clothes/fashion

The fashion industry is not inclusive of racial and ethnic minorities. Many of the industry’s most celebrated and acclaimed fashion houses rarely cast models of color for their runway shows. Fall 2013 was one of the worst seasons in diversity for casting. Almost 83% of the models on the runway were white (source):

1The result is an incredibly homogeneous look on the runway.  Check out photos of the Fall 2013 Gucci show (source) and the Fall 2013 Calvin Klein show (source).

Faintly aware of this critique, some designers put a minority model on the runway every odd season. But while look-alike white models are hired en masse, designers often limit just how much color they’re willing to include.  Chanel Iman, an extremely successful multiracial model, told The Times: “Designers have told me, ‘We already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’”

Leila Ananna, a casting director for Burberry, Gucci, Emilio Pucci, Saint Laurent, and more, thinks that this is okay.  Commenting on the lack of runway diversity, she said: “We think we need to keep in mind that these are shows. A show needs to make you dream, and it doesn’t necessarily need to represent reality.”

Ananna’s words pose many concerns. The idea that fashion shows are supposed to make you dream suggests that everyone is white in this idealized world. In contrast, I find the idealization of the homogeneous aesthetic to be a reflection of racism; this is a nightmare, not a dream.

Rebs (Wooyoung) Lim is currently a student attending Occidental College. She is interested in minoring in Sociology and majoring in Urban and Environmental Policy. She does not have a twitter account, sadly.

Here at SocImages, we typically use the phrase “cultural appropriation” to describe rather frivolous borrowing of cultural practices and objects for the purposes of fun and fashion.  We’ve posted on examples ranging from the appropriation of American Indian fashion,  the mocking of the Harlem Shake, and an Orthodox Jew-inspired fashion show.

A slideshow of members of the punk scene in Burma, however, offers another version of cultural appropriation.  Their fashion is clearly inspired by the punk scenes of Britain and the U.S., which started in the 1970s. Accordingly to an interview with Ko Gyi at Vice and an article at Spiegel Online, some members of the sub-culture believe themselves to be rebelling against an oppressive state, others are interested in “non-political anarchism.”  While their music has to pass through state censors, they are talented in pushing their lyrics right up to the limit and deft in using metaphor to get their point across.

This is a fully different kind of appropriation, the kind that is about fighting the establishment, not spicing it up with “colorful” bits of marginalized groups.  It is more akin to feminists and gay liberation activists borrowing the tactics of the civil rights movement.  Alexander Dluzak writes:

In Burma, punk is far more than just a superficial copy of its Western counterpart. Here, what is probably the most rebellious of all subcultures in the Southeast Asian country is going up against one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.

Cultures can borrow from one another, then, in ways that both empower and disempower.  It will be fascinating to see if this particular appropriation can shape the future of Burma.

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 Osocio.

We’ve been covering the saga of Russian protest punk group Pussy Riot for over a year now. The feminist collective performed guerrilla musical protests around Russia against Vladimir Putin. One in particular, in a church, ended with members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina sentenced to two years imprisonment for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. The human rights implications of this sentence attracted much worldwide attention, with Amnesty International and celebrities like Sting, Yoko Ono and Madonna speaking out for the women.

But something else happened. The “Free Pussy Riot” movement, with its iconic knitted balaclavas and provocative language, became a popular meme. The cause célèbre was even appropriated by the fashion industry.

Which is what makes this video by Blush lingerie an intriguing conundrum. While it legitimately promotes the freepussyriot.org fundraising site to help the women, it is also promoting a product using a woman’s sexuality as the bait:

On the first anniversary of the Pussy Riot concert in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the Berlin based Lingerie label blush supports the free pussy riot movement with a sexy protest march through icy Moscow (-15° C). Support Freepussyriot.org!

This is no Femen action, in which women’s bodies become weapons of protest. It is a commercial for sexy underwear that pays for its appropriation of a radical feminist cause by directing people to that cause.

Is this irony?

Tom Megginson is a Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. He is a specialist in social marketing, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility. You can follow Tom at workthatmatters.blogspot.com.

Originally posted in 2010. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month.

The New York Public Library posted a page from the first issue (September 1941) of Design for Living: The Magazine for Young Moderns that I thought was sorta neat for bringing some perspective to the increase in the amount and variety of clothing we take as normal today–but also, to my relief, the acceptance of a more casual style of dress. The magazine conducted a poll of women at a number of colleges throughout the U.S. about how many of various articles of clothing they owned. Here’s a visual showing the school where women reported the highest and lowest averages (the top item is a dickey, not a shirt):

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Overall the women reported spending an average of $240.33 per year on clothing.

