You Should Be Reading: Fashion in Literature

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Worn Through would like to highlight a growing area of research in the world of apparel studies: fashion in literature. Literature offers a unique medium for exploring the role of fashion in a variety of times and settings. These recently published articles represent a range of ways in which this topic is being explored, from an analysis of weaving in South American poetry to investigations of the nineteenth-century French dandy and women’s dress in the Deadwood Dick series. Enjoy! 

1. Clark, M. G. (2012). Warping the word: The technology of weaving in the poetry of Jorge Eduardo Eielson and Cecilia Vicuña. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 10(3), 312-327. 

This work evaluates the technology of weaving in the writings of Jorge Eduardo Eielson of Peru (1924-2006) and Cecilia Vicuña of Chile (1948). Although from different generations, (Eielson first published in the 1940s and Vicuña in the 1970s), both associate with the continuation of the avant-garde and display a common theme in their work that incorporates the imagery of Andean textiles within a written, poetic medium. Although general literary criticism acknowledges the presence of the weaving metaphor in Eielson and Vicuña’s work, this analysis does not go beyond the immediate observation of the finished woven-verbal product. Using information regarding textile composition by José Sánchez Parga, Teresa Gisbert, Verónica Cereceda, and Lynn A. Meisch, this article examines the presence of weaving technologies used in the poetic construction of Tema y variaciones (written in1950, published in 1976) by Eielson and Palabra e hilo (1996) by Vicuña. Because cloth remains a cultural product saturated with meaning, understanding its influence in the work of these two poets provides a fuller understanding of their poetic capacity to combine words and threads in order to augment the semantic capacity of the written word. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

2. Lezama, N. (2012). The nineteenth-century dandy’s heroic renunciation through fashion. Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty, 3(1-2), 87-99. 

The example of the nineteenth-century literary dandy offers a strategy for transcending social, class and gender barriers through fashion. In this article, the author demonstrates that writers, from Eugène Sue to Charles Baudelaire and Rachilde, used representations of the dandy’s androgyny and luxury as a means of overcoming the subordination of the literary domain to capitalist practices. The dandy’s inevitable narrative punishment through death and disgrace also provides release from the tension stemming from the ideological shift in men’s sartorial practices from ostentatious garb to sober and more `democratic’ clothing at the end of the eighteenth century. The author argues that the dandy’s anti-normative behavior is a heroic act, perceived and represented by his literary `parents’, when both capitalist and political discourses propagate a spurious equality and impose a misleading uniformity in dress on post-Revolution French society. The dandy’s excesses allow modern readers to decipher the writers’ attempt to bridge the gap between social appearances and political reality. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

3. Moon, C. E., & Ogle, J.P. (2013). The “hybrid hero” in Western dime novels: An analysis of women’s gender performance, dress, and identity in the Deadwood Dick series. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 31(2), 109-124.

The purpose of this narrative inquiry was to explore how dress – including cross-dressing and androgynous dress – was used within the Deadwood Dick series to construct meanings about gender and identity. The research was informed by the works of Judith Butler and Erving Goffman and by reflection theory. Data were collected by extracting references to dress within five Deadwood Dick novels featuring Calamity Jane. Analyses revealed overarching themes related to traditionally feminine dress, androgynous dress, and cross-dressing. Transitions in ideological views of 19th century womanhood are reflected in the dime novels’ alterations in appearance and gender performance that enabled female characters to act in expanded spheres. Androgyny allowed characters to adopt nontraditional gender identities, giving the freedom to participate in male-dominated contexts. Cross-dressing provided characters a means of navigating temporary changes in space and place. Findings provide a reflection of the evolving national character present in 19th century American society. – Full Article Abstract


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