Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture and Fashion at the FTM


For my second summer exhibition review, I went to see Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture & Fashion at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Publicised as a first, this exhibition attempts to consider the rebozo, a shawl worn by Mexican women since the 17th century, through displays that consider historical context, cultural identification with well-known Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo, social functions and the influence on contemporary art and fashion in Mexico today.


Examples of rebozos made in the 1950s and arranged to evoke the style of Frida Kahlo who wore them often.

Given that the Fashion and Textile Museum is housed in a building designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and that many of the earlier designs by the museum’s founder, Zandra Rhodes, are inspired by Mexican culture, it is not a surprise to find the exhibition here.


Here, you can see contemporary rebozo designs by British designers Zandra Rhodes on the right with a white feather screenprint on a cotton rayon mix and on the left, a wool patterned design by Wallace & Sewell

There is certainly a celebratory feel throughout the space as artists, designers and anthropologists display their enthusiasm for the rebozo by providing photographs, films and contemporary interpretations alongside material examples that cover every possible fabric and motif.


The main room which featured displays of rebozos juxtaposed with art installations and photographs from the Mexican anthropologist Ruth Lechuga (1920 – 2004)

The main room is given over to a dynamic display of these beautiful coverings, demonstrating the diversity of Mexican female society. There is a rebozo here for everyone, from plain to fancy, soft to hard, flat to sculptural, raw to recycled.


Appliqued cotton rebozo made by Mamaz Collective, a group of women from Tanivet, Oaxaca in 2014. It shows how women wear and use the rebozo in their daily lives.


A detail from a rebozo owned by Lila Downs, a popular singer-songwriter in Mexico

The rebozo can be made with pompoms, silk, feathers or glass beads. It can be woven from silk, wool, cotton or even constructed out of teabags. A rebozo can be both abstract and figurative, sharing stripy details or offering up appliquéd people. A rebozo can identify you with both a particular region of Mexico and the country as a whole.


Photographs by Tom Feher of Dominga weaving a rebozo, 2010

There are fantastic images by Tom Feher of women weaving rebozos, such as Dominga, which show how these complex garments are made using a relatively simple back strap loom. Although the practice of wearing these shawls originates from the Spanish conquest and the emphasis on women covering their heads in church, their production is clearly the result of methods developed by earlier indigenous people of Mexico. As a result, the rebozo is an object of interest for collectors, artists and anthropologists as they continually seek to identify its cultural significance.


Detail of a traditional back strap loom

However, there is another reason for having this exhibition other than having a celebration.  Production of rebozos has gone from involving a third of the Mexican population to less than forty people scattered across the country. And of those left, there are only two who use the traditional back loom while the rest use a foot loom, introduced through colonialisation (1).

The craft of the rebozo is clearly in decline and current generations seem less interested in learning the skills and knowledge required to make these emblematic objects. The display of contemporary art and fashion inspired by the rebozo suggests that their importance is not lost and Mexican designers today are keen to continue indigenous skills and materials.


An jaspe rebozo jacket designed by Beatriz Russek, 1990

I particularly enjoyed the garments designed by Carmen Rion and Beatriz Russek, known for their collaborations with Mexican indigenous weaving communities and who have created some striking modern designs. While the exhibition highlights the significance of artists re-interpreting the rebozo, the highlight for me was a film of weavers talking about the process of making a rebozo. They described a sense of ‘urgency’ felt when weaving as they became closer and closer to finishing the rebozo and became more and more curious about whose shoulders it might finally embrace. I was transfixed by this narrative as I imagined what it would be like to weave these objects, spending up to sixty days on one rebozo, thinking about who might this shawl belong to one day. Capturing what it feels like to produce something seems critical when inspiring current generations to value and utilise historical skills and knowledge in the future.


