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2 Nubia in Paris: African Style in French Fashion

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

Our natives, adopting the manners and habits of Europeans, are beginning more and more, especially in important urban centers, to dress in the European manner—in short, to follow our fashions.

—“La soie artificielle et nos colonies,” pamphlet promoting the French Syndicate of Artificial Textile Manufacturers, Exposition Coloniale Internationale, Paris, 1931

It seems to us that [these African fabrics] can provide, each and every one, useful sources of inspiration. In every era, designers have turned to the Orient to revitalize their enthusiasm. Didn’t Rabelais write (after Pliny): ‘There is always something new out of Africa’?

—Henri Clouzot, Tissus Nègres, Paris, 1931

Far from Mali’s Inland Niger Delta, European dress innovators have produced garments we might call African-esque fashion, part of a long history of European involvement with both real and imagined Africas. Just as the dress innovators who produced distinctive styles of Malian embroidery incorporated forms rooted in North Africa or South Asia, so too have European designers sought inspiration beyond the familiar. Although Malian migrant laborers and pious embroiderers may seem a world away from Parisian fashion designers, all are driven by the same impulse to create dress styles that reflect changing influences and new ideas. Both during and after the colonial era, Africa has been a key source of imagery, drawn from actual African forms or from Western imaginings of Africa. These designers’ “Africanisms” are an important element of the story of African fashion, for they both reflect and actively shape the perceptions—and misperceptions—that undergird representations of Africa in international contexts. This construction of an imagined Africa through dress continues into the present, maintaining surprising consistency across decades of political and cultural change. Thus, these invented Africas contribute an important subplot to the story of African fashion.

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4 Nature and/or Nurture?

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

Where do masculinity and femininity come from? After all, it is fairly obvious that newborn humans have neither set of qualities. Yet by the time they are two or three years old children not only know the rules, but they also have become its primary enforcers, as any observer of a preschool playgroup can confirm. With the women’s movement challenging traditional female roles and popular culture offering a range of new expressions of modern masculinity and femininity, it seems inevitable that children would get swept up in the excitement and confusion. If nothing else, the link between adult and children’s clothing would mean that kids and grownups would wear similar styles. This clearly happened during the 1960s and ’70s, but there was something else at work too. Emerging scientific evidence pointed to gender roles being learned and malleable in the very young. This affected children regardless of where their parents stood on women’s rights or sexual morality. Given the drive to transform women’s roles and promote gender equality, it’s likely that if you were born between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, you experienced non-gendered child raising to some extent. If you didn’t wear your sibling’s hand-me-down Garanimals outfits, the kindergarten teacher might be reading William’s Doll to you at story time. Or you might be singing along to your Free to Be . . . You and Me record on your Fisher-Price record player, after watching Sesame Street, which featured Susan Robinson as a working woman who liked to fix cars in her spare time.1

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12. Mukta Tripathi

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

THOUGH MARRIED WOMEN in India are expected to be ornamented, some prefer to pay little attention to adornment and wear the minimum of jewelry, like Nina Khanchandani. Others, like Neelam Chaturvedi, indulge their affection for one kind of adornment—in her case, the sari—and downplay the others. Mukta Tripathi, a woman in her mid-forties and a mother of two, is, by contrast, passionate about all kinds of adornment.

I was directed to Mukta precisely because she is known to have a grand sense of personal style. Our conversations were lively and easy, because Mukta has carefully considered the variables that most people intuit but few can articulate.1 Mukta spoke energetically, interrupting herself to illustrate her points. She succinctly verbalized the aesthetic choices women make daily, actively enriching their lives with creativity.

Mukta began her treatment of the levels of visual decision by focusing on the beauty of the actual piece of adornment. The item of jewelry or clothing, she said, must be good-looking. She likes to change her jewelry often, and, like most married women in Banaras, she buys new glass bangles regularly. But unlike others, Mukta also changes her nath (nose ring), bichiya (toe rings), and payal (anklets) with frequency; she finds it fun to vary her “compulsory” jewelry.

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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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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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4. Shopping for Clothes

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

THE OLD CITY OF BANARAS runs along the Ganges, the river of the goddess Ganga. Wide steps of stone lead down to the ghats at the riverside. Pilgrims and local people descend for prayer, for bathing and washing clothes. Ghats in sequence line the riverfront. Two of them are “burning ghats,” used for cremation—Harishchandra to the south and Manikarnika to the north1—where the continual burning of bodies attracts curious tourists and the local hustlers who offer to take them to see the “dead body fire.” Eighty-four ghats string along the river, but most of the activity, social and religious, takes place on the steps of the “main ghat.” Situated in the middle and numbered forty-one, Dashaswamedh Ghat is the place of the ancient Ten Horse Sacrifice. Here, Lord Brahma came disguised as an ascetic and requested the King of Kashi, Divodasa, to sponsor an extravagant version of the horse sacrifice, the aswamedh. The ritual was flawlessly performed, and now all those who bathe here receive the blessings of the horse sacrifice.2

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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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7. Kanhaiya Lal

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

MUCH OF THE JEWELRY produced in the city of Banaras is sold at one of the four Kanhaiya Lal stores. The process of selling and buying jewelry has many similarities with the selling and buying of clothing, and some marked differences. The purchase of expensive ornaments for weddings is analogous to the purchase of fine Banarasi saris: both are selected carefully for special occasions. Everyday jewelry—inexpensive toe rings, say, or silver anklets—is bought with the casual ease of the salwar suit for daily wear. But, in general, the big difference between clothing and jewelry is that jewelry is more costly and permanent; it provides “economic security” to the owner. It can be sold quickly if a sudden need for money arises, and its expense and permanence naturally add a level of attentiveness to the process of buying it. In this chapter, we will look at the kinds of jewelry people buy, who buys it, and why; we will consider the factors governing a customer’s choice and, finally, the persuasive tactics of the salesman. Although Banaras has hundreds of commercial jewelry outlets—most of them tiny one-room shops—we will focus our attention on the largest of them, the Kanhaiya Lal franchise of stores.

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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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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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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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2 Feminism and Femininity

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

I turned thirteen in 1962. Before I graduated from middle school, three books hit the best-seller lists, each offering a completely different, competing view of what sort of woman I should try to be. Let the authors speak for themselves:

When a man thinks of a married woman, no matter how lovely she is, he must inevitably picture her greeting her husband at the door with a martini or warmer welcome, fixing little children’s lunches or scrubbing them down because they’ve fallen into a mudhole. She is somebody else’s wife and somebody else’s mother.

When a man thinks of a single woman, he pictures her alone in her apartment, smooth legs sheathed in pink silk Capri pants, lying tantalizingly among dozens of satin cushions, trying to read but not very successfully, for he is in that room—filling her thoughts, her dreams, her life.

—HELEN GURLEY BROWN, SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL, 1962

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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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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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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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