. The discussion point is about engagement with the readings and with the class in how these readings and themes have relevance to them in their everyday lives, or to our understanding of the world at large.

In past presentations, I’ve seen everything from a trivia game like Jeopardy!, to a skit demonstrating how a Muslim girl might easily shop at a mall for “modest” clothes to observe hijab, to reenacted clips from makeover reality shows like From G’s To Gents or RuPaul’s Drag Race. Be as creative as you like!

Any questions?

The Fashion Editorial As Historical Document

Fashion photography and editorial constitutes a historical document that offers us evidence of the practices and ideals of a given period. However, fashion photography and editorial is not merely a passive reflection of a period; it is also a vehicle for circulating new patterns of consumption tied to evolving notions of the self and the world (and these are of course not singular!).

At various points throughout the Barthes reading, I recognized certain rhetorical patterns that continue in fashion editorializing (both in magazines but also increasingly on television and new media), but also some that are changed as well. Here are some of the more significant themes he lists:

  1. Themes in trends: nature, geography (exotic locations), history (“which primarily provides models for entire ensembles” or lines), and art.
  2. The work of a detail to “permeate an entire outfit with the meaning of Fashion.” (243) Furthermore, “the detail consecrates a democracy of budgets while respecting an aristocracy of tastes.”
  3. The work of narrative in the “rhetoric of the signified” to create Fashion as an event (e.g., “jetsetter,” “red carpet,” and other scenarios on Project Runway or America’s Next Top Model).
  4. “The being of doing” – the aspirational or fantastical qualities of Fashion that do not assume the reality of “doing.” See the pages 252-253, to see how the fashion editorial transforms the activity of “doing the shopping.”
  5. “The woman of Fashion is a collection of tiny, separate essences rather analogous to the character parts played by actors in classical theater.” (254) “In Fashion, the individualization of the person depends on the number of elements in play and still better, if it is possible, on their opposition.” (255) E.g., “preppy but punky,” “demure but seductive.”
  6. “For Fashion, clothing is not play but the sign of play…the game of clothing is here no longer the game of being, the agonizing question of the tragic universe; it is simply a keyboard of signs from among which an eternal person chooses one day’s amusement.” (257) For instance, in the various trends of the last two years – Russian opulence (involving rich russet brocades), “African” fabric, the Mexican peasant blouse.
  7. Fashion also designates “the fashionable body.” (259)

Here, Barthes notes that “Fashion” produces “Woman” as an abstraction – “imperatively feminine, absolutely young, endowed with a strong identity and yet with a contradictory personality….” He further argues that “In this monster we obviously recognize the permanent compromise which marks the relation between mass culture and its consumers: the Woman of Fashion is simultaneously what the reader is and what she dreams of being.” (260-261) This relation –which is the relation of goods to consumers in general— is both historically specific but also ideologically continuous with capitalist culture.

Consider the above image from the August 2010 issue of Vogue Italia. Refinery 29 blogged:

There’s no denying that these images from the oil spill editorial in Vogue Italia ‘s August 2010 issue are beautiful. The 24 pages of Kristen McMenamy, shot by Steven Meisel, are realistic interpretations of images of injured, oiled animals that have inundated the news media since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April. As beautiful and provocative as they are, we can’t help but feel uneasy. Creating beauty and glamour out of tragedy seems quite fucked up to us, not to mention wasteful and hypocritical, seeing as thousands of dollars of luxury clothing was flown in, and then subsequently ruined for the shoot. Glamorizing this recent ecological and social disaster for the sake of “fashion” reduces the tragic event to nothing more than attention-grabbing newsstand fodder. But that’s just us. Do you think this is appropriate commentary, or just tasteless?

What is continuous in this fashion editorial with Barthes’ analysis? What is distinctive about this fashion editorial that “speaks” a revised language in this historical moment? What other examples can you find?

Discussion Points/Blog Schedule for Fall 2011

The following is the schedule for groups to bring together discussion points and blog posts each week.


