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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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Conclusion: What Fashion Shows

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

Fashion is cultural identity.

—Abdoulaye Tembely, writer, Coura magazine, Bamako, 30 July 2008

I look for materials that have a story, passion, a soul.

—Anna Getaneh, designer, organizer of African Mosaïque fashion shows, Johannesburg, 20 May 2008

Anyone looking for a few masks or leopard spots will be disappointed.

—Duro Olowu, Nigerian designer 1

African fashion offers abundant insights into cultures, both close to home and distant, real and imagined. Through garments, designers tell stories about history, heritage, and global networks of style, as well as the perpetuation or revival of local dress practices. Fashion also provides a medium for portraying or inventing other peoples’ cultures, offering a highly visible forum for projecting impressions and preconceptions. This concluding chapter reiterates and expands on these stories through two media that make African fashion, and fashion everywhere, widely visible far beyond the limited number of consumers who can afford to purchase designer clothing: fashion shows and fashion magazines. It also returns to cosmopolitanism—and the closely related concept of Afropolitanism—as frameworks for elucidating Africa’s fashion manifestations, exploring how dress practices both illustrate and complicate these notions.

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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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6 The Culture Wars, Then and Now

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

It has been over fifty years since the confluence of youth culture, sexual revolution, and civil rights activism set the culture wars in motion. Judging by the present state of affairs, it may be another half century before the many questions raised in the 1960s are finally resolved. I wrote the bulk of this book in 2013, a year punctuated with important fiftieth-anniversary observations. The year 1963 was a watershed. It was the year that brought us the Beatles, The Feminine Mystique, the Great March on Washington, and the Kennedy assassination. The teenagers of 1963 are in their sixties now but still arguing about many of the same contentious issues that have occupied us since junior high. Commentators originally attributed the rifts in our society to the perennial conflict between youth and age, but the generation gap has faded with the passing of our own grandparents and parents. To paraphrase Pogo, we have met the culture warriors and they are us.

In the preceding chapters I have described the major battlegrounds as revealed through dress. In this chapter I use the same lens to examine what our current gender controversies and quandaries owe to the unfinished business of the sexual revolution. Finally, I ponder what may lie ahead.

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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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Introduction Special Clothing for Extraordinary Contexts

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

IT IS THE THIRD OF JULY, AND TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ARE gathered on a farm just outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A young couple walks by, wearing matching T-shirts: his says “Civil War Nut’s Husband”; hers reads “Civil War Nut’s Wife.” A man in baggy khaki shorts has a T-shirt that reads “Fort Bragg FIRE Emergency Services”; his companion sports a baseball cap that says “U.S. Army.” A little boy is dressed as a Union soldier, in blue pants and shirt, a kepi on his head, with a yellow cavalry sash tied at his waist, proudly carrying a toy infantryman’s rifle. On Sutler’s Row, at the photography studio, a young man poses in a wool Union uniform, indistinguishable from a real one except that it is open in back and fastened with long ties. At the Activities Tent a camera crew awaits, every man clad in shorts, sunglasses, bandanas on their heads, with large laminated “Press” badges dangling from their vests. Outside the tent stands an elegant bearded man in an impeccably tailored, pale gray uniform. He has come from upstate New York to address the crowd in the role of General Robert E. Lee. All of these people express their identities by what they wear.1

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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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15. The Wedding

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

ON A STEAMY JULY evening in 1996, a small gathering of people sat in plastic chairs on the lawn of a five-star hotel in the Mughal city of Lucknow, waiting for the ceremony to begin. The bride, Shalini Shrivastava, looked beautiful as she emerged, accompanied by her younger sister, Nidhi. Shalini wore a magenta silk lehanga and covered her head modestly with the dupatta, surrounding her pretty face in bright, soft fabric. She wore the customary gold jewelry; the golden hathphul on her hands glittered in the flash of the cameras. Shalini approached the platform where her groom, Rohit, waited, dressed in a turban and an off-white suit with a long Nehru jacket, called a shervani.1 The couple exchanged flower garlands to the applause of their family and friends. A rich meal followed, after which most of the guests went home. Only the immediate family and a few close friends remained for the Hindu ceremony that continued into the night, during which the pundit, with Vedic chants in Sanskrit, united the young couple in eternal matrimony.

