clothes/fashion

We’ve posted a number of times on the use of non-Western locations, and their residents, as background props in ads, catalogs, and fashion spreads, and the examples keep coming. A while back, Rebecca Smith-Mandin sent in this ad for Conrad hotels, in which the implicitly wealthy, White audience is invited to indulge in “the luxury of being yourself,” which includes the ability to have authentic, off-the-beaten-path experiences in far-flung locales, while remaining clearly distinct from them:

Similarly, last year Anna-Sara H. found this image in the German women’s magazine Freundin:

Anna-Sarah’s translation (which she says loses some of the poetic intent of the original):

We are playing mermaid. And wrap ourselves in light-bright outfits now, adorned with large-sized ethnic accessories. The only things missing are an innocent gaze and hair being played with by the wind.

In both cases, we see a very common trend in ads or photo shoots for fashion and luxury services: non-White individuals may be included in the photo shoot, but they are not used to model the use of the product or service itself. As Ashley Mears argues in her ethnography of modeling, Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model, non-White bodies are generally seen as incompatible with the idealized fantasy of inaccessibility and sophistication that is the guiding aesthetic for fashion mag editorials and advertisements for luxury goods. In these images, we see that non-Whites are included in a way that superficially increases diversity in a magazine’s pages, without disrupting the assumption that the imagined consumer — the subject of these images — is White.

I was inspired by the blog I Hurt I Am In Fashion to revive this 2008 post.

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This New York Times fashion slide show offers image after image demonstrating our society’s bizarre infatuation with posing women looking awkward, even deformed, frightened, compromised, uncomfortable, even in pain.

I am unsure what to make, particularly, of the interest in images in which women are in dirty and uncomfortable, even painful, places and positions (see the “Maiden Voyage” spread with women in the shipyard in the NYT slide show linked to above). Do we hate women that much? Or is it about something else (also)?

Marie Claire Italia:

W Magazine:

V60 Magazine:

The Ones2Watch:

Fashion Gone Rogue:

Fashionising:

Neo2 Magazine:

Examples from 2008:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The burqa and headscarf are often identified as symbols of women’s oppression in Muslim countries.  In fact, head covering is a form of religious garb in many sub-cultures.  Some of these subcultures require head covering all of the time, and others only during religious rituals, but all involve this tradition.  Yet, when it comes to Muslims, the discussion often goes forward as if it is a uniquely oppressive, and uniquely Islamic, practice.  Food for thought.

Thanks to Dolores R. for the link.  Found at Socialist Texan.

UPDATE: In the comments, Alastair Roberts suggests that it’s important to consider whether head covering is required for just women, or both women and men.  I agree.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In 2010 we wrote about how gender ideology inflects even the most “objective” of spheres.  In this case, we featured four examples of anatomical illustration, portrayals of human beings used to educate viewers about biology.  In each case, while the man faced forward with his weight evenly distributed on his two feet, the woman placed her hand on her hip, cocked a knee, or even turned slightly sideways.  In other words, he was posed in a masculine way and she in a feminine way.

When we see this kind of gendered posing in drawings that are ostensibly neutral, we are being told that our particular historically- and culturally-contingent version of masculinity and femininity is natural.

In this vein, Courtney S. sent in a Design by Hümans Size Chart.  The chart is supposed to help buyers decide what size to purchase, but the accompanying images do more than just illustrate how measurements are made; by torquing the female torso, they send a message about gender too:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The cartoon added below inspired me to revive this post from 2008.

Many believe that the U.S. is at the pinnacle of social and political evolution. One of the consequences of this belief is the tendency to define whatever holds in the U.S. as ideal and, insofar as other countries deviate from that, define them as problematic. For example, many believe that women in the U.S. are the most liberated in the world. Insofar as women in other societies live differently, they are assumed to be oppressed. Of course, women are oppressed elsewhere, but it is a mistake to assume that “they” are oppressed and “we” are liberated. This false binary makes invisible ways in which women elsewhere are not 100% subordinated and women here also suffer from gendered oppression.

(If you’re interested, I have a paper showing how Americans make these arguments called Defining Gendered Oppression in U.S. Newspapers: The Strategic Value of “Female Genital Mutilation.”)

