To say 2016 was a big year for America would be a drastic understatement. The events of the year pushed our nation into an intense period of self-reflection and re-evaluating. With the shocking success of a businessman’s run for president, our culture was obsessed with exploring what America stands for and who gets to define contemporary patriotism.
My bouncy curls that were the product of a mixed heritage and symbolized a forward-looking world were seemingly not to be celebrated, at least not by the media and fashion industry. The fleeting moments of praise were shrouded in fetishism, and the sense of “otherness” was consistently present. Ironically, however, I continued to respect a system that did not respect me back.
In New York City, there exists a small community of heterosexual men who seek to learn flirting and dating skills in self-help communities called “seduction communities.” Playing a key role in their social construction of identity, fashion makeovers aim to help these sexually-frustrated men embody charismatic masculine identities.
I ask you to pause and to look at what you are wearing, the reality of your clothes. You are dressed in the things you have done today, and the things you have done before. You are enveloped in material memories.
I could verify that the “encounter” with hair can provoke contradictory reactions. Once separated from its owner, it is able to attract or repel us, as the abject. The abject disrupts our established rational order of things.
For those working in fashion studies, the institution takes many forms: the university, the museum, the archive, the media outlet, the commercial fashion industry, the sponsoring or granting body. This is the nature of interdisciplinary work that engages with a behemoth as grand as fashion.
I spent five years at the Centre for Fashion Studies as a PhD candidate, learning both the trade and the politics of academia. It was challenging in many ways, but it is through hardship that we grow the most, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to find myself a scholar in this field, regardless of the many obstacles that I found in my way.
Returning from a fashionable SoHo party two years ago, wearing the highest pair of stiletto heels I owned, I rushed out, anxious to get home and take those things off. Outside, as I ran to hail a cab, I found myself in the midst of an impressive acrobatic flip. I was left kneeling on the sidewalk with a broken Miu Miu heel and countless questions.
Questions of archiving imply questions of power that are closely linked to a social power in a given geographical place and time. In this way, the history is extended to the elderly socio-cultural group, whose dress practices and memory often go undocumented.
As a fashion and textile historian who works closely with the Fashion Calendar archive, I am exceedingly privileged to not only have access to a previously un-investigated source that is so rich with information, but to be able to interact with the maker of the archive herself. This enables the archive to be continuously dynamic, since Finley’s knowledge about American fashion history is vast and mostly based on experience.
The textile storage space is a place of gentle, gloved movements and careful, reverent handling of myriad artifacts. It’s a place where, currently, conservation tasks lag and preservation is maintained at a bare minimum, aimed to suspend time and deter the real world practicalities of change, decay, and age.
At the recent March4Women rally in London there was plenty of evidence that we are all paying attention to how we display our political values. As a researcher, I often find that my best ideas for studies start like this, a glimmer of an idea sparked by a chance meeting; politics and revolution began to stitch together in my thoughts.
This bathing suit bottom could almost be a full-sized strapless swimsuit for a smaller-than-average woman. Off the body, it’s not really recognizable as anything at all, because a garment like this doesn’t have a place in our mental store. It’s transitional, it’s temporary, it’s for these strange bodies we theoretically revere but that realistically freak us out.
I first did drag my senior year of college, dressing in character with two of my girlfriends as a performance art piece. I borrowed their clothes and a cheap Ricky’s wig and bought a pair of cheap heels from Payless that I didn’t yet know how to walk in. I’ll never forget the first time someone referred to me as a “lady,” even though I still hadn’t quite figured out how to do my makeup.
Throughout history, dance performers have pushed the boundaries of acceptable dress. At a time when it was considered inappropriate for a woman to expose an ankle or calf, on stage doing so was, conversely, required. For the sake of improving technical skills and freeing the body to move, ankles, calves, and knees started to emerge, until eventually the entire leg was visible.