Recent designs by Carmen Rion using the rebozo form to create blouses and skirts

(1) Virginia David and Hilary Steele, The Rebozo: A Mexican Tradition, Fibrearts, vol35 no1 60-1 Summer 2008, p60-61





AMA/ACRA Second Triennial Conference

March 4 – 7, 2015

Miami, Florida

The American Marketing Association (AMA) and American Collegiate Retailing Association (ACRA) invite submissions for their second triennial conference to be held in Coral Gables, Florida. Extended abstracts, competitive papers, workshop proposals, and doctoral paper submissions are all invited. Possible topics include:

  • Branding
  • Consumer psychology
  • Global retailing
  • Sustainability
  • Social Media

Submission deadline: September 30, 2014.

Please see conference website for full details.


Reader Survey 2014


We would like to encourage our readers to participate in a brief survey about Worn Through. Quite a few years ago we did a similar survey and it helped shape the direction we took the blog.

Here is the link to do the survey

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. It’s brief and would only take a couple of minutes. To keep things quick for you we did not include a lot of open commenting, however, we invite you to add any further comments to this post itself, and after the survey is over we’ll pick one person who commented at random and I will send you a copy of my book Punk Style (it does not have to be a glowing review of the blog to get the book!).

I’ll post this a few times and we’ll wrap it up the first week of September.

Again here is the survey link.


You Should Be Reading: Fashion and Textiles

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This week’s Reading column looks at the material aspects of fashion: the production and consumption of textiles themselves. Textiles are of course used not only for the production of clothing but also for decoration and and functionality in our home environments. These four recently published articles, though, focus mainly on how producers and consumers relate to textiles as they are used for fashion and accessories. From an exploration of the Dorze weavers in Ethiopia and textile production in 14th century Greenland to contemporary uses for recycled textiles and the meaning of materiality in clothing, these articles examine how we make and use textiles for our clothing. We hope you enjoy!

1.  Ekström, K. M., & Salomonson, N. (2014). Reuse and recycling of clothing and textiles–A network approach. Journal of Macromarketing, 34(3), 383-399. 

The accelerated pace of consumption in the Western world has led to an increase in clothing and textiles disposed of in the garbage rather than being reused or recycled. The purpose of this article is to increase understanding of how clothing and textile consumption can become more sustainable by demonstrating how members of a network view and deal with this problem. The study is based on meetings over one and a half years and on a survey. Different views on the problem as well as various solutions on how to increase reuse and recycling of clothing and textiles are presented, including means and challenges. A macromarketing perspective, involving different actors in society, is necessary in order to make consumption more sustainable and for finding long-term solutions. The authors argue that understanding symbolic consumption and the fashion system can contribute to the macromarketing study of societal development from a sustainable perspective. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

2. Klepp, I. G., & Bjerck, M. (2014). A methodological approach to the materiality of clothing: Wardrobe studiesInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17(4), 373-386. 

The material is not just ‘a carrier’ of different types of symbols, but an active element in the practices. Bringing this to the fore requires new research methods. This article discusses a methodological approach, we call it a wardrobe study, which allows for the analysis of the way in which clothes relate to each other on the whole or within parts of the wardrobe. More specifically, we discuss how this method can contribute to increasing the materiality of clothes studies. The theoretical point of departure for this approach is a practice theory in which the material enters as an integral part. First, the article briefly discusses developments within the study of dress and fashion. Second, the methods combined and developed in wardrobe studies are discussed. The emphasis here is primarily not only on the weaknesses of the individual methods in practice-oriented dress studies, but also on how they jointly can contribute to the wardrobe study. — Full Article Abstract

3.  Mathiszig, L. (2014). Dialog: The Dorze weavers of EthiopiaTextile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 12(2), 180-187. 

