Dressed to Impress: Looking the Part: Dress, Body, Culture

Dressed to Impress: Looking the Part: Dress, Body, Culture

Dressed to Impress: Looking the Part: Dress, Body, Culture

Dressed to Impress: Looking the Part: Dress, Body, Culture

Synopsis

Our dress is our identity. In dress, we live, move and have our social being. This book shows how the dressed body is central to the construction of a recognizable identity and provides accessible accounts of the particular dress 'ways' associated with a considerable variety of lifestyles. Churchgoers, ballerinas, Muslim schoolgirls, glamour models, 'vampires', monks and country gents all fashion a social self through dress. These cultures all have characteristic forms of displaying the dressed body for social visibility - whether in religion, sex, performance, or on the street. In contrast to much of the literature on dress, which often assumes a lack of agency on the part of the wearer, contributors to this book focus on the conscious manipulation of dress to reflect an identity that is designed to look 'different'.Why do people choose to mark themselves off socially from others? What are the costs and benefits? For every dress 'identity', there is a corresponding set of entitlements and expectations as to behaviour and belief. 'Priestly' bodies inhabit a different universe of response from strippers, just as 'Gothic' bodies experience the public gaze differently from 'Methodist' ones. Where one look commands respect in one setting, in another it can incite antipathy and rejection. Contributors tackle head-on this 'paradox of dress' - its potent power to unite and divide. Evidence of the dressed body's social ambiguity as a medium of consensus, on the one hand, and conflict, on the other, provides a glimpse through dress into an elementary condition of social and cultural life that has all too rarely been part of historical and sociological discourse.

Excerpt

Who, today, outside of antiquarian literary circles, reads Sartor Resartus? Sadly, few appear to recognize, in his day as well as our own, the full significance and potential of this curious book by the eminent Victorian, Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) (Fig. 1.1), for shaping the intellectual field, as we moderns would say, of dress studies. A major purpose of this Introduction to a collection of contemporary academic essays on different facets of the inexhaustible world of dress is to make the general case for Thomas Carlyle's partly fictionalized, partly autobiographical, entirely original work as a seminal text for would-be contributors to the expanding field of dress studies. Through Sartor Resartus, it is claimed, Carlyle prepared deep and strong foundations for the study of clothes as a creative, challenging and credible realm of cultural enquiry.

Rather than introduce each of the essays to follow in turn as a self-conscious example of the new ‘Carlylean’ dress studies in action, the intention here is to let each contribution speak for itself in terms of its theoretical rationale and methodological underpinnings. After all, we hardly expect modern physicists to cite Newton in every scientific paper or Darwin to make a statutory appearance in contemporary academic biology reports or Adam Smith to monopolise contemporary economic theory. While none of the essays presented here explicitly . . .

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