Hats for women were apparently well on their way out of fashion:

Can you imagine a magazine aimed at college women today implying that you might be able to get away with only three or four pairs of shoes, even if that’s what women reported?

At the end of the article they bring readers’ attention to the fact that they used a sample:

I can’t help but find it rather charming that a popular magazine would even bother to clarify anything about their polling methods. So…earnest!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month; cross-posted at Mental Floss.

Several factors were in play in the 1920s for the emergence of what came to be known as flappers, teenagers and young women who flaunted convention and spent their time pursuing fun instead of settling down to raise children in the prime of their lives. Many entered college or the workforce and felt entitled to make their own decisions about how to live their lives.

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A lot of young men did not return home from World War I, which left an entire cohort of women without enough husbands to go around. The horror of the war (and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918) also impressed young people with the knowledge that life is short and could end at any moment. Instead of staying home preparing to marry a man who might never come, young women wanted to spend what time they had enjoying all that life had to offer.

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Movies popularized the image of the fun-loving and free-thinking woman throughout the US and Europe. The 1920 movie The Flapper introduced the term in the United States. The title character, Ginger, was a wayward girl who flouted the rules of society. Played by Olive Thomas, a former Ziegfeld Girl (left), Ginger had so much fun that a generation of lonely young women wanted to be like her. Another role model was stage and screen actress Louise Brooks (right), who also modeled for artists and fashion designers. She was the inspiration for the flapper comic strip Dixie Dugan.

 

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Clara Bow wasn’t the first flapper on screen, but she was certainly a role model for young women of the era. She didn’t play by the rules, and was tabloid fodder for years for her sexual escapades with the biggest movie stars of the time. Bow’s first film was in 1922 and her career peaked in 1927 with the film It. “It” was defined as the sexual allure some girls have and others don’t. Bow’s fans wanted “it”, so they copied her look and behavior.

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The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.

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These young women had plenty of opportunities for fun. Although Prohibition drove alcohol underground, that only added to its allure. Postwar prosperity allowed for leisure time and the means to spend that time drinking, dancing, and hanging out with free thinkers.

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Being a flapper wasn’t all about fashion. It was about rebellion. In this article from 1922, a would-be flapper (but still a “nice girl”) explains her lifestyle choices to her parents. Flappers did what society did not expect from young women. They danced to Jazz Age music, they smoked, they wore makeup, they spoke their own language, and they lived for the moment. Flapper fashion followed the lifestyle. Skirts became shorter to make dancing easier. Corsets were discarded in favor of brassieres that bound their breasts, again to make dancing easier. The straight shapeless dresses were easy to make and blurred the line between the rich and everyone else. The look became fashionable because of the lifestyle. The short hair? That was pure rebellion against the older generation’s veneration of long feminine locks.

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The party stopped when the economy crashed and the Great Depression curtailed the night life. Although the flapper lifestyle died along with the Roaring Twenties, the freedoms women tasted in that era weren’t easily given up. They may have gone back to marriage and long hours of toil for little pay, but hemlines stayed above the ankle, and the corset never went back to everyday status. And we’ve been driving cars ever since.

Miss Cellania is a newlywed mother of four, full-time blogger, former radio announcer, and worst of all, a Baby Boomer. In addition to mental_floss, she posts at Neatorama, YesButNoButYes, Geeks Are Sexy, and Miss Cellania. Miss C considers herself an expert on no particular subject at all.

Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month.

I still remember when the female characters on the sitcom Friends started the trend of visible nipples:

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As long as I’d been alive and paying attention, hard nipples were embarrassing. Then, suddenly, they weren’t. I even remember hearing that women could get the all-hard-all-the-time look by buying those tiny rubber bands (that I only associate with the plastic bags aquarium fish come in) and fitting them tightly around your nipples. Nipples are still big, if measured by mannequins (Wicked Anomie noticed too).

It turns out this comes in fits and starts.  This vintage ad (no date on the source), for example, features a bra with built-in hard nipples! (Apparently it had been a trend before I’d been alive and paying attention.)

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In the comments, Dmitriy T.C. added a link to the patent for this device. I can’t resist adding this particular paragraph explaining why a bra with fake nipples is important:

…simulated nipples for a brassiere would offer an acceptable compromise for ladies who do not wish to go without a brassiere and a welcome release from the subconscious effects of the suppression brought on by wearing brassieres of the types variously available, which obliterate the nipple.

LOL.

Anyhow, Tracey at Unapologetically Female wondered about wearing such a bra:

Didn’t anyone ever start to wonder why these women’s nipples were ALWAYS hard? And what if their real nipples (realistically probably located somewhere a bit lower than the bra’s) ever poked through, creating a quadruple effect?! Horrifying.