Ethiopia is a country with an ancient history and a rich tradition of crafts, still to be discovered by mainstream tourism. While traveling here, the author was impressed by the beautiful artisan work and the truly original craftsmanship she found, untouched by mass markets and fashion trends. These ranged from the unique leather clad baskets of the north and beautiful silver jewelry of Tigray to the highly skilled basketwork of the women of Harar and the extraordinary skills of the South Omo Valley tribespeople. However, it is the weaving tradition, which particularly interested her. Whether in the capital, Addis Ababa, or walking in the remote Simien mountains, simple textiles made with the most basic equipment are worn and used everywhere; unlike in many other parts of Africa, traditional handwoven fabrics have remained a part of everyday life. It is the Dorze people who are renowned throughout Ethiopia for their weaving tradition and skills, and the author went back to find out more about them, their history and craft, traveling to their homeland in the southern highlands of Ethiopia. – Paraphrased Article Abstract 

4. Smith, M. H. (2014). Dress, cloth, and the farmer’s wife: Textiles from Ø 172 Tatsipataa, Greenland, with comparative data from IcelandJournal of the North Atlantic, 6(6), 64-81.

Midden excavations at Ø172 (Tatsipataa), on the eastern shore of the Igaliku fjord in southwestern Greenland, produced a significant textile collection consisting of 98 fragments. This collection is important as it stems from a well-contextualized and well-stratified sequence, allowing significant insights into the evolution and nature of cloth production in Greenland. Analysis of this collection showed that while the earliest fragments mirror Icelandic counterparts of comparable ages, the Ø172 collection changes considerably by the 14th century. From this point onward, Greenlandic women wove a weft-dominant cloth unique to Greenland. This cloth type has previously been noted in other, later, Greenlandic collections, but the Tatsipataa collection provides new evidence for the date of its first production. The sudden appearance of this distinctive weft-dominant Greenlandic homespun in the mid-14th century suggests that its production was a domestic adaptation to the initial climatic fluctuations of the Little Ice Age. Overall, the Tatsipataa collection suggests that Greenlandic textile production did not follow the evolutionary trajectory of Icelandic textiles, which became a form of currency from the early to the later Middle Ages. Instead, Greenlandic textiles appear to have been consistently produced for household consumption, without the intense standardization for trade observed in medieval Icelandic collections. – Full Article Abstract 


Image Credit:


Domestic Affairs: Lines on the Horizon at the de Young


The textile galleries at the de Young Museum in San Francisco are not small. I am very well acquainted with them due to my frequent trips to the city — typically because there is an exhibition on at the de Young or the Legion of Honour I very much wanted to see, and heaven forbid I visit one without going to the other. Unlike their blockbuster Bulgari and Balenciaga exhibitions, the gallery space has not been manipulated or altered in any way, and yet Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art From the Weisel Family Collection is a very intimate exhibition, despite its completely open floorplan. Intimate to the point that when someone besides a small child does speak loudly, the rest of the visitors almost look at each other sideways in silent reproof for this breach of the ambiance.

I do not know whether his intimacy was intended or was a happy accident, but it fits the exhibition to a tee. The word foremost in my mind to describe the artwork in this exhibition is delicate. Even the boldly patterned, bright cochineal red and rich indigo blue Navajo serapes, seemed delicately beautiful. The tiny brush strokes, the purposeful creation of an overall effect in thousand-year-old pottery, the individuality in each piece that the exhibition’s curators invite and encourage you to seek. Details do not overwhelm, nor do they compete with the larger picture, but they are given their own spotlight.

The exhibition is the debut of a new donation by Thomas Weisel of a collection he and his family have spent thirty years creating, which spans a millennium. Seventy-two art objects including pottery, baskets, carvings, textiles, and drawings are on display at the de Young until January 4, 2015. This is only a portion of the 185 pieces already donated to the de Young, and a further 21 textiles which will be officially acquired by the museum by 2016. The Weisel Family collection focuses primarily on the artwork of the American Southwest, with a few pieces from the Pacific Northwest.


