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: Everyone will have to sign up for WordPress: 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:

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: 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:

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:

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:; Jezebel:; lipstickeater:

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,'”

Websites (RECOMMENDED):,,

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: (and the rest of the entries in the series);;;

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,


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:;

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.


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