I find this whole thing especially funny, since, while shopping recently, Katie and I were making fun of these bras with built-in “modesty panels” that provide extra padding so that the nipple will never make an appearance. Times sure have changed.

Except times haven’t changed in the sense that women’s bodies still aren’t allowed to just be. Their nipples either must show, or must not show, or they should show in some contexts, or are allowed to show, but in other contexts they better not show.  (Remember the outcry over Hilary Clinton’s “cleavage”?  Can you imagine if she’d shown some nip!?)

So apparently we’re supposed to have nipple bras, bras with “modesty panels,” and a couple rubber bands in our pockets just in case. The one thing that is clearly less than ideal in all this: actual nipples doing what they do.

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 AlterNetJezebel, and VitaminW.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I go shopping for shoes, I’m always stunned by the incredible disproportion of high heels.  I’m just gonna guestimate here, but I’ll bet 85% of the shoes at the average store are high heels so impractical that most women only wear them on special occasions that involve a lot of sitting down.  These shoes, moreover, seem to be pushed to the front of the display.  Women’s shoe stores beckon shoppers by putting their most outrageous shoes out front.  You have to go digging for a practical pump. A quick Google image search for “women’s shoes” reveals the same bias in favor of the four-inch or higher, spindly heeled shoe:

How is it that a shoe that gets 1% of feet time takes up 85% of retail space?  I’m gonna take a shot at offering an answer.

In a previous post I reviewed the history of the high heel.  Originally a shoe for high-status men, it was adopted by the lower classes.  Elites responded by heightening the heel.  The higher the heel, the more impractical the shoe.  Eventually the working classes couldn’t keep up with the escalation because they had to, you know, work.  Sociologically, this is an example of what Pierre Bourdieu famously called “distinction.”  The rich work to preserve certain cultural arenas and products for themselves.  This allows them to signify their status; you know, keep them from getting confused with the masses.

I think something similar is going on today among women. Certain class advantages make it easier for upper middle class and wealthy women to don high heels.  High heels can really only be worn routinely by women who don’t work on their feet all day (I’ll grant there are dedicated exceptions).  Valet parking makes it a whole lot easier to wear shoes that hurt to walk in, so does not having to take the bus.* Having money, in itself, means that nothing stands between you and buying things that are impractical. So, high heels function to differentiate women who can afford to be impractical with their footwear — both monetarily and in practice — from women who can’t. This, I think, is why the highest, spikiest heels are are the front of the shoe store.  In a certain way, they signify status.  Wearing those shoes promises to differentiate you from other “lesser” women, women who can’t invest in their appearance and get lots of practice looking elegant on their tip toes.

Women of all classes desire such shoes because of the signals they send and they often buy them aspirationally, hoping to be the type of woman who wears them.  It’s primarily women at the top of the class hierarchy that will be able wear them routinely, though, feeding the supply of barely worn spike heels that populate every thrift store in America. So, that’s my theory.

But let’s complicate it just a bit more.  Since working class people do, ultimately, have access to high-heeled shoes, the upper classes have to go to extra lengths to effectively use high heels as a marker of distinction.  This can be accomplished by sub-dividing high heels into “classy” and “trashy”: I got the ones on the left by Googling “stripper shoes” and the ones on the right are courtesy of Louis Vuitton, $890 and $1,450 respectively. Now I know that you can get “classy” heels for much cheaper, but the point is to identify this as an arms race.  The rich have the power to control the discourse and can always access the high-status objects.  The poor can copy, but they are often playing catch up because the rich are always changing the rules.  So, as soon as the poor are doing it right, the rules change, otherwise the activity doesn’t function to distinguish the rich from the poor.  And so on.

* Men, if you’re reading, high heels really do hurt to walk in.  Yes, pretty much all the time.  Most women are used to it and mild pain may not even register consciously.  Sometimes the pain is quite significant, but women wear them anyway.  You’ve probably seen women in your life kicking off their high heels as soon as they walk in the door, or rubbing their feet and wincing; there’s a reason for that.

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.

Screenshot_15Naama Nagar tweeted us an interesting video commentary about hipsters.  In it, Mike Rugnetta uses Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of cultural capital to describe the difference between nerds and hipsters.

This is a topic I’ve enjoyed thinking about myself (on CNN and here at SocImages).  I think Rugnetta makes an interesting argument that resonates with the observations of sociologists: being a hipster is about borrowing other people’s authentic cultural signifiers as their main or only consistent cultural practice.  Check it out:

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.