The guiding purpose of the collection — and the exhibition inaugurating it into the museum’s permanent collection — is connoisseurship. Not in the sense of value of each particular object, but in that rarity among non-western, non-contemporary art: determining the individual artist. Thomas Weisel collected with a carefully trained eye, trying to find pieces by the same maker. According to the catalogue, “A driving interest behind the selection of specific works for the Weisel Family Collection is the hypothesis that it is possible to identify individual artists … through sustained observation and comparison among objects in the same style.” This is an ambitious goal, but one that the collection succeeds in fulfilling. The intimacy I described invites you to look closer — as closely as the gallery attendants will allow — to pick out details, find continuity among pieces whether because they were made by the same hand, family, or wider community.

When you enter the gallery it is hard to ignore the textiles. This is perhaps due to the prestige of Navajo textiles, but I think it is more due to the bold colors, the distinctive patterns, and the sheer beauty of the pieces. Despite there being more pottery in the exhibition than textiles, it is one of the “Chief” blankets that graces the cover of the catalogue — they catch your attention and pull you in.

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All of the textiles featured are the work of the Dineh (Navajo) people. In her contribution to the catalogue, curator of the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts, Jill D’Alessandro, describes the history of Navajo weaving, and the development of their distinctive style from its Pueblo origins to the “Classic” period represented by the textiles in the exhibition. Most fascinating for me, since I confess a great deal of ignorance on the topic of Southwest indigenous textiles, was the suggestions of a greater trade network, of greater communication and exchange among the indigenous peoples of America through these trade and sale of these textiles. I am always intrigued by the communication and exchange of ideas and material goods between peoples — and have long felt there is a bias to portray the Native Americans as a single unit instead of the multiple and diverse nations they are. This cultural exchange is most apparent in the so-called “Chief” blankets featured in Lines on the Horizon – four pieces spanning the breadth of the style’s lifespan. These pieces, despite being less boldly colored, are the ones I most admired. They gain their name not from their use within the Navajo, but because they were purchased for use by chiefs of various Plains tribes. The Navajo did not have chiefs, but the Plains Indians did, and Navajo textiles were so desirable the Navajo made pieces for trade with Plains peoples, such as the four blankets made for chiefs of the Ute tribes.


The “stages” of the blankets do not indicate ranks within Ute society, but instead developments within the style by the Navajo. So that from the beautiful simplicity of the “first stage” blankets (see the far left above and the image below), the style gradually developed over the course of 35 to 40 years, into the more intricate, geometric patterns seen in the final “third stage” in the far right of the image above. The later stage no doubt had a major influence on the art deco period of the late 1920s and the 1930s due to a vogue for “Primitivism” — seeing the famous art deco building at 450 Sutter in San Francisco later the same day as my visit, it is easy to see how far short the imitators fell.

In her essay for the catalogue, D’Alessandro also discusses how the years of turmoil between the early 1800 and the mid- to late half of the century affected Navajo weaving. There is not only the displacement of the tribal peoples as they were forced onto reservations interrupting trade, but amidst the tragedy and the “battles fought among Native Americans, Spanish Americans, Mexicans, and European Americans for control of the western territories” the Navajo were exposed to a vast array of new artistic styles, materials, and perspectives — as well as new markets — that influenced and evolved the style and design of their weavings. The Classic period of Navajo weaving seems to be proof of triumph through turmoil for the arts.

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The exhibition is a very comprehensive examination of artistry within the Southwest and Pacific northwest Native American artistic communities. To select one type of art “ove”r another is impossible. However, as a dress and textile historian after the textiles the pieces that most struck me were the depictions of the various Peoples by their own. A small taste of this was found in the bowl to the left above (ca 1450 – 1550, Sikyatki people), but the coup de grace was in the ledger drawings by Tsistsistas (Cheyenne).