Mary McFadden
Emma Loret de Mola


Stephanie LaFaire
Adrienne Hoopingarner
Yumi Baftijari


Elena Solomon
Cat Calcagno


Bianca Gay
Jasmine Anderson
Odera Agbim


Sarah Tanaka
Ally Holzhauer
Yulia Sorokina


Christina Cornelius
Jasmine Cephas
Dana Ahern


Roland Lim
Christian Gollayan
Lainey Waugh


Fin Smith
Nicole Maurice


Chelsey Tillman
Alethea McNeil


Rachel Brown
Aryn Terry
Mayra Diaz

Gender Is In The Details

From Roland Barthes’ The Fashion System (1967):

Fashion understands the opposition between the feminine and the masculine quite well; reality itself requires that it do so, since reality often puts features derived from men’s clothing (pants, tie, jacket) in women’s wardrobes; in fact, between the two kinds of clothing, differential signs are extremely rare and are always situated at the level of the detail.

From “When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?” by Jeanne Maglaty for Smithsonian.com:

But nowadays people just have to know the sex of a baby or young child at first glance, says Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, to be published later this year. Thus we see, for example, a pink headband encircling the bald head of an infant girl.

Why have young children’s clothing styles changed so dramatically? How did we end up with two “teams”—boys in blue and girls in pink?

“It’s really a story of what happened to neutral clothing,” says Paoletti, who has explored the meaning of children’s clothing for 30 years. For centuries, she says, children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. “What was once a matter of practicality—you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached—became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted,’ ” Paoletti says.

The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way,” Paoletti says.

Satirizing Fashion Photography

In her performance piece “Poses,” Spanish artist Yolanda Dominguez satirizes fashion photography, instructing participants to contort their bodies in the poses and movements usually found in fashion editorials in public places. (Originally found here.)

“Poses” is a direct criticism of the absurd and artificial world of glamour and of fashion that magazines present. Specifically, the highly-distorted image of women that they transmit through models that do not represent real women and that avoid all those who are not within their restricted parameters.

While we need not necessarily denounce fashion editorials for their artifice (we should not discount the power of fantastical or absurd imagery to press against the assumed boundaries of the human body or social decorum, for instance), Dominguez’s project does allow us another way into the readings — how do certain poses and movements become part of a sign system for “fashion”? How are bodies themselves, rather than “just” being biological entities, made into signs? (Jennifer Craik writes, “bodies are ‘made up’ in both senses of the term – constructed through the acquisition of body techniques, and known through the ways in which they are made presentable in habituses or living environments.”)  What other speculations or questions does this piece inspire in relation to the readings?

WEEK TWO: Reading Notes for Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes’s The Fashion System (1967) is a classic, complicated study of how the world of high fashion industry uses images and words to create an abstract world of fashionableness that must at once always change (in order to continue to sell new fashions) and always stay the same (also in order to continue to sell new fashions).

Roland Barthes was a semiotician. He was interested in the process of signification, of the mechanisms by which meanings are produced and into circulation, also known as semiotics. Semiology, or semiotics, broadly defined, is a “science” that studies the political life of signs within a particular time and place, or the system of possible and impossible meanings. It examines rhetorical strategies and the structure of language through which meanings are secured (how we know what someone or something means) and reiterated. Semioticians classify signs and sign systems in relation to the way they are transmitted. This process of making and transmitting meaning depends on the use of codes that may be the individual noises or letters that humans use to form words, the body movements they make to show attitude or emotion, or even something as general as the clothes they wear.

The signs and sign systems Barthes analyzes in these excerpts from The Fashion System are the ideas and ideologies that are transmitted through clothing and, in this instance, fashion magazine editorials in particular. The basic terms he uses are: signified, signifier, sign, and sign system.

The signifier is the idea or the concept that is attached to a particular thing, which is the signified (thus, the designation of something as “fashionable” is the signifier, and the thing itself is the signified – which has no intrinsic or essential meaning without the signifier). The sign is the combination of the signifier and the signified, and the sign system is the larger historical system that secures the meaning of the sign within a chain of signs, or in relation to other signs.

