We are cultural critics committed to generating and contributing to public conversations about the meaning of dress and beauty in our everyday lives. We are also academics adept at speaking across audiences, and we use blogging and social media to build upon their potential for intellectual and creative dialogue in a digital age. From lecture halls to student resource centers to new medias, we encourage others to consider how clothing matters.
From the policing of rationed fabrics and fashions in World War II to recent wartime campaigns to “Shop for America,” from the Vietnam War-era popularization of camouflage to the call to “liberate” Afghan women from the burqa, dress and beauty have long been recruited to go to war. How do we understand what is happening when the promise of beauty to educate and to liberate is invoked simultaneously with the urge to war and to destroy? We discuss how dress and beauty becomes political and moral objects in wartime, how hearts and minds are shaped and recruited through the appeal to beauty, 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.
RACE, STYLE, FASHION BLOGGERS
The historical relations between Asians and fashion is a fraught one that has been studied by numerous scholars in and across the fields of Asian American studies, gender and women studies, popular culture studies, and labor and immigration studies. This scholarship in a myriad of ways has critiqued the racialized and gendered structures of the colonial capitalist imaginary that sees and knows Asians as primitive exotics or alternatively despotic threats to democratic ways of life. But what happens when Asians are not objects of sartorial Orientalism but trendsetters and arbiters of style like star Asian fashion bloggers BryanBoy, Susie Bubble, and Rumi Neely? What does it mean that Asian styles of dress, speech, and behavior—in other words, all the stylistic strategies of producing and performing bloggers’ Asian selves—are helping to shape the social, cultural, and economic structures and spaces of fashion? Are we in fact witnessing a new style of Asianness? And if so, what are the effects of this new social-aesthetic?
DIGITAL LABOR & SOCIAL MEDIA
How do fashion bloggers typify the new digital work order? Working overtime is de rigeur for fashion bloggers, especially because their productivity must keep pace with the accelerated rhythms of the fashion-beauty complex organized and driven by the capitalist logic of the New/Now. In other words, the spirit of capitalism and its ethic of dogged and steadfast productivity permeate the digital creative labor of fashion blogs even when that labor is “free” (that is, both free from the 9-to-5 workday/workplace and also unpaid). How can the example of the fashion blogger help us to think otherwise about digital labor?
CARCERAL CHIC/TRAMP CHIC
What can we make of fashion designers, model muses, Disney tween stars, and retail campaigns that draw upon the figure of the prisoner and the tramp to make their style statements? How we begin to conceptualize something like a “carceral chic” under conditions where what some scholars call the prison-industrial complex is normalized and globalized, or “tramp chic” during an era of unprecedented economic strife and increasing unemployment and poverty world-wide? In this talk we discuss the troubled histories and present-day politics of the prisoner and tramp figures in fashion discourses and practices.
THE FACE (AND BODY) OF SUCCESS IN THE WEB 2.0 ECONOMY
Susanna Lau a.k.a Susie Bubble has been called “the reigning queen of the fashion blogosphere”; a Gladwellian “maven” par excellence; and “a true fashion pioneer.” This talk considers the digital stardom of Susie Bubble in order to consider the historical formation of success in the postmillennial digital economy. What are the technical, cultural, and economic forces that give shape to dominant notions of success and the ideal subject it produces? In other words, how did a young British Chinese woman become a global style icon as well as a model of new media entrepreneurialism?
OF ANOTHER FASHION: CLAIMING AMERICA THROUGH DRESS
Of Another Fashion is an evolving exhibition that seeks to find the hidden sartorial histories stashed in the basements and attics, in the backs of closets, and in lesser-known personal and institutional archives of and about women of color. These histories are not only kept hidden due to the informal and often inadequate practices of preservation by ordinary people; instead, it is the official cultural archives such as museums and libraries that have played a significant and profound role in keeping hidden the sartorial histories of racially minoritized women. Recent fashion exhibitions in the United States focus on formal politics, designer fashion, and evening wear, implicitly privileging dominant styles of dress and womanhood and tacitly inscribe Americanness with bourgeois white femininity. In this talk, we discuss both the racial, gender, sexual, class, and language barriers that have historically shaped and limited the achievements and life chances of non-White and working women, and the exclusion of “other” women from fashion and clothing museum collections and exhibitions, as the ongoing marginalization and erasure of the lives and material cultural histories of minoritized American women.
- Dress & Beauty in Current Events
- Gender & Sexuality
- Dress, Beauty, & Empire
- Dressing the Human: Race, Gender, & Sexuality
- Queer Fashion
- Race in the Fashion Industry
- The Politics of Vintage
- Labor and Immigration
- Subcultures of Style
- Sartorial Policing and Surveillance
- Zines to Blogs: Girls and the Self-Publishing Phenomenon
We have given invited talks about our work at Duke University; Bates College; the McGill Centre for Research and Teaching on Women; the University of California at Irvine and the University of California at Berkeley; MIT; New York University; Sarah Lawrence College; Cornell University; Parsons School of Design, among many other colleges and universities. We have also presented at art galleries and events including the Telic Arts Exchange (Los Angeles), Chicago Zine Fest, and numerous campus student resource centers across the United States.