In fact, I think I would be fair in saying these small, delicate drawings on blank, lined, ledger sheets were the pieces that have most fascinated me in the entire exhibition. The pieces featured are known as “The Old White Woman Ledger,” due to a tiny pictograph in several of the pieces portraying a hunched female figure with a cane (seen in the top center of the artwork below). This pictograph enticingly suggests that the pieces are all from the same artist, but close (intimate?) examination shows tiny differences in style which suggest a community if not a single hand. The ledger drawings in the Weisel Family Collection all portray one aspect of Cheyenne life: courtship ritual. As described in the catalogue, “A young man wooing a young woman would stand outside her residence, wearing a blanket. If she assented, the two could share the more private space defined by the blanket.” What a beautiful way to integrate textiles into one of the most important rituals of life.

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For a people silenced by history and its recorders, the beauty of seeing them as they saw themselves through these drawings is beyond description. There is also the underlying message: that creative impulse cannot be suppressed. Matthew H. Robb says in his essay on the ledger drawings that artistic expression followed gender lines — women wove, beaded, and did quillwork as well as the more abstract painting of rawhide containers, whereas figural imagery on animal hides was the purview of men. In these ledger drawings we see the evolution of that tradition: denied access to the larger, asymmetric hides they were accustomed to, they transferred their drawings to the ledger paper they either bartered for or bought or even absconded with after an altercation. What further proof of the importance of an art form can you find than that the materials for it are a war trophy? This is how they saw themselves. This is their own perspective and portrayal of what they wore. Something priceless to material culturists and art historians.

In so many other exhibitions I can imagine, such drawings would have been lost. In the intimacy of the de Young’s Lines on the Horizon, they — and every other object displayed — had their chance to shine.

The other important aspect of this exhibition I came away with was the emphasis on the maker/artist/creative individual or community. It is a dichotomy, but I simultaneously admired the exquisitely beautiful pieces in this exhibition for themselves — not because there was a famous name attached — but also because of the invitation by the collection and the museum to look at each object as the individual creation of a specific person. Staring at some of the pottery, the wood carvings, the textiles, the sketches, you felt the hand reaching across the millenia, the centuries to say: I was here. This is what I saw. This is what I thought worth remembering.

Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection is on display in the Textile Galleries of the de Young until January 4, 2015.

As always, I welcome news about specific exhibitions and events. Feel free to leave information about them in the comments — along with your own reactions to exhibitions covered or my post. Feel free to email me with tips and comments as well.


Museum Life: To wear or not to wear…gloves

This is a post on a bit of a mundane subject, but it’s a conversation that comes up from time to time, especially when orienting new students or volunteers to our collections and collection management practices. They often tell me about different procedures at other institutions where they’ve worked, which may or may not include the use of gloves in routine, day-to-day handling of items.

It’s not unusual when we display a photo on the website of someone handling a costume without gloves to receive comments expressing surprise or shock at seeing historical garments being handled in this manner.  The important thing to get across to the public and those working in the collections is that the use of gloves in handling costume is not a one-size-fits-all practice with hard and fast rules.  It really depends upon what task is being performed, and what type of garment or textile is being handled.

No gloves: conservator Cara Varnell performs delicate conservation work on the burgundy ball gown from Gone With the Wind. Photo by Pete Smith

No gloves: conservator Cara Varnell performs delicate conservation work on the burgundy ball gown from Gone With the Wind.
Photo by Pete Smith

No Gloves

Pros: When handling a brittle or otherwise fragile fiber, you often can’t gauge its fragility through the barrier of gloves.  Thoroughly washed and dried hands can be ideal for closing up small hooks and eyes or snaps, or for handling a slippery fabric that could slide through gloved fingers. Glove-free hands can also be useful when doing delicate conservation work, where feeling the amount of tension between the mechanical action and the fabric is of great importance to the garment’s safety and the precision of the work.

Cons: With bare hands, you really have to self-monitor and be cognizant of when you’re touching your hair or face, which may result in a buildup of oils.  Constant hand washing can be inconvenient if work must be constantly interrupted, or can be undesirable, even if for reasons of pure vanity–I can vouch that skin can look quite different after years of constant hand washing with industrial soap often found in institutional bathrooms!