For instance, one sign might be “mom jeans.” The signified would be the object itself –the actual, material thing– and the signifier is the “next” order of meaning-making. The phrase “mom jeans” is a signifier inasmuch as it mediates our understanding of the object through a word or phrase (or an image). But the signifier also includes the operations of meanings through which “mom jeans” comes to function not just as a denotative name for high-waisted, pleated, “relaxed seat” denim pants, but also as a connotative sign referring to a whole host of ideas about mothers (whether or not a person wearing them is a mother, or whether or not a particular mother wears them, why would a mother be wearing them) and their location in the fashion system.

While this is a bit of a simplification, this is the level that Barthes is interested in – “the mental representation of a thing…a concept,” how these meanings reproduce hierarchies of value and power in historically and culturally specific ways. So consider, as you’re reading Barthes, how to do a semiotic reading of an item of clothing you might see in your everyday life (e.g., mom jeans, boyfriend jeans, Pink sweatpants, Islamic head covering) and we’ll consider this further in the next class session.

Students, Authors

Students who are enrolled in GWS/AAS 485 are required to sign up with WordPress (dot com, not dot org!) to become authors on the blog. (Learn about how to use WordPress here.) Once you have an account, please let me know your sign-up email address so I may add you to the roster. We will begin student-authored blogging in the third week of classes.

GWS/AAS 485 Politics of Fashion Syllabus FALL 2011

"Welcome to GWS/AAS 485!"

Fall 2011
Weds 2-5
104 English
Professor Mimi Thi Nguyen

Because clothing is a medium for fashioning identities from commodities, it is hardly surprising that political and social tensions are embodied in its fabrications. The emotive politics of dress indicates an inseparable link between sartorial practice and political significance, as demonstrated in debates about Muslim women and practices of veiling (and their masculine counterpart, of turbans and terrorism), the role of clothing in colonialism’s “civilizing” mission, “traditional” Asian dress and body fashions, immigrant and “third world” sweatshop labor and globalization. Clearly manifest throughout these politics is the role of gender, as well as race, nation, and sexuality, as relations of power and as critical factors in accessing “human and other rights.”

This course examines the discourses, political and economic conditions, and institutional formations that have produced the subjects of fashion as tradition-bound “others” in need of liberation or “modernization,” as “productive” and self-governing subjects embodying modernity, as cosmopolitan citizens of the world, and as the labor for transnational capitalism.  In the latter half, we will focus on both the historical and cultural development of fashion, clothing and consumption between Asia and “the West” and within Asia, including South Asia and the Middle East. Using a variety of sources, including art, legal codes, protests and advertisements, we will pursue a careful articulation of fashion’s complicities and resistances with various regimes of power in the construction of gendered national and transnational subjects. Topics will include dress as a site of political contest, design as a locus of industry and ideology as well as aesthetics, and manufacture at the intersection of transnational circuits of labor, bodies, and capital.

A photocopied course reader is the main text for this seminar. You can purchase the reader at Notes & Quotes, 502 E. John St., #107, Champaign, (217) 344-4433. The other book for the course is Emma Tarlo’s Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India, at the IUB.

Course Blog:
The course blog is: https://politicsoffashionuiuc.wordpress.com. Everyone will have to sign up for WordPress: http://wordpress.com/ by the second week. I will collect the emails you signed up under during class session to add you as authors to the blog. To write a blog post, sign in at: http://dashboard.wordpress.com.

Contact & Email:
My office hours this semester will be Mondays 10 – 11:30 a.m., by appointment. My office is in Gender and Women’s Studies Program, 911 S. Sixth St, Room 203. My e-mail address is the preferred way to reach me: mimin@illinois.edu. Please limit your emails to important and necessary matters. Many answers to your questions may be in the syllabus or on the blog. Please consult these sources before emailing regarding “quick questions.” I will not answer emails that inquire about information found in these places! Please also use GWS 485 as part of the subject heading in your email inquiries.


