Category Archives: LINKAGE

American Beauty, Of Another Fashion

Read the amazing story behind this and many other photographs at Of Another Fashion

I’ve been thinking a lot about Thread for Thought‘s latest post on the difficulty of defining “American fashion”. Of course, the ways in which the normative relations between fashion, beauty, and nationalism are articulated through racial, gender, and class terms are frequent topics on Threadbared. But what especially struck me about Thread for Thought’s post was that it calls attention to the very problem that sparked the initial idea for Of Another Fashion.

Last June, I wrote a post introducing the idea for a different kind of fashion exhibition, one that explores not only the fashion histories of women of color but also the curatorial and critical neglect of these histories. The response to this exhibition has been overwhelming and gratifying. Moreover, what I’ve learned in the last six months about what it takes to curate even a modest-sized exhibition is mind-blowing.

Set aside for a minute the amount of funding and organization such an exhibition demands (this, I expected, thanks to Sarah Scaturro‘s patient counsel). More challenging and, well, eye-opening is the unintended consequences of the neglect of minoritized fashion histories. I’ve received so many emails from people telling me about objects that would have been perfect for the exhibition but they no longer know where these items are. Many family photographs are torn, bent, or sun- or water-damaged. I’ve been able to digitally correct a few but many are too compromised to fix. In an attempt to provide a glimpse of the fashionable worlds of women of color historically, I’ve also collected various kinds of media images in local magazines and newspapers. Again, because many of these publications do not have the bold faced names of Vogue or the New York Times, they haven’t been safely preserved in carefully ventilated special collections (in which white gloves must also be worn) and so they too are difficult to digitally reproduce in high resolution and thus impossible to enlarge for display.  Those who still possess the sartorial ephemera of their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers wanted to share their stories with me but were very nervous – understandably – about parting with them even temporarily for the duration of the exhibition. [And by the way, as I’ve noted on the original announcement and call for contributions, we ask that you first email a photograph of your contribution (be it a family photo, vintage ads, packaging, garments, or accessories).]

Ironically, the difficulty of finding and acquiring objects for this exhibition only underscores for me how much we need this exhibition and others like it. And not just exhibitions but books, articles, lectures, and, yes, blogs and websites too. While I continue to work on securing funding and materials for the kind of exhibition these incredible social and sartorial histories deserve, I also created a digital archive of the visual and textual materials related to the exhibition. Unfortunately, many of these items can only be viewed online because, again, their fragile condition doesn’t allow them to be enlarged or displayed physically. Still, I hope this digital archive will function as a virtual and conservational space where they might be viewed, studied, and of course appreciated.

I’ve just begun to add images to Of Another Fashion – 16, so far. I have at least another 50 more images to go. I think what you’ll find are vibrant, complex, and touching images and stories of histories that, though not quite hidden, have too long been ignored. If you want to contribute to the recovery of these histories and the reimagining of the very meanings, images, and bodies that constitute “American fashion,” please get in touch! Information about contributing can be found here and here.

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Filed under FASHIONING RACE, LINKAGE, ON BEAUTY

Finding Vivian Maier

Here’s another video I just couldn’t NOT post on our blog. Vivian Maier’s street photographs are gorgeous. (The announcer begins by referencing Antiques Roadshow – LOL!)

To read more about Maier and see more images of her amazing work, click here and here.

Edited to add: Jezebel has pieced together more information on Maier – truly fascinating!

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WSJ Blogger Interviews BryanBoy

Illustration by Moises Quesada

I don’t follow BryanBoy’s blog regularly and while I have mentioned him on this blog and in my academic work more than a few times, he’s never been a focus of mine. Of the celebrity-citizen fashion bloggers, I’ve mostly focused on Tavi Gevinson and Susie Bubble (in fact, I just wrote an article examining the cultural economy of her digital stardom titled, “‘Susie Bubble is a Sign of the Times’: The Embodiment of Success in the Web 2.0 Economy”). But this interview with Bryan Grey-Yambao a.k.a. BryanBoy by Wall Street Journal blogger Cathy Yan is full of choice quotes:

The blog became bigger and bigger. My mom would joke with me: “My God, Bryan, your life is a stream of 15 minutes.”

There are more and more Asians in fashion, and I see Asians in the front row of fashion shows. For me its truly an honor. There’s definitely a group of important new designers that all happen to be Asian [such as Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, Jason Wu and Prabal Gurung]. I call them the “Gaysian Fashion Mafia.” (I don’t think Grey-Yambao meant to imply that he coined the term “Gaysian” which has been around longer than his blog. Also, I bet he’d be interested in The Beautiful Generation even if Tu doesn’t discuss sexuality.)

