28 April 2010 – Blazers, Florals, Belts, and Tights!

April 28th, 2010 § 20 comments

8 April 2009 – Blazers, Florals, Belts, and Tights!, originally uploaded by academichic.


  • Blazer – J Crew
  • Floral Blouse – Maurices
  • Skirt – Banana Republic
  • Purple Tights – BR Outlet
  • Black Shoes – DSW
  • Bangle- gift from sister M.


First for today’s outfit, it all felt like a little much to me – too much going on in one outfit, yet there were parts of it I really liked: the mix of florals and stripes, the blazer with my grey pencil skirt, purple tights with my black pumps.  I’m just not crazy about seeing it all mashed together.  I do like that this outfit seems to make up for my failure to participate in blazer week and my limited contribution to tights week and is undoubtedly a comfort-zone stretching use of floral. Guess I’m making up for lost time with this one!

Blazers, Florals, Belts, originally uploaded by academichic.
Now, for my thoughts on the very interesting discussion S. started the other day.  I am very interested in S.’s post and especially in all the thought-provoking comments, particularly because I am currently engrossed in reading and writing about postmodern appropriation, camp, kitsch, the cultural, political, and symbolic significance of clothing/costume, the performance of gender and race/ethnicity, gender and ethnic drag, and cultural hybridity — all which seem to play some role in this discussion.
When I hear the term appropriation, I can’t help but think of specifically post-modern appropriation – of the variety practiced by critical artists beginning in the late 1970s. Thus, I tend to think of appropriation as self-conscious and always at least potentially critical and subversive. These postmodern artists also point out that everything is an appropriation, there is no pure original.  This idea was raised be several commenters.  How do we determine what culture is begin appropriated and what is appropriation and what isn’t?
I think this also relates to the idea of cultural hybridity. There is such overlap in cultures and there has been such a long history of exchange – especially when it comes to clothing -  it becomes very difficult to claim an authentic or original source for anything. So where do we draw the line?  One line suggested in the discussion taking place int the comments was the issue of power dynamics, colonization, etc. – but this seems sticky as well.  First, power relations have shifted so much in history and I’m not convinced that their can’t be something subversive about the appropriation of the colonized… I’m still chewing on this.
One thing I found very interesting that was suggested by several readers and by S., is this idea of costume/kitsch as the litmus test for appropriate appropriation – in other words many of you seemed to feel that if the appropriation doesn’t seem costumey or kitschy then it’s ok to wear something associated with another culture.  My fist question is again, how do we define this? How do we judge kitsch vs. authentic?  But, further does wearing something made by a people of a certain culture make it less offensive or more intellectual, etc than wearing something purchased at urban outfitters? Many cultures make objects specifically for tourist consumption so tourists can feel authentic.
In terms of subtle vs. costumy, I think costume, kitsch, camp, and drag all have the potential for subversion and criticality that the subtle appropriation lacks.  I raised this in my discussion of drag vs. a uniform and I think this idea of the self conscious performitive use of clothing should apply to items drawn from other cultures.
Ok, this is getting ridiculously long and I’m not sure where I am going with it anymore!  So, I will open it back up to you…. How do you make the distinction between costume and not costume?  Is costume necessarily offensive or can it be more political and critical in practice? Is all clothing some form of appropriation anyway?

28 April 2009 – Blazers, Florals, Belts, and Tights!, originally uploaded by academichic.

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§ 20 Responses to 28 April 2010 – Blazers, Florals, Belts, and Tights!"

  1. Elle Sees says:

    Definately different! I’m an aubergine anything lover, so the tights are cutes!

    I don’t wear anything that borders into costume territory. I think things that are hugely oversized can be seen as costumey sometimes. Or perhaps too much of something–as in wearing everything in one color. Or even a weird juxtaposition of a regular outfit, like what you’re wearing but with a sequined belt. THAT would be costumey, among other things. Ha!

  2. Megan says:

    I like your point that wearing a costume (or costume-y outfit) isn’t necessarily less authentic than an ordinary outfit – that is, they’re both forms of costume.

    But I also think that, even given that, differences still exist between an ordinary outfit (whatever that is) and a costume. They’re viewed and interpreted differently, even after we concede that there is no authentic, transparent use of clothing to begin with.

  3. Elissa says:

    I wonder what the outfit would look like without the blazer? It’s nice as it is, but it does seem to be a bit much going on all at once…

  4. Sarah Jane says:

    Several more disjointed thoughts (it’s the end of the term & I’m operating on about 1% brain power at this point)

    First: one commenter in the previous thread used the word “stereotype” to describe an over-the-top, costume-y outfit. It stood out to me because I think that gets at one of the roots of why appropriation can be offensive — when it derives from (and perpetuates) one-dimensional stereotypes of a particular culture.