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5 Fashion Design in South Africa: Histories and Industries

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

South African fashion is totally different from the rest of Africa. It is certainly African—you must call it African because it is made here.

—Marianne Fassler, 2008

We wanted to try and find a way that would make history part of popular culture, so the individuals who buy those clothes become ambassadors.

—Nkhesani Manganyi Nkosi of Stoned Cherrie, Sunday Times, 28 April 2002

Woolworths and South Africa’s leading designers are working together to bring you the best in local design. Wear them proudly.

—Woolworths department store clothing label, Cape Town, 2008

South Africa’s large and diverse fashion industry includes numerous designers whose work bears analysis as conceptual; these designers create garments that evoke complex localities without directly borrowing from or depicting elements of local cultures. Continuing a leitmotif from the previous chapter, many of these designers employ various forms of recycling—from the reuse of clothing to the repurposing of images that allude to specific histories, both national and personal. In post-apartheid South Africa, barely a generation beyond the end of the nation’s long period of racial segregation and repression, references to the past and to the ongoing struggle to realize the promise of transformation are a prime subject for artistic explorations in all media. Fashion design provides a highly visible and widely accessible venue for these explorations. Before turning to case studies of designers, I briefly introduce three aspects of South Africa’s history that reverberate in the work of fashion designers, making the country’s design industry exceptional in Africa. These elements—ethnic diversity, a history of race-based oppression, and a highly developed industrial and commercial infrastructure—all contribute to the distinctiveness of the nation’s fashion industry.

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6. Making Jewelry

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

INDIAN WOMEN GENERALLY view their jewelry as the central component of their personal adornment; something to hold, possess, and treasure as well as to wear, it is more important than their clothing. Clothes are used daily to convey multiple messages; they are changed and bought with frequency, but a woman’s jewelry is special for many reasons. Its cost is higher, its materials are precious, and its permanence provides a powerful sense of ownership and enables it to be passed down as an heirloom, building connections between the generations. Items of jewelry—like the brocaded saris of Banaras—are carefully chosen by the wearers for their beauty and symbolic value, and, like the saris, jewelry embodies the aesthetic choices made by a series of men—the suppliers of materials, the talented craftsmen, and the wily merchants. The production of jewelry involves complex negotiations of the kind found in the production of cloth. In both cases, the artists, the middlemen, and the sellers are men of different castes, ethnic groups, and religions. In both cases, the products—woven cloth or gold jewelry—can be imported from elsewhere in India or locally produced by desi artisans.

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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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4 Reenactment Reliving the American Civil War

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

FIFTY THOUSAND PEOPLE, MOST OF THEM MEN, REENACT THE events of the American Civil War in locations across the country. Some interpret the life of a common soldier; others assume the persona of a famous general. All of them yearn to experience a piece of American history, and many also take on an educational task, since all the events occur on public ground before an amassed audience. Reenactors and self-defined living historians, these people are not interested in enacting a fictional European persona as the SCA players are, but they aim to impersonate actual military heroes on both sides of a divided United States in the nineteenth century.