Cotton gloves

Pros: Cotton gloves are washable, reusable, provide protection for the garment from oils or residue on the skin, and also provide some teeth with certain  surfaces for sure handling. And it’s very easy to tell when they’re dirty and should be placed aside for cleaning.

Cons: Cotton gloves can sometimes be ineffectual when handling some types of fabrics or objects with slippery surfaces, and, as mentioned above, you may not be able to gauge the fragility of a fabric due to the increased barrier between the sensory perception of the fingers and the object. They also do not provide protection against chemical or biological agents.

Nitrile gloves

Pros: Similar to their use in the medical context, nitrile gloves protects both you and the “patient”–the garment.  As ICOM clearly states in their guidelines, “Gloves protect cataloguers as well as objects.” Not only do nitrile gloves keep natural oils of the skin off the textile (like cotton gloves also do), but they also provide protection from chemical or biological residue on an object, such as hand-painted surfaces that may contain lead, mercury prevalent in 19th century hat production, migrating plasticizer, mold and mildew, or sweat and blood (or fake blood with unknown proprietary ingredients) on well-worn performance costumes.  Check the specs on nitrile gloves, as they can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and be sure to order gloves with a powder-free surface.  Nitrile gloves are especially good for collection inspections of new, unknown material.  Snug-fitting nitrile gloves are also good for doing up small snaps or hooks and eyes.

Cons: They are not reusable or washable, so can seem like a phenomenal amount of waste.  I also found an article discussing wax and polymer coatings on nitrile that can retain chemicals used to make the surface “powder-free”, that could in turn transfer to the surface of an object. If anyone knows of any research regarding this, please comment below.

This “Conserve-o-Gram” from the National Park Service, though not specifically geared towards textiles, gives a good overview of glove use when handling collections.



Reader Survey 2014


We would like to encourage our readers to participate in a brief survey about Worn Through. Quite a few years ago we did a similar survey and it helped shape the direction we took the blog.

Here is the link to do the survey

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. It’s brief and would only take a couple of minutes. To keep things quick for you we did not include a lot of open commenting, however, we invite you to add any further comments to this post itself, and after the survey is over we’ll pick one person who commented at random and I will send you a copy of my book Punk Style (it does not have to be a glowing review of the blog to get the book!).

I’ll post this a few times and we’ll wrap it up the first week of September.

Again here is the survey link.


CFP: Visible Lives in Material Things: Visual and Material Culture and Irish Cultural History

Chapter proposals are sought for a planned edited volume on visual and material culture and Irish cultural history.

The respective material and cultural turns of the twentieth century have brought a number of disciplines into closer dialogue with one another in their approaches to Irish cultural history. While there has been no consensus on questions of methodology or a shared common purpose, a number of fields have addressed themselves to material objects and visual imagery in their exploration of Irish cultural life outside the dominant themes of economics and politics that have pre-occupied much Irish historiography. The disciplines of archaeology, social anthropology, history, human geography, art and architectural history and literary studies have increasingly incorporated the material forms of artifacts and the pictorial depiction of social life into the broad corpus of cultural texts to be mined for historical evidence of Irish social life.

However, the nomenaclature of “visual culture” and “material culture” to describe the mutual interest in the intersection of physical objects and visual images, have obscured significant methodological and theoretical differences between disciplines that raise questions about the extent to which recent interest in Ireland’s visual and material culture enriches the understanding of social and cultural life. In the rush to rebrand art, design and architectural history as visual and material culture studies in the academy, the formal qualities of material objects, the built environment, artefacts and visual imagery, still dominate the field, and symbolic meaning and authorship remain elevated above questions of agency, utility and circulation. In literary and historical studies material objects and images are largely approached as texts to be “read” as representations of cultural life or “mined” for historical data. Interpreted against the backdrop of history, the ways in which visual and material culture become embedded in social life largely remain unexplored as an avenue to broader the horizon of Irish cultural history.

