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2. Getting Ready

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

THE MOST COMMON OF ARTISTIC ACTS, getting dressed requires an intricate series of choices. To sample the range of decisions women make on a daily basis, let us follow Rani Mishra, a twenty-seven-year-old Brahmin housewife, as she goes about her routine on a typical September day, in the old joint-family compound in which she lives, in the city of Banaras.

Rani, the mother of two young children, wakes up before her husband, at six in the morning. She rises, still wearing the magenta petticoat and blouse of yesterday’s sari ensemble. The sari, a strip of cloth six meters in length, has to be tucked into a frame, provided by the “petticoat,” an ankle-length skirt of cotton with a drawstring waist. A “blouse” (called, like the petticoat, by its English name), is a custom-stitched, midriff shirt, which closes snuggly with hooks running down the chest. Women own many blouses and petticoats, which are changed often to match the sari in color and fabric.

At night, Rani, like many women, simply unwraps her sari and sleeps in the underclothes that she has been wearing all day. For sleeping, some women prefer a “maxi,” a floor-length cotton dress that some women wear around the house and others wear only in bed. Rani lives with her parents-in-law and her husband’s brothers and their families; she feels uncomfortable wearing a maxi in the house, because she considers it an intimate garment. The audience for her daily adornment is large—her extended family, the servants, and the vegetable sellers who come into the house every day with their baskets of produce.

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5 Living History Colonial Williamsburg

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

FOR THREE-QUARTERS OF A CENTURY, MILLIONS HAVE TRAVELED to Colonial Williamsburg in Tidewater Virginia to behold and interact with men and women dressed in fine eighteenth-century clothing.1 These costumed interpreters perform on the stage of a colonial town, their embroidered waistcoats, tricorn hats, and wide silk gowns harmonizing with the colors of the brick and clapboarded buildings of Colonial Williamsburg, “the world’s largest living history museum.” Colonial Williamsburg’s personnel, in contrast to the reenactors of the Civil War, must authenticate and replicate a wide array of clothing, dress for soldiers and civilians, women and men, for people of different classes—the gentry, artisans, indentured servants, and enslaved African Americans. With few surviving garments and only a fraction of the documentation that is available for the four years of the Civil War, the reconstructed past at Williamsburg must be meticulously researched and precisely presented through the institution of the museum, where education and authenticity drive the choices of the costumes that are made, worn, and performed.

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1. Body Art in Banaras

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

EVERY ONE OF US gets dressed in the morning, every day of our lives. Clothing is one of the principal ways by which we express at once our personal identities and our culture. Dress, along with architecture and food, fulfills basic human needs for protection and creativity, while responding to environmental and social conditions. Since all people engage in these shared mediums of expression, one way to understand and compare cultures—and to see regional, local, and personal differences within cultures—is to examine specific modes of clothing, housing, and feeding the body. Schools and museums often utilize this basic triad in introducing children to the diversity of the world’s populations.1 But in contrast to the study of vernacular architecture, and, to a lesser extent, the study of foodways, the examination of everyday clothing is not yet fully developed. Surveys of national dress tend to generalize, homogenize, and anonymize individuals, discounting personal interpretations of social norms. Other books focus on extreme cases—the counter-cultural young with their tattoos, the economic elite with their enthusiasm for high fashion. It is my aim to provide a study of the clothing choices made by ordinary people, in keeping with the theoretical premises of my discipline, folklore, which, to begin, I will define as the study of creativity in everyday life.2

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3 Reinventing Local Forms: African Fashion, Indigenous Style

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

I was drawn to everything that was African.

—Chris Seydou, Malian fashion designer, Bamako, 6 March 1993

The traditional and the contemporary with a touch of originality. These are the three elements of creativity.

—Salah Barka, Tunisian fashion designer, Paris, 19 June 2010

Sun Goddess harvests stories and images of South African traditions. These stories look back to our heritage and its relevance to the past, present and future.

—Vanya and Thando Mangaliso, South African fashion designers, Sun Goddess website, 1 February 2011

We need to preserve indigenous, traditional techniques by making them modern.

—Aboubakar Fofana, Malian artist and designer, Bamako, 25 June 2009

I want to take from the past and take it with me into the future.

