37 Chapters
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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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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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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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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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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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