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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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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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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5 Litigating the Revolution

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

Fashion has had a legal side for centuries. Powerful rulers once set limits on who could or could not wear certain finery and decreed that colors, badges, or hats be used to set certain groups of people apart as “others”—Jews, for example, who were required to wear yellow badges or pointed hats in parts of thirteenth-century Europe.1 The umbrella term for these edicts is “sumptuary laws”; one of my favorites, from medieval Spain, begins with “the king may wear anything he wishes.” Sumptuary laws reveal a great deal about a society—for example, which goods are highly valued (and therefore reserved for the élites) and also which groups may be considered a threat to the status quo. Amid the social turbulence of the Renaissance, wealthy merchants and their wives were often singled out as needing to be reminded of their inferiority to their high-born betters. Economist Thorstein Veblen observed in 1899 that in modern capitalism, wealth could be freely displayed by nearly everyone who has it, as a sign of socioeconomic superiority. But we still face restrictions in the form of dress codes, usually in schools or in the workplace, that attempt to enforce a uniform appearance or suppress potentially disruptive elements. These modern regulations have elements of social class (public schools with uniform dress codes tend to be in poorer districts), race (local ordinances against “saggy pants”), or gender (laws against cross-dressing and public indecency, dress codes that enforce gender stereotypes). Sumptuary laws don’t come from out of the blue: they are a reaction by the powerful to undesirable behavior from their “inferiors.” The rampant and dramatic changes in gender expression that emerged in the 1960s met with just such resistance, leading in some cases to the courtroom and sometimes even to prison. The litigious heat generated by long hair, short skirts, and women in pants is strong evidence that these were far from trivial issues for the parties involved. The fact that we are still arguing about the same principles, though in different clothing, is part of the ongoing legacy of the 1960s.

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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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13. After the Wedding

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

WHEN SHE TALKED about adornment, Mukta Tripathi made clear that a woman’s choices are influenced by her personal taste—and by the factors of age and social development. Mukta easily describes the clothes she wore during different phases of her life. As a little girl, until the sixth grade, she wore frocks, skirts and blouses, shorts or pants. From the seventh to the twelve grades, she wore salwar suits and jeans, but never skirts or dresses, since it was improper for a young lady to show her legs. As a young bride, she dressed in bright saris and wore makeup and jewelry in abundance. Now Mukta has switched to saris in “sober colors,” because, as she explained to me, in India a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law “should not match.” Although Mukta is not yet a mother-in-law, she feels she has reached the age when it is inappropriate for her to show herself as a flashy, young wife.

Mukta, in her forties, prefers saris in tones of beige, cream, and other “light colors,” but they shift with the current fashion. In 2003, the trend was to wear saris with a thin strip of monochrome embroidery along the border that matched the field of the sari exactly in color, and to wear it with a blouse in the same color, with the same monochrome embroidery on the edges of the sleeves. Mukta continues to wear “natural, decent makeup.” The subtle shift in clothing, marked mostly by its palette, reflects her view of herself as a mother of grown-up boys—the oldest one is in high school—who is still attuned to style. She told me that wearing a lot of makeup ruins the skin, making women look old, which is another reason to decrease the amount of makeup as one ages. Mukta is fully aware of the social and developmental categories women pass through, categories that are publicly communicated by clothing and jewelry. Her decision to abandon certain styles or colors is partially influenced by other people’s opinions, for middle-aged and older women are often criticized for being too ornamented.1 Mukta told me that she would like to wear salwar suits occasionally, but her kids made fun of her when she did in the past, calling her “Mukta didi”—big sister Mukta—implying that when she wears a salwar suit she does not look like a mother, but rather, like somebody’s sister (children often hold a rigid and conservative vision of what their parents should look like). On a few recent occasions, Mukta’s two sons pointed to older women on the streets whom they deemed to be dressed inappropriately in a style too youthful, and begged Mukta not to dress that way when she becomes “aged.”

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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 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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