- Gray nursing cami: Target
- Purple top: Banana Republic Factory
- Belt: Old Navy
- Colorblock skirt: Banana Republic Factory
- Wedges: Naturalizers, via DSW
I’ve been tending towards high-waisted + full skirt looks lately, but I thought it might be time to try mix things up. This purple top extends just over my hip bones, creating a kind of makeshift drop waist silhouette. To remind everyone that I have a real waist, though, I belted a little higher than usual. The resulting color-blocking is different than what I’m used to, but I think it’s a look that has visual interest without looking too over-worked. And during paper-writing week I’m all about not looking over-worked. In more ways than one.
I am very late to this party, but I wanted to throw 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 in a context.
But to that, I’d like to add that clothes are never worn on a blank canvas. Bodies matter, and cultural perceptions of bodies — especially perceived ethnicity — also affect how we understand a person’s garment choice. This is understandably a touchy and complex subject, and the question of the role of bodies in identity formation is something I wrestle with frequently in my own work.
In the example that S. gave of being told that she looked like a “gypsy,” I would suggest that it was not just her gold earrings that prompted such comments but also her skin tone and long hair. Her body combined with her garments triggered certain culturally-entrenched notions of “what gypsies look like.” I don’t think that she would have gotten the same response if she had the same coloring and haircut as A., for example. Conversely, I sometimes dress “against” my body when I return home to Hawaii. There are many physical attributes that contribute to why I am, in many contexts, perceived as being full Caucasian. But I identify most strongly as an Asian American from Hawaii, and when I’m back in the islands I try to dress to align myself with that cultural identity.
One more example. I took a course this semester taught by a professor from Jamaica who is black. On the final day of class, she wore a striking outfit of white pants and a long, light cotton tunic with a palm frond pattern; she accessorized with sandals and coral earrings. I was tempted to spend all of our class period mulling over the implied politics of that choice, about how the effect might have been different had she been a white Jamaican or an African American or an Asian American. How might the effect have been different if she was teaching ten years ago or thirty years ago?
All that to say, bodies are not blank canvases when it comes to how the garments on them are perceived, and we would do well to refrain from thinking of any one kind of body as “neutral.” In that, I would echo Elizabeth Grosz, who, in her book Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism, calls for bodies to “be understood as fully material and for the materiality to be extended and to include and explain the operations of language, desire, and significance” (Grosz 210).
(And for an entirely different aspect of perceiving the body, be sure to check out our upcoming Dress Your Best week!)