Monthly Archives: February 2009

Policing Fashion in New York

In New York magazine’s Spring Fashion issue, there are six feature stories on clothes, designers, and models including a story on a group of tenderfoot but fresh-faced white male models (“Fashion Week’s handsome rookies”), an interview with style icon Kate Moss on her clothing line at the much-anticipated and much delayed opening of TopShop in downtown Manhattan (recent reports have doors opening in April 2009), and a recession-minded article with an increasingly familiar theme, “Everything Here is Under $100”). In addition, there is the usual array of designer label advertisements and celebrity spokesmodels: Posh and Becks for Emporio Armani, Katie Holmes for Miu Miu, Gwyneth Paltrow for Tod’s, as well as an anonymous sea of puerile, well-heeled, ivory-faced Gothamites slinging everything from Marc Jacobs handbags to cocktails to lifestyles.

Jessica Lustig’s article, “The Fashion Thief,” was the only feature story or advertisement in the Fashion Issue that featured a person of color, any color. Lustig follows Kevahn Thorpe, an African American young man from Queensbridge Houses project in Queens, New York, as he is arrested and rearrested for shoplifting from high-end Manhattan shops like Prada, Bergdorf, Barneys, and Saks.

There’s a lot about this article that’s unsettling. For instance, Kevahn’s love of fashion is pathologized and made irrational (he’s a “fashion fanatic . . . for whom jail was not too steep a price to pay”) as if coveting fashion in New York City is at all unusual. Moreover, Kevahn’s “crafting” (his preferred term for shoplifting) is anything but irrational. Part of the “crafting” for Kevahn is his careful study of fashion labels, their histories, designers, and floor arrangements. Also, repeated mentions of his single black mom and hardscrabble life in Queens reifies tired “culture of poverty” theories from the 1970s and 1980s that blamed black mothers, specifically, and black families, generally, for all the problems of the “underclass” rather than, say, systems of institutionalized racism and uneven distributions of material and social resources, power, and wealth that privileged middle and upper-class whites. But most disquieting for me about this article is its inclusion in New York‘s Fashion Issue during Spring Fashion Week. While all the white models, celebrities, and socialites who crowd the pages of this and so many other magazines are implicitly citizens of the fashion world – their unquestioned rights to fashion’s material objects and its privileges substantiate this – the lone trespasser is a black man who is repeatedly surveilled and forcibly removed out of this world’s borders. His claims to fashion, self-fashioning, and self-actualization are publicly denounced by the headline which identifies him as a “fashion thief” but also by the numerous, mostly anonymous, readers of the article whose online comments against him rise to the level of vitriol.

The racial logic of this article is not unlike those found in other magazines – some of which have been mentioned in this blog (see Oops, Background Color, Redux, and Background Color, Redux II). African Americans as well as other racial groups, when they’re featured at all in fashion and style magazines, are routinely figured as abject, subordinate, or illegitimate bodies that serve to highlight the true white subjects of fashion.

Kevahn catalogued all that he stole on MySpace, adding his own fashion credits and commentary.

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Fashion Sprung

It’s a phenomenon I’ve looked forward to every year since moving to New York City – as soon as the mercury bops above freezing, the city begins to shed its winter layers. Puffy coats and scarves are still de rigeur but gone are the attendant sweaters and tights. Exposed flesh becomes a real possibility again! And Spring Fashion Week and the Spring Fashion issues of every magazine seems to herald this possibility – while I’m steadily stressed with all the book chapters, journal articles, and yes, blog posts that I should be writing, that I wish were already written, I’ve become distracted recently by everything Spring.

Once I figure out the cost-per-wear, a sartorial-economic practice I inherited from my coupon-clipping immigrant mother way before Harper’s Bazaar popularized the concept of the “recessionista,” I want to live in this McQ by Alexander McQueen tux jumpsuit and these Belle by Sigerson Morrison open-toe booties with the recessed wedge. This outfit is everything I want to be this Spring . . . oh this, and the Preen pantsuit, that is.

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Hijab Health

Muslimah Media Watch (a blog about Muslim women in pop and media culture) gives the critical once-over to media coverage of a study claiming that women who wear “traditional clothing” –the hijab, in code– are prone to lower levels of vitamin D because of less exposure to sunlight. (The title of this post is giggle-inducing: “OH NOES! Hijab will make you sick!”) Faith wonders why the study and media reports about it seem to focus only on sunlight as a source of vitamin D, especially when a person can absorb vitamin D in other forms; and why the study necessarily equates hijab with Arab (American) women, even though not all Arabs are Muslim, and vice versa.

And, as someone who lives in the Midwest, wears a knee-length puffy coat with a hood, scarf, sunglasses (for the glare from the snow), and sunscreen even on cloudy days, and is otherwise regularly deprived of sunlight during the winter (and especially since I’m in the office all day anyway), I’m not sure why this study and its reception should single out hijabis in the first place for being at particular risk, except to reiterate the tired argument that hijab is bad for women with the “objective” authority of parascientific expertise.

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Oops, They Did It Again!

Make Fetch Happen caught this photograph in an editorial for the latest Vogue Italia, months after the much-celebrated Black Issue. In this familiar racial distribution of feminine domesticity, the model is of course unnamed in her role as the archetypical mammy figure (a benignly asexual black caretaker who recognizes her innate inferiority and is dedicated to the care of white children). As her counterpart, the blonde references for me the 19th-century “angel of the house” (a designation reserved for bourgeois white womanhood), and in this case the informal title is made literal through the matched metallic patterns of the gown and the tapestry. (She is part of the expensive decor that marks status.) For all that the blonde is totally unremarkable, she is nonetheless meant to be the focus of our attention and awe (after all, she’s wearing the dress and the jewels in this editorial).

I’m just going to reference the entries “Background Color” and “Background Color, Redux” for comparison.

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