Your attendance and participation are required for the entire session of each lecture. More than two unexcused absences in the weekly discussion section will result in a lowered grade. Each additional absence will result in a 10-point reduction in this portion of the grade. An “excused absence” means contacting me 24 hours in advance AND my approval of that absence, OR bringing a doctor’s note after the missed class(es). Merely telling me that you will be absent does not automatically become an “excused absence.” Attendance means not just being present in the room, but also arriving in a timely fashion. Three lates equal one absence.

Reading & Participation:
It is essential that you complete and reflect upon reading assignments before coming to class, and that you be prepared to contribute intelligently to the discussion. You need to bring your texts and lecture notes to each meeting. Although I will spend some time lecturing, this course is also a discussion class, in which we will discuss materials as a group. You should contribute significantly to class discussion each week by asking or responding to questions, by building on comments already made, and by generally contributing positively to the community spirit of the classroom. This means making the effort to talk if you are generally shy and making an effort to listen if you are generally talkative.

Class participation may also include in-class assignments, quizzes, and analytical film watching notes.

This seminar will be both a reading and writing seminar that will require significant collaboration. By the end of the semester, you will have finished a series of individual comments, contributed to at least ONE group blog post, and completed a final research project. At the end of the semester, you will collect all your comments and posts in a portfolio to be handed in with your final project.

Work received after the due date and time will not be evaluated or credited. You are responsible for retaining a copy of each of your assignments. Grading decisions are final and post-grading negotiation will not be permitted. No incompletes will be granted for the course except in cases of personal emergencies, subject to prompt notification of the professor and valid documentation of the particular emergency.

Discussion Points & Blog Posts:
Over the course of the semester, each student will collaborate in a group to the contribution of ONE discussion point related to course themes. A discussion point can take the form of a critical question, news article, advertisement, image, song, video clip, et cetera, that elaborates upon a key concept from the readings. Your group will be asked to discuss the point in class –discussing the reading without summarizing the reading!– and make the discussion point accessible to the other students (this means showing the clip, making copies of the image or article, Powerpoint/Keynote slides, etc.). You will also need to turn in to me a one-page paper about the point relating it to that week’s readings. These will be collected at the end of each class session.

Your group will then co-author one post-class blog posting builds on a key concept from the discussion, due before the following class session (this means you have a week, but it’s probably best to do before the week is out and you are onto other readings). Students not responsible for a blog posting that week will be responsible for substantially commenting and responding to the blog posts in a way that demonstrates knowledge of the readings and understanding of the concepts.

Be thoughtful and constructive – no ad hominem attacks or flaming. The purpose of this exercise is, of course, to encourage you to engage your peers in a dialogue about the readings, but also about the issues raised by the readings. Each post should be at least 400 words. Each response to a post should be a minimum of 200 words. Late blog posts will be docked ten points each day it is posted late. Comments are closed 14 days after the initial publication of the post. No comments will be accepted after 14 days.

Final Project:
The final project can take one of a number of forms. Most conventionally, you might write a final research paper (10-15 pages, double-spaced, 1.25-in margins, 12 pt font in Times/Times Roman) will analyze a facet of the politics of fashion, related to the rubrics of the course (the weekly themes), of your choosing and pending my approval. You can also make a film/video (at least 5 minutes), art project (BUT NO COLLAGES!!), or in-class presentation for which you will be required to turn in the film/video, project or presentation along with a 5-7 page project statement that locates and analyzes your work in the context of the course.

You may do a group project, but very clear roles and responsibilities must be assigned and discussed with me ahead of time. Everyone, no matter the project, must turn in a project proposal before proceeding (for a film/video, this includes a script). Details to follow. Late projects will not be accepted, unless cleared by me first.

At the end of the course, students will be expected to submit either a hard-copy portfolio with the following materials:

• One single-spaced discussion point reflecting on one interesting idea or concept that you learned in the course.
• Print-outs of discussion points, blog postings and blog comments throughout the course. Students may print out just the page on which their posting and comments appear.
• Project proposal with the final research project.

Graduate Students:
Graduate students will follow a corresponding schedule for a research seminar paper of 25-30 pages. Also, graduate students will be graded on a different scale than the one listed below.

