Dressed to Impress: Looking the Part
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Our dress is our identity. In dress, we live, move and have our social being. This book shows how the dressed body is central to the construction of a recognizable identity and provides accessible accounts of the particular dress ‘ways' associated with a considerable variety of lifestyles. Churchgoers, ballerinas, Muslim schoolgirls, glamour models, ‘vampires', monks and country gents all fashion a social self through dress. These cultures all have characteristic forms of displaying the dressed body for social visibility - whether in religion, sex, performance, or on the street. In contrast to much of the literature on dress, which often assumes a lack of agency on the part of the wearer, contributors to this book focus on the conscious manipulation of dress to reflect an identity that is designed to look ‘different'.
Why do people choose to mark themselves off socially from others? What are the costs and benefits? For every dress ‘identity', there is a corresponding set of entitlements and expectations as to behaviour and belief. ‘Priestly' bodies inhabit a different universe of response from strippers, just as ‘Gothic' bodies experience the public gaze differently from ‘Methodist' ones. Where one look commands respect in one setting, in another it can incite antipathy and rejection. Contributors tackle head-on this ‘paradox of dress' - its potent power to unite and divide. Evidence of the dressed body's social ambiguity as a medium of consensus, on the one hand, and conflict, on the other, provides a glimpse through dress into an elementary condition of social and cultural life that has all too rarely been part of historical and sociological discourse.
found in the present volume. If by ‘paradigm’ is meant a set of specific assumptions and general concepts pertaining to some substantive areas or aspects of the world, the two key components of a ‘Carlylean paradigm’ for dress studies are as follows: (1) dress matters and is significant within human experience, cultures and societies in the everyday and ceremonial lives of individuals and groups; and (2) clothes reflect and symbolise traditions, values, ideologies and emotional states and can be
With regard to taking the measure of the dressways of humanity, Carlyle, it will be argued, was a man ahead of his time – and by some distance. Sartor Resartus, I shall claim, is a fitting foundational text for studies relevant to the ‘society of the sign’ (Baudrillard 1987). It is, in certain respects, not to put too fine a point on it, ‘postmodern’ avant la lettre, and highly apposite to the topical, exciting and challenging intellectual enterprise of academic studies of human clothing. A
since fashion is purpose-built to secure certain effects. Techniques of fashioning the body are a visible form of acculturation in which identities are created, constructed and presented through the habitus of clothing (Bourdieu 1986; Craik 1994; Mauss 1973). Nowhere are the struggles over identity more evident than in the fashion industry. In looking at the imagery surrounding ‘country’ style and the ‘gentlemanly look’ it is evident that the clothed body is peculiarly positioned to commentate on
‘long tradition’ and locate potential means of revitalization within it (Eliade 1954). They become reference points to hand for the ongoing evolution of a critical hermeneutical response and the basis upon which the ‘paradigm wars’ of mature knowledge traditions – religious, scientific, literary and cultural – can perforce occur. Carlyle’s point-of-view represents a necessary and perennially stimulating orientation to the matter of clothes. Had it not been propounded in Sartor Resartus, it would
modelling it and creating new forms and codes of desire. The symbolism of seduction and eroticism given to underclothes functioned in parallel with that developed in the 1920s by advertising techniques and department stores, which gave lingerie a more feminine and romantic meaning. The sexual association of the suspender-belt, however, developed long before this image of femininity took hold. Female sexuality was for the nineteenthcentury medical practitioner located in her womb. Furthermore,