    Second: it seems to me that kitsch and authenticity exist on a spectrum, with most objects finding themselves somewhere in the middle. Perhaps the real question is where on that spectrum we draw the line for ourselves — just how far can we comfortably venture into the territory of kitsch?

  5. EmilyKennedy says:

    First: bummer that you’re not quite sure about this outfit, because I think it’s a really stellar mix, much more subtle than you seem to be feeling.

    Second: regarding my experience of the distinction between costume and not costume, I’d like to make an argument for intuition. Getting dressed, for myself, is a very right-brained activity. I experience creative impulses and I follow them, reveling in the opportunity to get out of my intellectual approach to the world, and honor the feeling side of things. That’s not meant to be an easy out from the concept of honoring cultures that are not one’s own, and being mindful of how appropriation is not always honoring. Yet, I don’t want it to be left out of the conversation either. Like an artist cannot control the audience’s perception of her creation, I cannot know if these dangling earrings that went with the purple in my shirt will be perceived as harmful appropriation of gypsy culture. Being intuitive/artful in life is still a valid pursuit.

  6. Dawn Mastalir says:

    Greetings A:

    Haven’t had time to read everything you have written on this subject, but I find myself wondering if the “art” of dressing can’t be compared to art in general. If we “appropriate” an artistic element into another and dichotomous piece of artwork, in a positive,interesting, joyful, meaningful, way, aren’t we actually complimenting the culture from which we have appropriated that element? As long as the element isn’t used in a demeaning (to either it or its cultural origins), way, (for example an easily identifiable cultural element with something obscene placed on it), shouldn’t it hold true, that the old saying (by whom I don’t recall) that copying is the best form of flattery, should govern? Even when kitschiness is involved?

    I can’t quite bring myself to believe that most people dress with even an unconscious thought of demeaning others,(maybe some performance art aside). I would guess, instead, that most of us dress out of some sense of joy, pleasure, utility, or at worst, a need to fit in. And surely, intent must matter in this discussion, otherwise we would never be allowed to grow, to celebrate, to familiarize ourselves with, and to integrate other cultures; we would all just wallow in our separateness. We would be left with uniformity and uniformity all too often, dulls acceptance of differences.

    Maybe there is an assumption that creeps into this discussion; that to assimilate a culture is a bad thing. Isn’t that always the question…how much assimilation can we have before it becomes annihilation? And is that necessarily bad if in the process you are creating a more open, tolerant, gracious, melded, culture in its place?

    Fascinating stuff to be sure.


  7. [...] something I should experiment with…maybe I can talk A. into letting me borrow her floral print blouse for a day. Do you have a strategy for giving trends a test run? Do you thrift? Borrow? Wait for [...]

  8. Jane says:

    This is an interesting discussion to me because it touches on pieces of fashion that have bothered me in the past, for example, the popularity of the keffiyah. It used to mean that the wearer sympathized with Palestinians in the conflict with Israel, but now I think it’s often worn to look rebellious or edgy. It seems disrespectful to use a symbol from a long-running violent conflict to complement someone’s shoes. I think for me, it’s less about where the fashion item comes from and more about the wearer being conscious or respectful of the culture he or she is borrowing from. I don’t think it would bother me if people were buying keffiyah’s from Urban Outfitters if they were also taking the time to look into its history and symbolism.

  9. R says:

    I like this outft a lot, but I think the problem, so to speak lies in the blazer + belt. One or another, the two together seem too much.

    Costume x non-costume? I don’t know, it is instinctive, like, I know when I’m crossing a line, you know? I think you can be outrageous and all, but there is a line, that I cannot define to you, where I know when to stop.

  10. GingerB says:

    I know what you mean about the keffiyah. The other day a gal got off the train with a scarf on her head (not a keffiyah) like you sometimes see observant Muslim women wearing.

    Below that was her tummy exposed in-between her top and her low-rise pants. It seemed pretty disconnected to me.

    As for costumey – I think it’s like the rule that you look in the mirror and remove one item. One clothing item of cultural interest is enough unless you are of that culture.

  11. Nadine says:

    I really like this outfit: applause!