Summary of Grading:
Attendance: 100 points
Class Participation: 100 points
Discussion Points: 200 points
Co-Authored Blog Posts: 200 points
Blog Comments: 100 points or more
Project Proposal: 100 points
Final Project: 200 points
TOTAL: 1,000 points or more

What Grades Mean:

A-/A/A+ (90-100%; 900-1000 points): Performance of the student has been of the highest level, showing sustained excellence in all the course responsibilities.
B-/B/B+ (80-89%; 800-899 points): Performance of the student has been good, though not of the highest level.
C-/C/C+ (70-79%; 700-799 points): Performance of the student has been adequate, satisfactorily meeting the course requirements.
D-/D/D+ (60-69%; 600-699 points): Performance of the student has been less than adequate.
F (below 60%; less than 600 points): Performance of the student has been such that course requirements have not been met.

Academic Integrity:

Any test, paper or report submitted by you and that bears your name is presumed to be your own original work that has not previously been submitted for credit in another course unless you obtain prior written approval to do so from your instructor. In all of your assignments, including your homework or drafts of papers, you may use words or ideas written by other individuals in publications, web sites, or other sources, but only with proper attribution. “Proper attribution” means that you have fully identified the original source and extent of your use of the words or ideas of others that you reproduce in your work for this course, usually in the form of a footnote or parenthesis.  As a general rule, if you are citing from a published source or from a web site and the quotation is short (up to a sentence or two) place it in quotation marks; if you employ a longer passage from a publication or web site, please indent it and use single spacing. In both cases, be sure to cite the original source in a footnote or in parentheses.

If you are not clear about the expectations for completing an assignment or taking a test or examination, be sure to seek clarification beforehand.

Plagiarism is a form of cheating or fraud; it occurs when someone misrepresents the work of another as her or his own. Plagiarism may consist of using the ideas, sentences, paragraphs, or the whole text of another without appropriate acknowledgment, but it also includes employing or allowing another person to write or substantially alter work that you then submit as your own. Any assignment I find to be plagiarized will be given an “F” grade. All instances of plagiarism in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts may be reported to the University Judicial Affairs Officer for further action. If you are unsure about correctly citing, see: http://www.lib.duke.edu/libguide/works_cited.htm.

You should keep in mind that as a member of the campus community, you are expected to

demonstrate integrity in all of your academic endeavors and will be evaluated on your own merits. So be proud of your academic accomplishments and help to protect and promote academic integrity at the University of Illinois. The consequences of cheating and academic dishonesty—including a formal discipline file, possible loss of future internship, scholarship, or employment opportunities, and denial of admission to graduate school—are simply not worth it. You can read more about student academic integrity in the Student Code at: http://www.admin.uiuc.edu/policy/code/article_1/a1_1-401.html.

Seminar Etiquette:
Please be prompt and please do not leave early, or pack up before class is over. Please do not sleep or chat among yourselves (unless asked to engage in a discussion).

Unless you have a specific classroom accommodation, this class is laptop and mobile phone-freeMake sure to silence or turn off all mobile phones, beepers, alarms, or any other gadgets that may disrupt others during class time.  If your phone rings during class, I get to answer it!

I wish to make this course as accessible as possible to students with disabilities or medical conditions that may affect any aspect of course assignments or participation. Please let me know if you require any specific accommodations. If you have other needs, please tell me by the end of the second week of class. I am much more likely to be flexible about accommodating special needs if I know about them ahead of time, not after the fact. Also, if you prefer to be called by a different name or set of pronouns than the ones with which you are enrolled, I will also be happy to oblige.


WEEK ONE (AUG 22):   Does Fashion Have Politics?
Tina Mai Chen and Paola Zamperini, Fall 2003, “Guest Editors’ Introduction,” positions (special issue “fabrications”) 11:2, 261-269.

WEEK TWO (AUG 31): Introduction to Fashion
Excerpts from Roland Barthes, 1990 (reprint), “Rhetoric of the Signifier,” “Rhetoric of the Signified,” and “Rhetoric of the Sign,” The Fashion System, Berkeley: University of California Press, 235-273.

Elizabeth Wilson, 1985, “Introduction,” Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, London: Virago Press, 1-15.