—Laduma Ngxokolo, South African fashion designer, Port Elizabeth, 2 June 2012

In his autobiographical novel L’Enfant Noir (The Dark Child), Guinean writer Camara Laye used clothing to make a powerful statement about the shifting incarnations of tradition. Recalling the rituals by which life was ordered during his childhood, Laye described how people in his community continued to embrace practices that had been detached from the meanings that once inspired them. Now, these practices simply evoke the idea of tradition: “Sometimes only the spirit of a tradition survives; sometimes only its form. Its outer garments, as it were, remain.”1 Clothing here stands in for the residue of tradition, a remnant of practices no longer integral to people’s lives. It may also refer to vaguely remembered histories. Importantly, Laye does not express this shifting meaning as loss, but rather as a source of comfort in the certainty that these rituals (or the garments that are their residue) still have meaning. Writing of a harvest ritual whose origins are lost to memory, Laye notes: “Yet, like all our customs, this one had its significance.”2

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4 Conceptual Fashion: Evocations of Africa

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

A runway in New York, 1998: Models wearing garments that range from sheath-like dresses made of loosely knitted yarn to denim jackets with large fake fur collars stride the runway to the strains of Jimi Hendrix, and then suddenly to no soundtrack at all. Loose threads dangle from the seams of some garments; others have labels sewn outside their collars.

A loading dock in Johannesburg, 2003: At an event planned by two fashion designers, attendees stand on concrete floors in an industrial building in a gritty downtown neighborhood. They watch as performers wearing large plastic bags dance and interact, pantomiming a story of trials and perseverance. The two designers work behind the scenes, holding the lanterns that illuminate the space and manipulating shadow puppets.

A workshop in Paris, 2007: Women from the Goutte d’Or, a neighborhood known for its large African population, participate in training programs led by a designer from the Comoros. They learn sewing techniques that will help them find employment. The designer and a group of participants create an exhibition at the Musée du Petit Palais that features the garments they have produced, which are made of recycled clothing, displayed on mannequins along with bales of used clothing.1

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1 Festive Spirit Carnival Costume in Brazil

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

AT THE POINT WHERE LATIN AMERICA AND AFRICA COME CLOSEST, Portuguese explorers landed on the shores of Bahia in 1500. Within half a century they had established Brazil’s first colonial capital in the port city of Salvador and brought enslaved people from Africa to work the land. A Catholic country with the largest African population in the diaspora, Brazil has more people of African descent than any country except Nigeria, the most populated of the African nations.1 The slave trade was officially abolished in Brazil as late as 1888, resulting in a large population of formerly enslaved and recently arrived people who entered the country largely through Salvador da Bahia. Intermingling in the New World, people of astonishing cultural diversity created the Candomblé religion: a syncretic mix of African and European faiths, gods, and practices. Yoruba orixás—many of them deified ancestors—became the African gods most often worshipped in Brazil, each one closely associated with a Catholic saint. The complex Afro-Brazilian identity—at once Catholic, African, and Brazilian—is on display in the public events of Salvador. Identity, history, race, religion, and political and social affiliations are all communicated visually by the clothing worn in festivals and by the costumes of carnival.

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Acknowledgments

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

MY AIM IN WRITING THIS BOOK WAS TO UNDERSTAND HOW COSTUME enables individuals to perform identities that are not expressed through daily dress. As a folklorist, I conducted case studies using ethnographic methods to show how costume functions to express identity in contexts full of intention and meaning. During this project, which began in 2007, I have accumulated debts to many individuals who have taught me about the significance of costume.

My first debt is to the people who furthered my intellectual pursuit by providing me with hours of recorded interviews and allowing me to observe, photograph, and understand costumes in use, both abroad and here in the United States. Two people in particular gave me much support and encouragement at the project’s beginning—Ellen Adair and Kersti Jobs-Björklöf. Both Ellen and Kersti spent many hours talking to me about the nuanced ways in which costume functions: Ellen on how costumes communicate on the professional theater stage and Kersti on how folk costumes express identity and heritage in contemporary Sweden. Ellen and Kersti not only shared their expertise with me; they also led me to other people to interview.

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3 Play The Society for Creative Anachronism

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

HISTORICAL COSTUMES ENABLE THEIR WEARERS AND BEHOLDERS to travel in time, to imagine or inhabit the past. During historical reenactments, accuracy and authenticity are valued, for meticulous costumes grant their wearers the right to represent the past, often in critique of the present.

The next three chapters examine distinct categories of historical reenactment: first, the Society for Creative Anachronism, an amateur association whose primary focus is in-group entertainment with no spectators in attendance; second, several groups of American Civil War reenactors, semiprofessional historians who strive for both personal enjoyment and public education; and finally, the Colonial Williamsburg living history museum, a professional institution whose mission is to educate a paying audience of visitors.

