Tag Archives: Fashion Theory

Textile Traditions – The Hmong Tribe and Kantha Quilts

Native, traditional, Eastern, or often times called, “fixed” dress, that of the indigenous peoples of East-Asian territories, may seem to be the antithesis of the current Western standard of the sartorial etiquette which relies on constant fashion change and the unwavering push for newness. However, these precious, contextually and sentimentally loaded, incredibly detailed traditional textiles are finding their way into the hands of Western designers and customers. Either sold as the authentic pieces of culture they are, straight from the indigenous hands who made them, or upcycled/recycled into fashionable accessories, traditional textiles from the Akha Hill tribes of East Asia are popping up in the homes and closets of savvy, socially conscious consumers around the world, particularly in the UK and US.

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Photo from Laos and Ethnic Minority Cultures: Promoting Heritage

For some of these tribes, like the Hmong who live in the hills of Laos, Thailand and China, the dissemination of these handmade textiles (which they have every part in making from growing the hemp for making the fiber to sewing the end product into garments) is one of the few tangible ways of preserving and sharing their cultural heritage. As Western influence and inexpensive materials make their way to the remote areas of this purely oral-tradition tribe (meaning they have no written language), the skillful art of the traditional Hmong embroidery technique becomes threatened.

For others, such as the Bengali women of India, opportunities to create handmade kantha quilts in their home to sell abroad provides them with financial freedoms otherwise denied women residing in such areas. With a salary they can afford to put their children through school, combatting the sex-trafficking epidemic that is so prevalent in this area, affording independence and stability for at-risk women.

kantha quilts

Kantha Quilts

No matter how they reached the Western markets, the story behind these intricate pieces of textile art, and that of those who made and wore them, need to be preserved. H. Leedom Lefferts Jr., a Lao cultural expert, says in his article promoting the importance of the conservation of Lao material culture, that “Textiles weave indigenous cultures together; they thus provide strands of meaning and action which can be picked up by observers to understand cultures and assist them in coping with the pressures of modern life.” Designers are taking note of the customer craving authenticity and history in their adornments, and what better way to satisfy that need than highly intricate, handmade traditional and ceremonial textiles from age-old tribe techniques.

Sometimes classified as “vintage” fabric, these recycled textiles can be found in mainstream stores such as in the furniture upholstery of Anthropologie, West Elm, and Sundance Catalog. They are also often upcycled into fashionable accessories such as bags, shoes, and garments as in the case of Elliot Mann and Sophia Costas, and the Etsy sites Dazzling Lana and Fairlyworn, to name a few.

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Who Wears the Pants?

Dockers          Dockers

In order to understand the world and the endless amount of information we take in every second, the human brain has developed the use of ‘schemata’ or categories which are used as frameworks so that information can be easily and quickly filed away to help us interact appropriately in different situations. Everyone has their own set of schemata influenced by background, upbringing, experiences and relationships. Yet, there is no doubt that everyone uses them. They have to, as some scholars say, or else there would be information overloads and no interaction would be able to take place. Some schemata are shared by the general populous, such as gender schemata. The female schema contains characteristics such as nurturing, facilitating, polite, dependent, and unaggressive. The male schema says men are dominant, aggressive, stoic, successful, independent, and the breadwinners. There are also other schemata that go along with race/ethnicity, class, religion, occupation, national identity, and sexuality.

These universally accepted schemata can be easily discovered by simply looking at the media and advertisement portrayals in how the represent their markets. It seems that Dockers has very different schemata traits when it comes to gay and straight men which we can see in their most recent advertising campaign. This campaign began a in early December of 2009 which called for men to go back to their roots, to act more manly, and to ‘Wear the Pants’.