Jennifer Craik, 1994, “The Face of Fashion: Technical Bodies and Technologies of the Self,” The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion, New York: Routledge, 1-16.

Website (REQUIRED): Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/23/AR2009072304042.html; Jezebel: http://jezebel.com/5323956/people-furious-about-national-scandal-of-obamas-dad+rock-jeans; lipstickeater: http://lipstickeater.blogspot.com/2008/09/bfj-vs-dpj.html

Screening: Project Runway clips, Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton (2007, Dir. Loic Prigent), The Secret World of Haute Couture (dir. Margy Kinmonth, 2007)

WEEK THREE (SEPT 7): Distinction and Hierarchy
Thorstein B. Veblen, 2003 [1899], “Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture,” in Fashion Foundations: Early Writings on Fashion and Dress, eds., Kim K.P. Johnson, Susan J. Torntore, and Joanne B. Eicher, Oxford: Berg, 132-136.

Nan Enstad, 1998, “Fashioning Political Identities: Cultural Studies and the Historical Construction of Political Subjects,” American Quarterly 50(4), 745-782.

Judith Williamson, 1986, “Woman Is An Island: Femininity and Colonization,” Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, Tania Modeleski, ed., Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 99-118.

Screening: The Devil Wears Prada (2006, dir. David Frankel)

Website (REQUIRED): Cord Jefferson, “White People Clothes and ‘Old Money Green,'” http://www.theawl.com/2010/02/white-people-clothes-and-old-money-green

Websites (RECOMMENDED): http://www.greysweatsuitrevolution.com, http://www.exactitudes.com, http://www.theuniformproject.com

WEEK FOUR (SEPT 14): Industry and Production
Nancy L. Green, 1997, “Fashion and Flexibility: The Garment Industry between Haute Couture and Jeans,” Ready-to-Wear, Ready-to-Work: A Century of Industry and Immigrants in Paris and New York, Durham: Duke University Press, 15-43.

Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu, 2010, “Crossing the Assembly Line,” “All in the Family?” in Beautiful Generation, Durham: Duke University Press, 31-98.

Screening: Made in LA (2007, dir. Simon Kilmurry), China Blue (2005, dir. Micha X. Peled), Seamless (2005, dir. Douglas Keeve)

Website (REQUIRED): Minh-Ha Pham, Threadbared posts: http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/on-the-fashionstyle-blog-intro/ (and the rest of the entries in the series); http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/new-technologies-of-style-and-selfhood/; http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/the-backlash-against-bloggers-what-does-it-mean/; http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/google-an-the-scientization-of-style-and-the-promise-of-happiness/

WEEK FIVE (SEPT 21): Fashioning Nations
Nancy J. Parezo, 1999, “The Indian Fashion Show,” in Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds, Ruth Phillips and Christopher Steiner, eds.,Berkeley: University of California Press, 243-263.

Shirley Jennifer Lim, 2006, “Contested Beauty: Asian American Beauty Culture during the Cold War,” A Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women’s Public Culture, 1930-1960, New York: New York University Press, 121-153.

Minh-Ha Pham, 2011, “The Right to Fashion in an Age of Terrorism,” Signs 36(2): 385-410.

Recommended: Laila Haidarali, 2005, “Polishing Brown Diamonds: African American Women, Popular Magazines, and the Advent of Modeling in Early Postwar America,” Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 17, No. 1, 10-37.

WEEK SIX (SEPT 28): Authenticity and Artifice

Marianne Conroy, 1998, “Discount Dreams: Factory Outlet Malls, Consumption, and the Performance of Middle-Class Identity,” Social Text 54, 63-83.

Katherine Zane, 2001, “Reflections on a Yellow Eye: Asian I(\Eye/)Cons and Cosmetic Surgery,” in Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, ed. Ella Shohat, Boston: MIT Press, 161-192.

2005, “Reflections on ‘Meta Design’ with Mary Ping,” Fashion Projects 1: 12-16, 32.