For me, China is the future. . .Where the money is, the power is. Whether we like it or not, the money is now in China. Fashion houses will definitely have to cater to over a billion people. (This is a point I discuss in the “‘Susie Bubble is a Sign of the Times'” article. Zomg! I wish the academic publishing cycle wasn’t so slow!)

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LINKAGE: A Few of Our Favorite Texts on Race, Class, and Fashion

We began this week by giving away 3 copies of Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu’s new book, The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion (now available for sale at the Duke University Press website) and followed up our First Ever Promotional Giveaway by announcing the publication of our companion essays on war and fashion. And so to end this literary week, we give you a list of fashion articles and books we love (beyond those already mentioned).

Regular readers of Threadbared will not be surprised to find that the texts we’ve chosen are not traditional fashion studies. Rather than an emphasis on the history of textiles and design, these texts reflect our interest in the social, cultural, and political contexts of fashion. This list, in particular, is organized around the intersections of race and class in fashion. I hope it’ll be useful to many of you – and as always, feel free to add to the list!

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Addendum: We just discovered that the focus of the Readers’ Forum in a recent issue of English Studies in Canada 35.2-3 (2009) is “Academic Fashion” and moreover, that Threadbared was given high praise by participants – see especially the Introduction and Zwicker’s essay!  (Woot! Canada!!) Similar to the Feminist Currents section of Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies that asked readers “Do Clothes Make the Woman?”, ESC asks Canada-based scholars to consider the look and practice of fashion in academia. The result is a series of 6 short essays, available online.

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That’s the Joint

Mimi and I have collaborated on a number of academic and creative projects over the last several years, including Threadbared most obviously, and various conference panels as well. But the most formal of these collaborations – we are thrilled to finally announce! – is now available to the public in the form of companion essays, published in the latest issue of the leading international journal of gender and women studies, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.

As part of our feminist commitment to collaboration (and our mutual brain crushes on each other), we wrote these companion essays to offer related points of departure for thinking about fashion and beauty as processes that produce subjects recruited to, and aligned with, the national interests of the United States in the war on terror. The Muslim woman in the veil and her imagined opposite in the fashionably modern –and implicitly Western— woman become convenient metaphors for articulating geopolitical contests of power as a human rights concern and a counterterrorist measure. These essays examine newer iterations of this opposition, post 9/11, in order to demonstrate the critical resonance of a biopolitics on fashion and beauty.

From "Beauty Academy of Kabul" (2004)

In “The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in the War on Terror,” Mimi Thi Nguyen asks that we extend our imagination to think about the distribution of beauty, and the attachment to it, within and between empire’s subjects and citizens as a part of imperial statecraft. That is, how hearts and minds are recruited through the appeal to beauty, and how state but also feminist invocations of “women’s rights are human rights” are made meaningful through such an appeal and all that it is imagined to promise. Grappling seriously with the brief life of the non-governmental organization Beauty Without Borders, which established a Kabul Beauty School in the aftermath of the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, what is happening when the promise of beauty to educate and to liberate is invoked simultaneously with the urge to war and to destroy? How are women in general, and the burqa-clad bodies of “Afghan women” in particular (an image that condenses and organizes knowledge about Afghanistan and its forms of gender), produced as a population through this traffic in beauty? What notions of beauty engender the measure but also a medium of personhood and rights? How to explain this chain of associations that produces beauty as a prerequisite, a pathway, to good governance? Looking to Beauty Without Borders (with its this deliberate allusion to the transnational social movement organization Médicins sans frontiers), Nguyen traces the disparate but connected forms of liberal and neoliberal power, the production of a subject in relation to rearticulations of feminism and civil society but also empire through these assemblages – new strategies and technologies, deeply embedded notions of beauty and virtue, democratic linkages of self to world. She argues that it is beauty’s invocation in humanitarian imperialisms and global feminisms that requires us to expand what it could mean to foster life in the long shadow of war and neoliberalism.

(As a fascinating footnote, Beauty Without Borders is now the name of a project by Astronomers Without Borders, about the “beauty of celestial events”!)

American Vogue, November 2001 (a.k.a The first issue published after September 11.)

Minh-Ha T. Pham’s essay, “The Right to Fashion in the Age of Terrorism” examines the configuration and effects of the fashion-as-a-right discourse that emerged in the weeks and months after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City. Pham proceeds by considering the following guiding questions: Why, above all other kinds of consumerism promoted “to get the economy back on track” after 9/11, was fashion consumerism especially significant? How was fashion tied to democratic rights in this historical moment? And how did this association induce enthusiastic consumerism from women who, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, had “no heart for shopping”? This essay suggests that the construction and instrumentalization of a post-9/11 ethical politics of fashion depended on a neoliberal articulation of fashion as the measure of and means to a multiplicity of democratic rights imagined as under threat by anti-capitalist terrorists.