Most of the ad’s have the same general format; a man standing in front of a plain background, the top half of him is a saying and he is wearing Dockers pants. What is interesting is the difference in the word choice given the context the ad will be seen. Can you guess which one of the above ads I found in Out magazine, the national gay fashion and lifestyle magazine for the US? Without getting into the phrases used, you could probably tell just by the style and fit of the pants. The ones on the left are an orange/pink and the fit is much tighter than the khaki’s on the right which are looser, wrinklier, and a dull tan. Even the stance of the two are remarkably different. We have one who is almost posing sexually, looking to the side, or behind him as if looking for someone to make a connection with, versus the other man who seems to have no interest in what is going on around him, rather he is looking out with his hands on his hips as if he just accomplished a trying task or is contemplating the meaning of life. Getting down to the more obvious of differences, we see what the Dockers advertising campaign sees as the difference in priorities between gay men and straight men through the phrases they chose to make up the body (in both sense of the word) of their ad. ‘Behold the Second Dawn of Man’ goes along with the main theme of the Dockers new ad campaign which, in summary, claims that our society has become genderless, and is therefore crumbling.  It calls for men to drop their non-fat lattes, put on their pants, be men and help little old ladies cross the street, discipline misbehaving children, and of course, buy Docker’s pants. It is easy to see the sexism in this campaign, but further drudging of the advertisements brings to light more prejudice ideals. First of all, the ad I found in Out is much harder to track down in other outlets. In fact, it doesn’t even appear in a Google search. Does Dockers not want to be identified with the gay community,? if so, why advertise in a gay magazine?

The phrase used for the advertisement placed in a gay context states, ‘Attract the touches of friends, boyfriends, and even the occasional stranger’. So, straight men wear their pants to maintain order in society, gay men wear pants to be promiscuous and attract attention from occasional strangers. Though it seems trite to take such a critical view of these two seemingly unimportant advertising images, it does bring light to how mainstream corporations view different subcultures and instill representations and reinforce stereotypes. As the introduction to Erving Goffman’s book Gender Advertisements says, “Advertisements depict for us not necessarily how we actually behave as men and women but how we think men and women behave. This depiction serves the social purpose of convincing us that this is how men and women are, or want to be, or should be not only in relation to themselves but in relation to each other” (Gornick, 1979).

It is important to understand the implications and affects these representations have on our culture. From creating unfair homogenous stereotypes of a group to instilling an unattainable body and lifestyle ideal people try to live up to.

*Re-post from last year in honor of #ThrowBackThursday

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Transparency Tuesday – Fashioning Change

 
Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 4.41.21 PMFinally, the myth that sustainable clothing is harder to find and more expensive than normative fashion brands has been dispelled. Introducing Fashioning Change, an amazing, innovative eCommerce platform based in San Diego that finds less expensive, yet equally trendy, sustainable alternatives to the large brands you usually shop. Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 4.41.46 PMFashioning Change builds your own virtual changing room by asking you a series of questions including your budget for fashion products,

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Personality,

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style,

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brand preference,

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and which donations you care about most.
Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 4.45.34 PMYour changing room is then formulated and you can browse items by your personal style, causes, personality, or “likes”. You can also explore larger categories like Women, Men, Children, Brands, and Looks.

We want to thank Fashioning Change for making sustainable fashion more accessible to the masses and starting to change the idea that sustainable = expensive. I.F. gives Fashioning Change an A+, be sure to check them out at http://fashioningchange.com and build your personal changing room for free!

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Letter From the Editor — Finding Fashion, East x West

An inquiry from a fellow fashion blogger sparked this next series of posts from I.F. Content Director, Kelly Sullivan (thanks again fashionablepostulations).

A fellow fashion theory junkie was asking about the fashion scene in California, and how fashion theory as a discipline is studied and structured in California academia. In answering this question, I realized how unique my position is (as a frequent traveller between the coasts and writer of fashion in both areas) in being able to identify differences and make comparisons between fashion systems on either side of the country.
 
Over the next few weeks I will be discussing and analyzing fashion enterprises located in various parts of the U.S. coastline including: Northern California, Southern California, The Greater Boston Area, and Manhattan. Starting with the places I’ve lived and moving to the ones I’ve only visited. If you have any specific questions you wish for me to address, please me sure to contact me. I am going to start with Northern California, since this is my current location (for the next 4 days that is).
 