Counterfeit Crochet, http://www.counterfeitcrochet.org/index.html

Jezebel, http://jezebel.com/5175867/does-wearing-fake-fashion-make-you-more-dishonest-in-daily-life

WEEK SEVEN (OCT 5): Style Politics

Susan B. Kaiser and Sarah Rebolloso McCullough, 2010, “Entangling the Fashion Subject Through the African Diaspora: From Not to (K)not in Fashion Theory,” Fashion Theory 14(3): 361-386.

Monica L. Miller, 2006, “The Black Dandy as Bad Modernist,” Bad Modernisms, eds. Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz (Durham: Duke Unversity Press), 179-205.

Kobena Mercer, 1990, “Black Hair/Style Politics” Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies, New York: Routledge, 97-130.

Dykes and Their Hair, no date.

Recommended: Lisa Jones, 1997, Bulletproof Diva: Tales of Race, Sex, and Hair, Anchor.

DUE: 2-3 page final project proposals are due at the start of the class session. NO LATE PROPOSALS WILL BE ACCEPTED.

WEEK EIGHT (OCT 12): Fashion Police
Laura Doan, 2001, “Passing Fashions: Reading Female Masculinities in the 1920s,” in Fashioning Sapphism: The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture, New York: Columbia University Press,, 95-125.

Catherine S. Ramirez, 2002, “Crimes of Fashion: The Pachuca and Chicana Style Politics,” Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, vol. 2, no. 2., 1-35.

Brenda Weber, 2009, “’I’m A Woman Now!’ Race, Class, and Femme-ing the Normative,” in Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity, Durham: Duke University Press, 127-170.

Screening: Zoot Suit Riots (2001, dir. Joseph Tovares)

WEEK NINE (OCT 19): Colonialism and Imperialism I
Jean Comaroff, 1996, “The Empire’s Old Clothes: Fashioning the Colonial Subject,” in Cross-Cultural Consumption: Global Markets, Local Realities, David Howes, ed., New York: Routledge, 19-38.

Emma Tarlo, 1996, “The Problem of What to Wear,” and “Searching for a Solution in the late Nineteenth Century,” Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1-23, 23-62.

WEEK TEN (OCT 26): Colonialism and Imperialism II
Emma Tarlo, 1996, “Gandhi and the Recreation of Indian Dress,” “Is Khadi the Solution?” and “Dressing for Distinction: A Historical Review,” Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 62-128, 318-336.

WEEK ELEVEN (NOV 2): Global Economies of Style
Verity Wilson, 1999, “Studio and Soiree: Chinese Textiles in Europe and America, 1850 and Present,” in Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds, Ruth Phillips and Christopher Steiner, eds., Berkeley: University of California Press. 229-242.

Dorothy Ko, 1999, “Jazzing into Modernity: High Heels, Platforms, and Lotus Shoes,” in China Chic: East Meets West, Valerie Steele and John S. Major, eds., New Haven: Yale University Press, 141-154.

Ch. Didier Gondola, 1999, “Dream and Drama: The Search for Elegance among Congolese Youth,” African Studies Review 42(1): 23-48.

Screening: T-Shirt Travels (dir. Shantha Bloemen, 2001), Secondhand (Pepe), (dir. Vanessa Bertozzi and Hannah Rose Shell, 2008), The Importance of Being Elegant (dirs. George Amponsah and Cosima Spender, 2004)

WEEK TWELVE (NOV 9): The Politics of The Veil

Leila Ahmed, 1993, “The Discourse of the Veil,” Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, Yale University Press, 144-168.

Homa Hoodfar, 1997, “The Veil in Their Minds and On Our Heads: Veiling Practices and Muslim Women,” in The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd, eds., Durham: Duke University Press. 248-279.

Mimi Thi Nguyen, 2011, “The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in an Age of Terror,” Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 26, No. 2: 359-383.

Websites (RECOMMENDED): On-line readings on Iranian protest images and French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s call for a burqa ban, collected on Threadbared: http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com; http://muslimswearingthings.tumblr.com/

Screening: The Beauty School of Kabul (2006, dir. Liz Merkin)



WEEK FIFTEEN (NOV 30): Student Presentations

WEEK SIXTEEN (DEC 7): Student Presentations and Class Reflection

LOOKOUT! Final projects and portfolios are due the following Friday, on DEC 16, in my mailbox in the Gender and Women’s Studies Program building, by 5 p.m.