  12. sabrina says:

    I get that sometimes an outfit pushes one’s comfort envelop, but I must say that you look rad. The blazer ties the whole outfit together.
    I was so intrigued by S.’s post, that I wrote one as well: http://cohabitatingcloset.blogspot.com/2010/04/office-only-clothes-and-thougts-about.html

    I don’t know if the “costume” works as a litmus test, because there are costumey, over the top looks that may or may not make a person within a community feel disrespected or uncomfortable. I think the point is that if I, as an individual, want to be sensitive and respectful to cultural artifacts that represent the sacred to certain communities, I should be willing to dialogue with them, and to be educated. I don’t read this blog, and I don’t mean to be judgmental, but I found it posted while reading up on the issue: http://kingdomofstyle.typepad.co.uk/my_weblog/2010/04/feather-head.html.
    “Queen Michelle” seems like she wore this “headdress” for mostly innocent reasons, (and her blog is really well produced), but her reaction to someone trying to educate her about why this should be reconsidered is the exact way should not respond, if one wants to not be a disrespectful person. But then again, it’s a choice one needs to be willing to make. We have the freedom to dress how we’d like, but how we limit our choices based on our values is up to us.

  13. Eloise says:

    I have been thinking about S.’s post for a few days and I think I pretty much ended up where you did.

    I have a qipao (cheongsam). It was given to me by a student’s family when I was teaching in China some years ago – they picked out some beautiful silk and had it tailored for me. It’s not really a traditional garment in the sense that it was invented in the 1920s and is closely intertwined with the various upheavals in ideas about Chinese-ness, gender and modernity that were going on at that time. It has no sacred or ritual significance, and these days it’s pretty much only worn by waitresses and brides. However, it (like so much women’s clothing) is used as a symbol of national identity, and in the west it has strong associations with the ‘china doll’ image of the sexually desirable oriental woman (and/or femininised oriental). I don’t know what reaction I would get if I wore it in China,* but when worn in Australia I think the outfit has the potential to challenge these ideas about Chinese women and ‘the oriental other’ because a red-haired, blue-eyed giant in a qipao looks agressively ‘wrong,’ in a costumey kind of way, precisely because I’m not Chinese (and have no chance of ‘passing’ as such). Of course, this would require the people who look at me to be thinking through exactly what looks ‘off’ about it, and I’m not sure one could rely on that happening! In any case, this is mostly theoretical as there aren’t really that many occasions when a formal qipao is appropriate . . . I’ve had the thing seven years and worn it, I think, once.

    *I have a shirt with a mandarin collar which gets comments of the ‘isn’t that cool, a foreigner can speak Chinese/use chopsticks/eat chili’ variety but that’s a lot more subtle than a qipao!

    I was also thinking about the importance of the intended audience of the outfit. I have a skirt which I bought in Kashgar in 2007. At the time, it was just the fashionable style of skirt for the young (mostly Uighur) women of that area. Now, that style of skirt seems to have entered Chinese discourse as a ‘minority style’ garment and is sold in the minority-tourism centres of Yunnan province, regardless of the facts that a) they are up the other end of the country, b) the people there are not even vaguely related to the people in Kashgar, and c) that style of dress isn’t traditional anywhere, anyway. So, I don’t wear it in China because to do that would be to take a position in the relationship of the Han Chinese to the internal other that I don’t really want to take. On the other hand, I can wear it in Australia quite comfortably, because there it’s just a nice skirt.

  14. This topic has confused me a bit. And made me paranoid a bit. Anyway, I love your belt :)

  15. [...] and more complex dialogue that came about in my post and the ensuing comments from all of you. Then A. posted her follow up, introducing the notions of camp and kitsch as ways to subvert and re-signify certain cultural [...]

  16. delia says:

    one thing that i find interesting is the times we consider things not to be appropriation. like you said A, there really is no original culture, but there are culturally significant designs, articles or patterns.

    why, for example, does no one get nervous about appropriating plaid or Irish knit? specific tartans correspond to actual clans and families in Scotland, and many of them consider it offensive. meanwhile, cable knits actually have significance, often tying to families, and were originally used to identify sailors lost at sea.

    why are we only considered with appropriating from peoples we see as oppressed or of color?

  17. [...] in one more comment to the discussion S. started on appropriating cultural artifacts and to which A. added her thoughts on camp and costume. As S. emphasized in her last post, clothes are never worn in a vacuum, they are always understood [...]

  18. [...] my guilt over not adequately participating in florals month runs deep! I put together this mismatched suit for a museum lecture I was invited [...]

  19. Bill Wallace says:

    Nice, sexy…caught my eye in a google image search. From a male point of view,,,you are noticed be confident and do not be shy, You look great

  20. [...] gold jewelry and being asked if she was a gypsy. A. also wrote on this regarding how purposeful appropriation operates in terms of camp and kitch, and finally E. brought up the point that our bodies are not neutral and they too contribute to [...]

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