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Northern California is paradise; I dare you to find any current or past resident that would say otherwise. Between the valley, the mountains, and the bay area, all geographic typographies are within driving distance. This might be why there is an air and attitude in Nor Cal of quaint familiarity and unspoken kinship that I have yet to find anywhere else. Getting a genuine smile from a passerby on the street is not out of the ordinary, nor is striking up the occasional conversation with a stranger waiting in line at the organic farm stand. Those happy California cows we are always hearing about can be found roaming free range in the vast rolling hills of Nor Cal, spending their days in the fresh outdoors, eating hearty grass and occasionally getting into the road causing a minor back up along the gorgeous, winding Highway 1 that runs along the Pacific sea coast.
 
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The people are laid back and use silly slang like “hella” and “jenky” and enjoy a 4:20 culture that is vibrant, booming, and unabashed. The superficial feel that is often found in high profile fashion cities is nonexistent in Nor Cal. In fact, instead of focusing on exclusivity and a “trickle-down” approach to fashion (the idea that the “fashion elite”, celebrities, fashion houses, designers, and style icons introduce fashions to society which are then adopted by the masses), the Northern California fashion system is more interested in benefitting the entire network – of which is defined at and compromised of not only those buying and interpreting fashion (i.e. the consumer), but also those designing it, selling it, as well as those producing it.
 
 
 
 
 
I truly admire the way this area thinks about, reflects on, and reacts to the consequences of fashion, from all perspective, and believe it should be looked to as a model for implementing positive and successful fashion systems. Stay tuned for a more magnified look into Northern California as I discuss and analyze this underrepresented, yet forward-thinking fashion area with a thicker lens.
 
Xo,
K
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“The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses is well- established. By contrast, the study of dress has traditionally suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of fashion as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. It provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the analysis of cultural phenomena ranging from foot binding to fashion advertising. Fashion Theory provides a vital contribution to cultural studies, art, history, literary criticism, anthropology, fashion history, media studies, gender studies, folklore studies and sociology.” – Fashion Theory, Editor’s Introduction of the Journal, Valerie Steele, 1997

“The importance…

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Selective Sustainability – RILA Reports Retail Executives Keep Sustainability In Mind

clothes pins

In a report released on March 7 by Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA),  sustainability will be a large component of focus among the business practices of major retailers over the next two years.

According to RILA’s vice president of sustainability and retail operations, Adam Siegel, “All of the trends are upward. Everyone is projecting that they’re going to be working on far more in the next few years than they are today.”

97% of survey respondents reported that they were “already working on waste and recycling in their facilities” with 94% claiming a focus on energy usage.

This is all well and good, however, taking responsible for waste and energy usage is only a tiny portion of being a truly sustainable enterprise. Let’s push the boundaries a little more and see what respondents said about the more important aspects of sustainable business practices.

Issue                                                          Percentage of Respondents Addressing the Issue

End-of-life disposal of products         48%

Manufacturing Impacts                        52%

Factory labor conditions                      48%

When looking at the data from this perspective (with the belief that these major issues should have been at the very forefront of importance) the positivity that seems to be beaming from the report seems much less bright and promising. The environmental and human welfare implications of these large mass merchants are massive, and executives should not be rewarded or condoned for their backwards afterthought of the consequences their business practices have. If anything, this report should highlight the need to make businesses acknowledge what it truly means to be sustainable, not accepting their interpretation to be selective in what the term actually means.

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What is Fashion Theory?

When I tell people what I do, it often takes quite a bit of explanation. I wanted to comment on what Fashion Theory is, and what it means to me.

The funny thing about fashion theory is that everyone has their own take on what it is, what it means to study and research it, and what words to use to describe it. As a matter of fact, even the words used so often in the field; fashion, style, dress, costume, are still debated in terms of what they are referencing.

Maybe the easiest way to talk about fashion theory is by looking at what it is not; it is not a history of clothing, it is not trend forecasting, it is not celebrity fashion, it is not haute-couture catwalks or rodeo drive, it is not fabric analysis, it is not fashion advertising, it is not any one of these things in particular, yet it is the common thread of study of, well, all these things and more in a way where we can deduce meaning about a society, culture, nation, or any group of people.

