You Should Be Reading: Fashion and Politics

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The three recently published articles below examine the role of fashion in various political periods, from the British Suffrage movement to World War II and the Cold War. Whether fashion is seen as a central component to the war effort, as was the case with fabric rationing during WWII, or rather as a way to create a national identity, such as occurred with Finnish models in the Cold War era, it is closely connected to the political climate. These articles highlight this close connection in different ways, ultimately suggesting that our relationship with dress is very much linked to the political world around us. Enjoy!

1. Montz, A. L. (2012). ‘Now she’s all hat and ideas’: Fashioning the British Suffrage MovementCritical Studies in Fashion and Beauty, 3(1-2), 55-67.

 In H. G. Wells’ novel Ann Veronica, Ann Veronica’s father and another man reminisce that while the burgeoning Suffragette used to be `all hair and legs’, it seems that `Now she’s all hat and ideas’. The men’s inability to distinguish between Ann Veronica’s hats and her ideas directly equates with England’s larger concerns over how a woman’s fashion, an outward marker, offers personal insight into her otherwise hidden political and national affiliations. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) encouraged its Suffragettes to dress fashionably, respectably, and well so that their political beliefs and violent techniques never called into question their inherent and true Englishness. The WSPU used women’s fashionable dress to offer an overtly political argument: women could be both fashionable Englishwomen and militant Suffragettes. Further, the WSPU urged working-class Suffragettes to protest in their regional dress – Scottish kilts, Welsh hats, or Lancashire shawls and clogs, for example – to present a visual connection between Women’s Suffrage and British nationalism. When Suffragettes paid particular attention to the outward markers of self and femininity, they did so to claim participation in nation and to maintain association with traditional femininity in order to legitimize their efforts to an audience potentially hostile to their cause. This article argues that Victorian and Edwardian women championing for the Vote chose fashions that adhered to traditional gender and national roles in order to prove that national allegiance and social transgression were synonymous, that the role of Suffragette was not marginal but rather central to the consensus, and that fictional and nonfictional Suffragettes could be both politically and fashionably capable. — Paraphrased Article Abstract

2. Mower, J. M., & Pedersen, E. L. (2013). ‘Pretty and patriotic’: Women’s consumption of apparel during World War II. Dress, 39(1), 37-54.

The War Production Board issued limitation order 85 in April 1942 in order to conserve fabric and manpower needed for the war effort. The United States government hoped to curb, at least temporarily, the purchase of apparel and other goods to help support the war effort by restricting materials needed for the war. However, the apparel industry was one of the leading consumer industries in the United States, and putting it on hold was not only impractical but could harm the domestic economy. The United States apparel industry even marketed goods as patriotic to stimulate, not curb, consumer spending. The purpose of this research was to examine how female consumers of women’s apparel were influenced by the federal regulations of women’s apparel during World War II. The authors also examined extant wartime apparel in order to provide a more complete picture of women’s wartime apparel styles. — Paraphrased Article Abstract

3. Saarenmaa, L. (2013). The cosmopolitan imagination in the Cold War context: Finnish fashion models and national fantasies of international success. Fashion Theory, 17(3), 321-340.

This article explores fashion modeling as an area of interest to the national media. While much research has been done on modeling within fashion theory, the focus here is on the role of models in national self-definition and on the national fantasies and ideals of “making it“ internationally that were attached to young women working abroad as models in the 1960s. The author addresses these ideals in the historical context of the postwar modernization process and the geopolitical position of Finland as a neutral territory between the East and the West during the Cold War period. This article extends the existing theorizations on modeling by investigating the notion of cosmopolitanism as a structure of feeling.The research material consists of a collection of interviews published in the Finnish women’s magazine Anna between 1963 and 1973. — Paraphrased Article Abstract


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