Fashion: The Politics of Style in American Culture

Programs for Teachers
Newberry Teachers' Consortium
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fashion is a powerful symbolic language for saying who we are, what we do, and what we value.  Like all languages, fashion has a history, and therefore requires that we play by rules that we inherit as much as we invent.  As a result, fashion exists at the intersection of tradition and modernity, and can be used to both defend and critique the status quo. This is especially true of the role fashion plays in maintaining and transforming gender, racial, class, and sexual identities in American culture, where style has been an important tool for both enforcing social hierarchies and mounting resistance to them.  One need only think of feminists’ struggles over laws against women wearing pants; or the strong feelings aroused by the Afro; or the political impact of hippie fashion; or the debates within the gay rights movement over assimilation and “passing.” Drawing on scholarship in American studies and fashion theory, this seminar will explore various American political and ideological battles between mainstream and subcultural groups as they are waged through fashion and style.

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