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Filed under FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN, IN THE CLASSROOM, LINKAGE, THEORY TO THINK WITH

FILM: The Colour of Beauty

Recent reports about the shockingly low wages models earn at top fashion magazines have revealed yet another layer of the ugly underside to the glamorous world of fashion. But for models of color who also face racial barriers to entry in this highly competitive field, the idea of a full-time modeling career is a particularly high-risk and precarious proposition. Elizabeth St. Philip explores the economic and emotional toll of modeling for women of color in her new mini-documentary called, The Colour of Beauty (2010, 18 min). From the website:

The Colour of Beauty is a short documentary about racial discrimination in the fashion industry.  Director Elizabeth St. Philip follows a young and fiercely talented Black model, Renee Thompson, as she navigates the fashion world as a visible minority.

This film asks: Why isn’t the multi-cultural society that we live in reflected in our magazines, on billboards and on the runways of fashion shows?  And who are the parties involved in this industry’s lack of diversity?  Does the answer lie somewhere in the back rooms of fashion magazines or in the offices of casting directors of fashion shows? Is it something that is discussed at advertising agencies, or between designers and modelling agencies?  Whatever the answer, the fact is that models of colour work less, and their chances of success are very low.

(Thanks to Shauna Sweeney for cluing us to this film!)

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F Bombs

Wonder Woman is a feminist fashion icon if there ever was one: the bustier, the hot pants (or is this a romper?), and of course her best accessory, her Golden Lasso of Truth.

“Is fashion feminist?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear when someone finds out that I write about fashion.  And I have to admit that I find the question tedious – not because it’s not important but because it’s the wrong question. It may be why we’ve never directly answered this question – though all our posts are informed by a critical feminist perspective.  A better question to ask is: How is fashion an instrument of gender oppression and how is it a means to feminist liberation? I’ve compiled a short list of mostly popular, mostly online texts that address this question – some, more successfully than others. It should go without saying – but in case it doesn’t – this is hardly an exhaustive list of texts. Note, for example, that I haven’t included any full book-length studies on the topic and only a few scholarly texts. It’s meant to be a quick reference list, a pocket-sized digital guide to beginning a conversation about this topic.

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And finally, here are a few posts we’ve written on the subject of fashion and feminism in relation to, among other things, queerness, popular culture discourse,  and academia:

Feel free to add on to this list in the comments!

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FILMS: Women Make Movies Movies

The wonderful feminist media arts organization, Women Make Movies, has just introduced three new films that I think will be interesting to a lot of you. Please consider watching them and/or asking your university libraries to buy them – independent arts organizations + independent feminist filmmakers, what’s not to love?? (The movie descriptions are taken from the WMM website.)

Cover Girl Culture: Awakening the Media Generation (dir. Nicole Clark, 2009, 80 minutes)

Cover Girl Culture pairs images of girls and women in television and print ads with footage from the catwalks and celebrity media. Clark (a former Elite International fashion model) is given rare access to women editors from major magazines like Teen Vogue and ELLE, who provide a shocking defense of the fashion and advertising worlds. The film juxtaposes these interviews with revealing insights from models, parents, teachers, psychologists, body image experts and most importantly, the heartfelt expressions of girls themselves on how they feel about the media that surrounds them.

With an insider’s view, the film addresses issues like today’s increasingly invasive media, heightened advertising to tweens, the sexualization of girls, and consumer culture’s disempowerment of young women. An up-to-date inquiry into advertising and the cult of celebrity’s deep and negative impact on teens and young women, Cover Girl Culture also suggests how to educate young women to think critically about the media.

Arresting Ana: Anorexia Online (dir. Lucie Schwartz, 2009, 25 minutes)

Eye-opening and extremely timely, Arresting Ana is the first film on a burgeoning movement promoting self-starvation.

Pro-Ana websites are in countries around the world, but France is the first to suggest regulating them. Combining in-depth interviews of medical and academic experts with video diaries by Sarah, for whom “Ana”, short for anorexia, is a support system, friend, and motivation to stay alive. Arresting Ana offers unprecedented access into anorexia’s hidden underground while seeking effective solutions to ending this serious disease.

This well-made documentary, which features an engrossing soundtrack and pro-Ana sites and shocking quotes and images, is crucial for students and teachers of media studies. It also provides important insight for psychologists, social workers, sociologists, and educators on who controls women’s body issues, how young people interpret eating disorders today, and how legal and free-speech issues are contested in a new media landscape.

