37 Chapters
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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9. Assembling Bangle Sets

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

BANGLESWORN on the wrists as a sign of the married estate—are the most common item of ornamentation in India. One of the best-known examples of ancient Indian art is a small bronze statue of a “dancing girl” from Mohenjodaro (2200–1800 BC); she is naked except for a necklace and twenty-nine bangles.1 Women often cite this metal statue to illustrate the continual importance of bangles among Indian people. Banaras is, along with Jaipur and Calcutta, famous for the wide variety of bangles available for sale, mostly in the Vishvanath Gali. The sellers of bangles are more like the sellers of imitation jewelry than they are like purveyors of expensive silver and gold. Bangles are cheap, ephemeral items frequently bought “for fashion.” But as this chapter will demonstrate, there is a special skill to the selling of bangles. Bangles are generally bought in combinations or sets that are assembled by talented salesmen. The art of bangle selling involves combining bangles of different widths, styles, colors, and materials into a coherent and dazzling unit.

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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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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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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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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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