Each example of historical costuming centers on the premise of time travel, of transporting oneself and spectators to another time and place. The specificity of time and place vary, as do the degree of authenticity, the levels of tolerance of inaccuracy, and the skills of performance. All three examples of living history involve people impersonating others—nobility from the Middle Ages, Civil War soldiers, or residents of Williamsburg in the eighteenth century. Unlike our examples from Sweden and Brazil, in which history was gathered into the costumed individuals, in historical reenactment the individual is gathered into history, as these studies consider the expression of identity through the clothing of someone from another time and place. Personal heritage, however, remains a major motivation. In each of these examples we find historical costumes used as a means of social commentary. In each, dedicated individuals combine artistry and a notion of accuracy to make, wear, and perform historical costumes, achieving personal fulfillment while working toward the creation of community.

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2 Heritage Folk Costume in Sweden

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

FOLK COSTUMES IN EUROPE MATERIALIZE CULTURAL PRIDE AND resistance in the face of globalizing homogenization. Once worn as daily dress, beautiful garments have become symbols of heritage in many parts of Europe, particularly in the northwestern and eastern nations of the continent.1 Traditions of folk costume are especially robust in Scandinavia, with Norway and Sweden as the prime locations for exuberant displays of elaborate clothing, generally marked regionally by form, color, and motif.

Afro-Brazilian carnival costumes developed out of a historic clash of cultures in a new locale, a place of imperialistic expansion, colonialism, slavery, and prejudice. By contrast, regional costumes in Sweden are set comfortably in place. Their journey has carried them forward in time, most notably in the parish of Leksand in the province of Dalarna, which has become the core of Swedish resistance and preservation of folk costume. The goal has been the maintenance of heritage through the purposeful acts of committed individuals: artists, museum professionals, church authorities, craft teachers, musicians, and local culture brokers. Through willed actions, the costume communicates aesthetics, identity, and community. The tradition of Swedish folk costume in Leksand is spearheaded by one extraordinary individual: Kersti Jobs-Björklöf. In this chapter Kersti teaches us about her famous costume: white linen blouse, laced bodice, wool skirt, and an assortment of colorful aprons.

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10. Nina Khanchandani

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

IN INDIA, as in many countries of the world, men are the ones entangled in commerce. They are the merchants, cooks, and waiters, while women work in the domestic sphere. In public, it is easier to meet men, especially the men of commerce who are accustomed to easy exchange, and my quest to meet new women in Banaras began, logically, with a merchant. After several visits to Hemant Khanchandani’s Dayaram Fashion Centre, his hospitality of tea and sometimes samosas did not seem to him enough. He invited us home for a meal. He lives a short walk from his shop, just off of Luxa Road, which is crowded with hotels, restaurants, and clothing stores. As is usual in Banaras, Hemant shares his home with the members of his extended family: his widowed mother, his older and younger brothers, his wife and sister-in-law, and four young adult children—two his own and two his older brother Parmanand’s. Their house is hidden behind a tiny convenience store called Pariwar Provisions, the Family Provisions shop. The name fits, since different members of the family share the duty of running the business. This joint family, in contrast to many others in Banaras, seems to be happy and comfortable, which is one of the reasons I was attracted to Hemant’s household.

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11. Neelam Chaturvedi

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

WHEN I FIRST TALKED to Neelam Chaturvedi in the spring of 1996, she was an art teacher in the Sunbeam private school in Banaras. Unlike Nina, a Sindhi living in a Sindhi household, Neelam is a Punjabi married into a Brahmin family from Banaras. Being born in India to Punjabi parents who were displaced from their native Pakistan, Neelam has developed an adaptive personal style. Constant adjustment to different contexts is a main theme of her choices in life and adornment, a pattern evident in our interviews. My main tape-recorded conversations with her, which lasted several hours, took place in Neelam’s bedroom, upstairs in her mother-in-law’s house a few blocks from the vast red temple dedicated to Durga in Banaras.1

When she was growing up in Banaras, Neelam spoke Punjabi at home with her parents, yet she was exposed to Hindi at school and to the local Bhojpuri dialect of the servants. Neelam learned Hindi and Bhojpuri, and, though she was scolded for speaking these ill-regarded languages in the presence of her parents, she grew up speaking what she calls a “mix” of languages. Her shifting between Punjabi and Hindi, choosing one or the other in different contexts, is like the double-coding used by immigrant children who grow up in America, adapting and conforming to two cultures simultaneously.