Wired for Sex, Lies, and Power Trips: It’s a Teen’s World (dir. Lynn Glazier, 2009, 45 minutes)

An inside look at the culture of sexual harassment and bullying widespread among many teens today, this unique and compelling program examines the price that adolescents, especially girls, pay to be cool, hip and popular in our brave new wired world. Questioning and confronting their own and each other’s stereotypes and assumptions, three different groups of culturally diverse teenagers share personal stories of navigating their hyper-sexualized, high-tech environment, where the online posting of racy photos, raunchy videos, and explicit gossip and lies, is as commonplace as bombardment by provocative media messages that degrade and objectify women.

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LINKAGE: “Asian Americans Climb Fashion Industry Ladder”

I’ve been looking forward  . . . no, I’ve been dying to post about this article in the New York Times on the rise of Asian Americans in fashion. This topic as you will no doubt recall, dear reader, is the subject of our bestest friend and most favorite scholar of all things having to do with Asian Americans and the cultural economy of fashion, Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu’s forthcoming book The Beautiful Generation. While the article doesn’t mention Thuy Linh or her book, her scholarly thumbprint is everywhere on the article (e.g., “from the factory to the catwalk” is how Thuy Linh describes the professionalization of Asian Americans in fashion). Indeed, Eric Wilson’s article was greatly aided by an exclusive interview he had with her just about one week ago. (Thuy Linh made me wait until the article was published to tell you about the interview otherwise I probably would have found a way to liveblog it!)

Remember, we’ll be profiling the book – as well as giving away a couple copies of the book to lucky Threadbared readers (courtesy of Duke University Press) – closer to the book’s actual publication date. Congratulations again (and again!) to Thuy Linh for her fabulous and so clearly relevant book!

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Semester’s Start Takes Me By Surprise, Again

Mimi Thi Nguyen stands in front of a tomatillo plant and fence in her backyard. It is late afternoon, and she holds some tomatoes in one hand. She is wearing a green and black dress from the 1980s, a black leather belt, and black leather studded boots.

My semester began this last Monday, and although I’m on teaching leave, I’m still working — there are all-day faculty meetings, for instance, as well as the usual committee service (in my case, for two programs because of my split appointment) and student mentoring on top of research and writing, which are an academic’s bread and butter. This includes the final stretch on my revisions to my manuscript, a co-edited collection on Southeast Asian/American studies, and my forthcoming Signs essay called “The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in an Age of Terror,” which is the foundation for my second book (and which I’ve given as a work-in-progress in many places kind enough to invite me to do so). Which is to say that I’m swamped once again, and may be posting irregularly, or much more briefly, here.

In the photograph above, I’m standing in my garden after the first of those all-day faculty meetings in a green and navy dress (from an ’80s time warp) and black leather belt, both given to me by my very best friend Iraya Robles for a belated birthday present. (The pockets are huge. I can totally put all the tomatillos and tomatoes I harvest semi-daily in them.) There’s lots more where this dress came from in Iraya’s vintage-packed apartment (she is an underground stylist as well as an above-ground vintage dealer, so her collection is amazing), and that came home with me in my suitcase — a mid-calf pink leather skirt, a sheer yellow ’70s ruffled blouse, a shrunken turquoise cardigan sweater, and dark blue jelly wedges, for instance. Spending time with Iraya, one of the most incredibly creative and intellectually curious persons I know, reminds me that our friendship over the last twenty years (she met me when I was a snarling, semi-feral punk rock anarchist in a tattered black uniform) has shaped who I am in innumerable, and invaluable, ways.

I also reconnected on my last trip to the Bay Area with filmmaker and writer Arwen Curry, one of my favorite people from that era in my life during which I spent half my time in “doing” graduate school, and the other half hanging out at the Maximumrocknroll house (green-taping the record collection, preparing for New Issue Day, reviewing zines, making dinner and hatching plans, whatever). Arwen was a coordinator at the magazine at the time, and we once spent long hours discussing the place of punk rock in our lives, especially how it informed, and at times constrained, our intellectual trajectories, creative impulses and political hopes. (And goofier enterprises, like the time we tried to start a punk rock Dungeons & Dragons game.) These questions are still with me, even now; so when Arwen and I met up in the Mission for a long lunch, we circled back to them as we took stock of what we’d done since we last saw each other. For an incredibly detailed account of this meeting of the minds, check out Arwen’s most recent online column at Maximumrocknroll. (Among other things, Arwen is an associate producer for Regarding Susan Sontag, as well as producing and directing a documentary about the amazing fantasy and science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin, which frankly blows my mind. You can read an interview with Arwen about this second project at The Rejectionist.)

It was wonderful to spend time with both Iraya and Arwen, who together helped me to approach this coming semester’s work roster with these reminders: that this sort of work can be creative and sustain us in powerful ways, but also that work can just be a job, and not the whole world. I need to learn better how to live with, and in, this tension.

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