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Fashion theory scholars, apply concepts from a variety of disciplines; cultural studies, women and gender studies, anthropology, queer theory, feminist theory, sociology, social psychology, in order to take the seemingly monotonous act of dressing oneself everyday and apply it to study everything from the micro levels of identity and self concept to the macro level of power relations, and the hierarchy of social systems.

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Who Wears the Pants?

Dockers          Dockers

In order to understand the world and the endless amount of information we take in every second, the human brain has developed the use of ‘schemata’ or categories which are used as frameworks so that information can be easily and quickly filed away to help us interact appropriately in different situations. Everyone has their own set of schemata influenced by background, upbringing, experiences and relationships. Yet, there is no doubt that everyone uses them. They have to, as some scholars say, or else there would be information overloads and no interaction would be able to take place. Some schemata are shared by the general populous, such as gender schemata. The female schema contains characteristics such as nurturing, facilitating, polite, dependent, and unaggressive. The male schema says men are dominant, aggressive, stoic, successful, independent, and the breadwinners. There are also other schemata that go along with race/ethnicity, class, religion, occupation, national identity, and sexuality.

These universally accepted schemata can be easily discovered by simply looking at the media and advertisement portrayals in how the represent their markets. It seems that Dockers has very different schemata traits when it comes to gay and straight men which we can see in their most recent advertising campaign. This campaign began a in early December of 2009 which called for men to go back to their roots, to act more manly, and to ‘Wear the Pants’.

Most of the ad’s have the same general format; a man standing in front of a plain background, the top half of him is a saying and he is wearing Dockers pants. What is interesting is the difference in the word choice given the context the ad will be seen. Can you guess which one of the above ads I found in Out magazine, the national gay fashion and lifestyle magazine for the US? Without getting into the phrases used, you could probably tell just by the style and fit of the pants. The ones on the left are an orange/pink and the fit is much tighter than the khaki’s on the right which are looser, wrinklier, and a dull tan. Even the stance of the two are remarkably different. We have one who is almost posing sexually, looking to the side, or behind him as if looking for someone to make a connection with, versus the other man who seems to have no interest in what is going on around him, rather he is looking out with his hands on his hips as if he just accomplished a trying task or is contemplating the meaning of life. Getting down to the more obvious of differences, we see what the Dockers advertising campaign sees as the difference in priorities between gay men and straight men through the phrases they chose to make up the body (in both sense of the word) of their ad. ‘Behold the Second Dawn of Man’ goes along with the main theme of the Dockers new ad campaign which, in summary, claims that our society has become genderless, and is therefore crumbling.  It calls for men to drop their non-fat lattes, put on their pants, be men and help little old ladies cross the street, discipline misbehaving children, and of course, buy Docker’s pants. It is easy to see the sexism in this campaign, but further drudging of the advertisements brings to light more prejudice ideals. First of all, the ad I found in Out is much harder to track down in other outlets. In fact, it doesn’t even appear in a Google search. Does Dockers not want to be identified with the gay community,? if so, why advertise in a gay magazine?

The phrase used for the advertisement placed in a gay context states, ‘Attract the touches of friends, boyfriends, and even the occasional stranger’. So, straight men wear their pants to maintain order in society, gay men wear pants to be promiscuous and attract attention from occasional strangers. Though it seems trite to take such a critical view of these two seemingly unimportant advertising images, it does bring light to how mainstream corporations view different subcultures and instill representations and reinforce stereotypes. As the introduction to Erving Goffman’s book Gender Advertisements says, “Advertisements depict for us not necessarily how we actually behave as men and women but how we think men and women behave. This depiction serves the social purpose of convincing us that this is how men and women are, or want to be, or should be not only in relation to themselves but in relation to each other” (Gornick, 1979).

It is important to understand the implications and affects these representations have on our culture. From creating unfair homogenous stereotypes of a group to instilling an unattainable body and lifestyle ideal people try to live up to.

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