Some Thoughts From Monica Miller about Black Dandyism

There is no Tuesday pre-class student post today! However, I wanted to offer some further thoughts on Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity, from Monica Miller’s illuminating essay about the book’s core concepts and their development at Rorotoko. Below is a long excerpt to contextualize the development of the book and its arguments. You may comment to this for this week.

Slaves to Fashion began with a footnote I encountered in graduate school. While auditing a class on W.E.B Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, I came across a troubling reference to the fact that the revered Du Bois had been caricatured as a black dandy. In the class, we spent even weeks in detailed analysis of Du Bois’s skill as a rhetorician and lyricist. In order to appreciate the truly interdisciplinary nature of his talents, we took very seriously his training as a philosopher, historian and sociologist. The image of Du Bois that emerged was that of an erudite, punctilious, quintessential “race man.” None of this prepared me for the footnote and accompanying illustration from a political cartoon of Du Bois as a degraded buffoon, overly dressed and poorly comported, whose erudition had been turned into what the cartoon called “ebucation.”

Only when I began to research the history of dandyism and, in particular, the racialization of the dandy figure, did I realize the complex strategy and history behind that caricature. Dandyism has been used by Africans and blacks to project images of themselves as dignified and distinguished, it has also been used by the majority culture (and blacks) to denigrate and ridicule black aspirations. Slaves to Fashion examines the interrelatedness of these impulses and what the deployment of one strategy or the other says about the state of black people and culture at different moments in history.

Although dandyism is often considered a mode of extremely frivolous behavior attentive only to surfaces or facades and a practice of the white, European elite and effete, I argue that it is a creative and subtle mode of critique, regardless of who is deploying it. Though often considered fools, hopelessly caught up in the world of fashion, dandies actually appear in periods of social, political and cultural transition, telling us much about cultural politics through their attitude and appearance. Particularly during times when social mores shift, style and charisma allow these primarily male figures to distinguish themselves when previously established privileges of birth and wealth, or ways of measuring social standing might be absent or uncertain. Style—both sartorial and behavioral— affords dandies the ability and power to set new fashions, to create or imagine worlds more suited to their often avant-garde tastes. Dandyism is thus not just a practice of dress, but also a visible form of investigating and questioning cultural realities.

Anyone can be in vogue without apparent strategy, but dandies commit to a study of the fashions that define them and an examination of the trends around—which they can continually re-define themselves. Therefore, when racialized, the dandy’s affectations (fancy dress, arch attitude, fey and fierce gesture) signify well beyond obsessive self-fashioning—rather, the figure embodies the importance of the struggle to control representation and self- and cultural-expression.

Manipulations of dress and dandyism have been particularly important modes of self-expression and social commentary for Africans before contact with Europeans and especially afterwards. In fact, in order to endure the attempted erasure or reordering of black identity in the slave trade and its aftermath, those Africans arriving in England, America, or the West Indies had to fashion new identities, to make the most out of the little that they were given. Whether luxury slaves or field hands, their new lives nearly always began with the issuance of new clothes.

Enslaved people, however, frequently modified these garments in order to indicate their own ideas about the relationship between slavery, servitude, and subjectivity. For example, there are documented cases of slaves saving single buttons and ribbons to add to their standard issue coarse clothing, examples of slaves stealing or “borrowing” clothing, especially garments made from fine fabrics, from their masters for special occasions. Slaves created underground second-hand clothing markets in major cities to augment their wardrobes and to exchange clothing that identified them when they wanted to escape. In fact, many slaves “dressed up” or “cross-dressed” literally when they absconded, wearing clothing beyond their station or of the other gender in efforts to appear free and be mobile. The black dandy’s style thus communicates simultaneously self-worth, cultural regard, a knowingness about how blackness is represented and seen. Black dandyism has been an important part of and visualization of the negotiation between slavery and freedom.

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