I met Wayne Brunson at the Turning and Burning Festival in Gillsville, Georgia.1 Amid booths selling handmade crafts—pottery, baskets, quilts—his stand displayed a hand-painted sign reading, “Civil War Life / Just Talk / Nothing for Sale.” Brunson, an Alabama man who travels to Georgia’s public schools to demonstrate aspects of the life of a Civil War soldier, usually dresses in a Union uniform, despite having several Confederate ancestors. He has been a Civil War reenactor for more than twenty years, but he also spent time in the SCA, so he was able to compare the two activities for me. He began by telling me, “Civil War reenacting is trying to recreate the past and present it in a way that the public can see and visualize how things were in 1860s.” The SCA, he told me, is a private organization whose main activities take place in restricted spaces for an audience composed solely of SCA members. He admitted that the SCA “has contributed greatly to the knowledge of how life was in Renaissance and medieval time periods.” But Civil War reenacting, according to Wayne, is more interactive: “It’s more hands-on, it’s more public. We’re out here on display for the public. Most people don’t know—at Civil War reenactment events soldiers pay to get in too. We pay to be the attraction at a Civil War event. Some people do it for the fun of dressing up as a soldier, shooting at other folks. Other folks do it for the sense of history that it gives you, and your interaction with the public.” Civil War reenactors are on display in the presence of a discerning public, the uniforms, weapons, and accoutrements must look real, because, as Wayne said, “what the public sees is supposed to be nothing but what is authentic.”

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8. Shopping along the Vishvanath Gali

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

READYMADE CLOTHING, including salwar suits, is sold in the garment district on Dashaswamedh Road, while saris are available in shops south of Godaulia along Madanpura Road. Silver and gold ornaments can be purchased from small shops in Chauk and Godaulia or from one of the big Kanhaiya Lal stores. The last need women have in the creation of their body art consists of daily items such as toiletries, nail polish, henna and hair products, bindis, sindur, bangles, and “artificial jewelry.”

Women buy these everyday essentials with frequency, for personal pleasure and with little concern for cost, since they are inexpensive and ephemeral; they will be used immediately and not kept for posterity. As women browse through the markets, their choices are spontaneous and casually considered, being inspired by whim or late-breaking fashion. They plan little in advance and do not seek the advice of their husbands or girlfriends, as they do when purchasing expensive jewelry or saris. Shopping for bindis, bangles, and imitation jewelry, women are on their own. They engage directly with the salesmen, listening closely as the merchants provide no end of expert guidance.

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1 Movers, Shakers, and Boomers

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

In 1970 the Bayonne High School class of 1960 gathered for their reunion. Journalist Steven Roberts told their story as a participant observer, interviewing his old classmates and comparing notes with them, in a feature article in the Sunday New York Times. One common theme emerged: the class of 1960 had “just missed out” on the great changes of the upcoming decade. As one alumnus commented, “The last five years have really been the turning point.” What had changed? Practically everything.

Between 1965 and 1970 the “police action” in Vietnam had escalated to a war, the civil rights movement had blossomed into Black Power and Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” Reefer Madness (1936) became a cult laughing stock on the college film circuit, and Playboy discovered pubic hair. The women at the reunion discussed their marriages and children through the new lens of second-wave feminism. “We had been shaped,” Roberts concluded, “in the dying years of a world that no longer exists.” The basic assumptions instilled in them in the 1950s—“respect authority . . . sex is dirty”—had been swept away.1

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3 The Peacock Revolution

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

Journalist George Frazier is credited with popularizing the phrase “peacock revolution” to describe the styles coming from London’s young Carnaby Street designers, which promised to restore the lost glory of flamboyant menswear.1 Frazier was describing the explosion of choices that were suddenly available to men, ranging from Romantic revival (velvet jackets and flowing shirts) to a pastiche of styles borrowed from Africa and Asia. Expanded color palettes, softer fabrics, and a profusion of decorative details represented a direct challenge to the conformity and drabness of menswear at mid-century. For critics of the new men’s fashions, flowered shirts and velvet capes raised the specter of decadence and homosexuality, a fear that was reinforced by the emergence of the gay liberation movement. Just as women’s unisex styles had to balance being sexy and liberated, men’s styles tended to navigate the territory between expressiveness and effeminacy. But like many revolutions, the peacock revolution ended in repudiation and regression. Although fashion prognosticators in 1970 were predicting the demise of neckties and gray flannel suits, within ten years the pendulum had swung back with a vengeance. John T. Molloy’s Dress for Success, in 1975, had codified a return to conservative dressing for business. Within a few years the more flamboyant styles of the late 1960s and ’70s had been relegated to the back of the closet, if not the thrift shop.

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