Differences between visual imagery and material objects as representations of Irish history, and Ireland’s visual and material culture as the “historical”, thus provide different routes into the relations between things, images and the deeper understanding of Irish cultural history. Essays proposals are sought that approach material objects and visual imagery as salient features of Irish cultural history and which prioritise visual and material culture as the historical. Discussions of visual and material culture as providing insights into how everyday Irish life was and is experienced, and how the making of objects and images either through craft based practices and/or technologies express cultural practices and behaviours are especially welcome. Essays that push beyond or incorporate issues of representation with questions of use, circulation, reception, exchange, collection, and visual and material culture as mediating social relations are also welcome. While submissions from all disciplines are encouraged, essays should focus on the ways in which visual and material culture enables and enriches understanding of the intersections of Ireland’s social and cultural history.

Possible topics include but are not limited to;

Souvenir collections (private and public)
Museum artefacts and collections
Household objects
Home movies/videos
Printed ephemera
Book collections
Photographs/Photo albums
Slide collections
Built environment
Old and new technologies
Themes and approaches include;
Cultures of collection
Cultures of display
Clubs and societies
Gender and womens lives
Biographies of objects
Migration and exchange of objects and images
Circulation of object and images
Oral histories
Sensory Experiences
Ethnographies of material and visual culture
Historiography and material and visual culture

Deadline for submission: Proposals of 500 words submitted as a word document together with a brief bio and contact information should be sent to Justin Carville via email to by September 1, 2014.


On Teaching Fashion: Mobile Phones

There is a policy in my syllabus limiting the use of mobile phones in the classroom to emergency use only. It has been part of my class rules for years. But this year I am thinking of changing my view of mobile phones. I recently read an article titled “Texting in Class” by Scott Jaschik about the use of mobile phones during class in higher education. “The study found that more than 90% of students used their mobile phone during class time. Undergraduates reporting using their devices for non-class purposes 11 times a day, on average.”


The article notes that when students were “asked why they were using their devices in class, the top answer was texting (86 percent), followed by checking the time (79 percent), e-mail (68 percent), social networking (66 percent), web surfing (38 percent), and games (8 percent). While students admitted to being somewhat distracted by their own devices and those of others, they reported advantages to using the devices in class. The top advantages they cited were staying connected (70 percent), avoiding boredom (55 percent) and doing related classwork (49 percent).”

Finding a productive way to have the mobile phone used in my classroom is my goal this semester. Since the majority of students will use their phone during class, my challenge is how to get them to use it to enhance my lessons. When I first started working at my university, I created a blog for my Apparel I garment construction course. Students were asking if they could take photos of their garments during class with their mobile phones to show their friends, parents, etc. I decided to create the blog and take the photos myself, which would then be posted for all to see. The blog has also created a record of what my students have done since I’ve begun teaching. It is a very simple blog and uses a free blogging platform. I have often thought of making it more attractive and this may be an opportunity.

If students desire to stay connected, perhaps I can give the students control of the blog during a designated class time. I have already encouraged students to take short videos during my sewing demos so they can access it later if they have questions. Perhaps they can video the sewing demo and load it on the blog to share with everyone and then access as they need throughout the class. They can also post photos of their garments along each step to document the process. This would give the blog more content and would satisfy the students need to stay connected during class time without being a distraction.

Incorporating technology into my classroom has been an interest of mine for some time and I think this might be an appropriate place to do it. Have you incorporated any new technology in your classroom? Would you let students use their mobile phones in class to take photos, videos, or work on blogs? Please share in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.


Review: Return of the Rudeboy at Somerset House

The Return of the Rudeboy captures a contemporary snapshot of the Rudeboy culture with a display of photographic portraits, art installations and recreations in order to demonstrate that a subcultural identity with roots in 1950s Jamaica is still alive and well in 21st century Britain.  With their credentials as photographer and creative director respectively, the curators Dean Chalkley and Harris Elliot have created an exhibition based upon a shared interest in menswear, subcultural style and contemporary consumption.