I offer these thoughts are a preface to a postcard from PostSecret.  The person who sent in the postcard suggests that she’s not sure which is worse: the rigid and extreme standard of beauty in the U.S. and the way that women’s bodies are exposed to scrutiny or the idea of living underneath a burka that disallows certain freedoms, but frees you from evaluative eyes and the consequences of their negative appraisals.

Cartoonist Malcolm Evans drew a similarly compelling illustration of this point, sent along by David B.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(source: Google Images)

Since the inception of the Gaga machine, her message has been to love yourself, flaunt your difference, be you in a conformist youth culture. As a 20-year-old struggling for an alternative sexual expression to “sexpot”, my interest was piqued. She was young and raw, full of a singular energy that demanded attention, with a decent set of pipes… so what was the catch? The catch was the patriarchal bargain.

A patriarchal bargain, as Lisa Wade wrote in a previous post, is:

…a decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power one can wrest from the system. It is an individual strategy designed to manipulate the system to one’s best advantage, but one that leaves the system itself intact… Don’t be too quick to judge; nearly 100% of women do this to some degree.

Even Lady Gaga.

Gaga, as weird and anti-Britney Spears sexy as she is, still exhibits sexiness that appeals to the male gaze. At times, it is positively pornographic. That is Lady Gaga’s patriarchal bargain. Despite bucking traditional rules of femininity with innovative fashion elements, she upholds contemporary standards of beauty and sex appeal. Her method is achieved through the use of palatable distractions: telephones as headwear, shamelessly poisoning ex-lovers, and dancing in flawless skeleton makeup. Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle and they won’t even notice that she’s a skinny white woman gyrating in underwear.

Bad Romance:

Telephone:

Throughout her body of work there is a thread of what we know all too well:  ass-shaking, barely-there nudity and conspicuous consumption, just in an offbeat fashion. Gaga is bonkers, but Gaga is sexy. Gaga is political and outspoken, Gaga is skinny and [often] blond.  Indeed, “Mother Monster” may uplift her fans because of her affinity for oddness, but lest we forget, she is a lady and must inhabit the flesh that adheres to gender norms and restrictions, she reminds us:

“I would rather die than have my fans see me without a pair of heels on. And that’s show business.”

If you want to ride the ride, you have to pay the price.  And that price is patriarchy.

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Sonita Moss is a 2010 graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.A. degree in Sociology and French & Francophone Studies. Sonita hopes to receive her PhD in Sociology with a focus on the intersections of gender, race, and beauty. Whilst she prepares for the GRE, she occasionally updates her blog, Deconstructed Beauty.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

Today kicks off New York Fashion Week, an important time of year for models.

In these interviews, sociologist Ashley Mears talks about her research on modeling. Modeling, she explains, is a “winner take all” market; most live in very precarious economic circumstances. The value of her product — her body and her ability to use it — is something over which she has almost no control.

Accordingly, modeling requires an incredible amount of “emotion work,” the control of one’s feelings and presentation of emotions for the sake of an employer or customer.

For more from Dr. Mears, see our posts on the invisibility of labor in modeling, the ugly secret behind the model search, thinness in modeling (trigger warning), and contrasting aesthetics for high end and commercial models.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Jezebel.
American Studies professor Jo B. Paoletti has announced the publication of her book, Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America.  I’ve been eagerly anticipating getting my hands on a copy. It was from Paoletti that I learned that the idea that pink was a feminine and blue a masculine color was a relatively new invention in American history (one that even now does not necessarily extend to other countries).  See, for example, this pink 1920s birthday card for a man (with a pre-Nazi swastika too).

The book asks “When did we startdressing girls in pink and boys in blue?”  To answer this question:

She chronicles the decline of the white dress for both boys and girls, the introduction of rompers in the early 20th century, the gendering of pink and blue, the resurgence of unisex fashions, and the origins of today’s highly gender-specific baby and toddler clothing.

In an analysis of baby cards from the 1960s, she notes that many of the cards are gender-neutral and include both pink and blue, but that even the gender-specific cards (this particular baby was a girl) use both colors. These cards, then, reveal that pink and blue had emerged as recognizable baby colors by the 1960s, but the use of blue in the “for girl” cards and the preponderance of gender-neutral cards suggests that the importance of gender differentiation hadn’t taken hold.

She has a large collection of examples.

At her website Paoletti says she has a book planned on “old lady clothes, mother-of-the-bride dresses, cougars and other age-appropriate nonsense.” I can’t wait.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.