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5. Weaving Saris

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

BANARAS HAS BEEN A CENTER for the production of exquisite brocaded saris for centuries. The colloquial name used throughout India for these saris—the Banarasi sari—implies a continuous association of the beautiful saris with the city where most saris of the type are still made. Saris are woven in the Muslim neighborhoods of Banaras: handwoven in Madanpura and Sonarpura, and manufactured on power looms in Alaipura. Dalmandi, the other main Muslim neighborhood, is the market center for readymade clothes; saris are neither woven nor sold there.

A significant portion of the residents of Banaras are involved in the sari trade in one way or another. Thousands of men (and a smaller number of women) work as weavers, a few of them ranked as masters. Some weaving families have been involved in the trade for generations; others turn to it intermittently to earn extra cash. Kanhaiya Kevat, for example, a charismatic boatwallah we met on the Ganges, explained that besides rowing a boat—and working out at the local wrestler’s club, which is his favorite activity—he also weaves saris part-time. Many weavers are journeyman workers under the supervision of the families that have owned workshops for generations. These families of Muslim masters, who bear the surname Ansari, occasionally hire a few Hindu workers, such as Kanhaiya Kevat, who is not by caste a weaver.

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3. Gaze, Sacred and Secular

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

SEEING AND BEING SEEN are given particular importance in Hindu India by the concept of darshan, sacred sight. An understanding of the power of sight in Hinduism—for communication and for blessing—helps contextualize the secular realm of vision, aiding in our appreciation of how individuals make judgments and convey messages based on what people wear. In the moment of worship, eye contact and focused vision establish connection and narrow the gap between the devotee and the deity. In the crowded street, people temporarily join in brief, casual or intense, exchanges of contact through the eyes.

Darshan, auspicious sight, is a visual exchange between a worshiper and a murti—a representation of a deity in stone, metal, or clay—during the act of puja. Whether or not the statue eternally contains the deity varies in different parts of India. In some places, the statue is a permanent embodiment of the deity that can be worshiped at any time. In others, it is a receptacle into which the deity descends, and through which the god is worshiped. Darshan means the gaze of the person looking at a deity and the gaze of the deity looking back at the person. To take darshan of a deity—in Hindi, darshan karna, to do darshan—is proof of proximity, legitimizing the experience of being in the same place as a god. This concept may also apply to seeing an important human being. People used to crowd for a glimpse of Mahatma Gandhi, to take darshan, carrying away a bit of him, a fleeting vision of the Great Soul permanently stored in the mind’s eye.

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1 Indigenous Fashion: Embroidery and Innovation in Mali

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

You come from afar, you have brought lots of clothes, everyone sings your praises, the best clothes come from Accra, and the person who wears them is the best.

—Dogon song, documented by Isaie Dougnon

A tilbi is more than a boubou.

—Baba Djitteye, embroiderer, Timbuktu, 23 July 2008

In a single region in Mali, two styles of men’s dress embody diverse forms of social status, attitudes toward innovation and perpetuation of past practices, and sources of stylistic inspiration. These styles, known as “Ghana boy” and “tilbi,” have in common a reliance on embroidery as a means of embodying messages, histories, and identities. Yet, these embroidered garments represent quite distinct approaches to style change, the hallmark of fashion. Neither of these sartorial innovations participates in the global fashion system, which is rooted in Western styles and methods. Instead, they offer insights into different fashion worlds, with their own histories, economies, and precedents from which they draw inspiration. Furthermore, these styles contain traces of local as well as global networks of commodities and cultures, literally made legible in the embroidered patterns and figures that adorn the garments.

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14. Before the Wedding

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

THE STREETS OF INDIA are dizzy with color: colors crackle and clash in the temples and shrines, in the marketplace, in the clothes women wear. Colorful ornament enhances beauty and signals desire, whether the goal of desire is worship, commerce, or the communication of one’s place in the cycle of life. At the beginning of that cycle, babies are peculiarly vulnerable, susceptible to disease, carried quickly into deaths that many believe are caused by supernatural powers. The tiny bodies of living babies are decorated to attract the benevolence of the gods while fending off malignant spirits. Many adorn the infant with amulets tied with thread around the neck, waist, or arm. Black kohl is used to line their eyes, for protective and medicinal purposes, giving babies a chic and sultry look. A round mark of black kohl, like a displaced bindi, is located on the face of the baby, often to one side of the head, to ward off evil spirits or deflect the evil eye cast by envious humans, especially if the baby is notably beautiful.

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