The first room of the exhibition featuring piled up suitcases as photographic frames

The exhibition is made up of five rooms that allow the visitor to wander through and tentatively identify with the Rudeboy subculture, be it through historical context, stylistic devices, musical tastes, urban locations or consumer choices.   In the first room, you are faced with several sculptures made from stacked suitcases, some of which are open to reveal contemporary portraits of ‘rudies’. These luggage balancing acts make reference to the immigration of many from the West Indies and Africa to Britain in the second half of the 20th century, thus sowing the seed for the Rudeboy style amongst young men and women in urban centres across the country.  On entering the second room, you find yourself amongst a lookbook of Rudeboy attires, modelled by invisible mannequins, many of which have been put together by Sam Lambert, an Angolan artist/tailor and a self confessed Rudeboy.  There is also an installation by the artist Catherine Jane Willis, whose handmade boxes draw attention to the influence of the ‘Sunday best’ look that underpins Rudeboy dress.

Sartorial creations by Sam Lambert, Art comes First

The third room is the recreation of a barbershop that is in use twice a week and where you can experience the literal buzz by watching Johnnie Sapong groom visitors in the Rudeboy style.  The fourth room focuses on the contemporary consumption associated with the subculture, epitomised by a ‘stepper’ bike designed specifically for the exhibition.  The final room, with speakers piled up on one another to create a soundsystem, refers to the important role that music plays in connecting and creating a subcultural identity.  An extensive soundtrack choreographed by the curators and played throughout the exhibition reinforces this.

Johnnie Sapong in the barbershop recreation within the exhibition

What all the rooms have in common are vivid photographic portraits of individuals from across the UK representing what Chalkley and Elliot see as the best stylistic examples of current Rudeboy culture.  Interestingly, these are both women and men, young and old, black and white.  However, unless you are familiar with these people already, the exhibition offers you very little in the way of information other than their name, displayed on a small label under each portrait.

Portraits of contemporary Rudeboys from across the UK photographed in East and West London location

It would seem that in this exhibition just their title is enough to establish their credentials as modern Rudeboy aristocracy.  It is the absence of information regarding biography, locale or motivation that meant I found myself in a three-dimensional compendium of Rudeboy tastemakers, supported by a cast of artistic displays that failed to shed any new light on how and why such a subcultural identity may still be important today.  Many of the figures on display, for example, draw our attention to the influence of globalisation, the African diaspora and post-colonialism on the continuity of Rudeboy style yet you will only discover this if you read around, and not in, the exhibition.

I also wondered why the exhibition wasn’t called ‘Rudie’, another term for ‘rudeboy’, given the fact that today’s Rudeboy could be female and/or no longer a young boy.   The dominant demographic of my fellow visitors seemed to be fathers with children who showed little sartorial interest in identifying with Rudeboys today.  The only person who appeared to embrace the style that day was a mature black woman whose genuine enthusiasm for the images and the culture bubbled out of her dress and comments as she walked around the exhibition.  This delight was noted by other visitors who proffered compliments on her Rudeboy attire.

One of several portraits of female Rudeboys

The curators suggest that the exhibition is an introduction to the subculture, in terms of its attitude and appearance.  I agree that the imposing portraits certainly command the viewer to accept that who they see are the legitimate inheritors of a stylistic lineage.  I also agree with the curators that this exhibition attempts to fill a gap in the market if only to persuade you that your recent attempt to dress like Janelle Monae or purchasing Mr Hare’s shoes are so culturally important as to be economically justified.  However, for me, this is less an introduction and more of an attempt to retain a hold on subcultural capital by re-fashioning the past into an array of consumable baroque objects that tell us who is in and who is out.