- jilbab, chador, burqah, and bui-bui:
- shalwar kamiz:
This bibliography article focuses on studies of dress and fashion undertaken by cultural anthropologists. The discipline of anthropology has a broad scope because it investigates humankind comparatively across time and space and in relationship to other species. In the United States, anthropology is commonly viewed as consisting of four subfields: archaeology, biological (or physical) anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and cultural anthropology. The bibliography overviews clothing research in cultural anthropology, hereafter referred to simply as anthropology. Clothing research, a general label for studies about dress and fashion, is not a distinct part of anthropology with its own theoretical toolkit and methods. Instead, it shares the general orientation of the discipline and incorporates many frameworks and ideas from other disciplines that also study the dressed body. Museum-based research on textiles and cloth overlaps anthropological studies of dress. Excellent overviews of the anthropology of cloth are provided by Schneider (1987) as well as by Weiner and Schneider (1989).
The cross-cultural and trans-historical scope of their discipline enables anthropologists to explore the cultural and symbolic meanings of clothing, examine continuities and changes in dress practice in contexts of socioeconomic and political transformation, and undertake comparative studies in more depth and detail than many other disciplines, thanks to their research methodology. Anthropological research typically consists of a lengthy field study that often requires prior language learning and combines interviews, surveys, and other techniques with participant observation. Participant observation refers to the dual nature of much anthropological fieldwork, which makes the researcher into both an observer and someone who takes part in the everyday activities of the people who are studied, attending local gatherings and events.
“Dress” is a constructive and inclusive term in preference to terms with specific reference such as “clothing,” “attire,” “costume,” “garment,” and “apparel.” When defining dress, following dress scholars Joanne Eicher and Mary Ellen Roach Higgins (1992), as an “assemblage of body modifications and/or supplements,” scholars recognize both the strategic functions that arise from the materiality of dress and their expressive abilities. While fashion often is viewed as a product of the West’s capitalist production system characterized by rapid change, anthropologists have demonstrated people’s preoccupation both past and present with changing dress styles and innovation. In effect, dress practice draws on many inspirations, both local notions of dressing well and inspirations from farther afield in dressed body presentations that always change.
Dress, along with cloth, textiles, and adornment, has been an important part of the study of material culture in anthropology since the early times of the discipline, when the focus was on cross-cultural variation and the relationships between different parts of culture and their changes. Some earlier studies aimed specifically to record the significance of material culture in the face of change in a manner that sometimes has been described as “salvage anthropology.” A later generation of anthropologists, whose research interests revolved around the functions of institutions such as economy, politics, and religion in integrating societies, paid attention to dress only in passing and few, perhaps with the exception of Alfred Kroeber in the 1950s, studied fashion in the West.
Several recent informative anthropology overviews of trends in the study of dress are available. Joanne Eicher’s (2000) historical overview of approaches to the anthropological study of dress includes early anthropologists who wrote in general terms in thinking about the topic. Sarah Fee (2013) accounts for the discipline’s changing relationship to dress and cloth as aspects of material culture, while Karen Tranberg Hansen identifies contemporary developments. In recent years anthropologists have taken a growing interest in studying dress from several different angles, including as an aspect of material culture, an object of consumption and desire, a practice if not performance, as fashion, and also as a commodity in global circuits of garment production.
Dress is—everywhere—a product of changing relationships between a variety of local, regional, Western, and, in some parts of the world, Islamic influences. Across most of the world, from Africa, India, and Southeast Asia to the Americas and the Pacific, colonial market demands on fiber production reorganized local household cloth production, affecting both the gender division of labor and reshaping dress practice. As a result of such interactions, so-called traditional, indigenous, or ethnic dress is always changing, remade in interaction with other dress styles, changing notions of the nation, mass-produced Western-styled garments, and is influenced by changes in fashion systems in the West and globally.
In their study of changing dress practices, the works of anthropologists, art historians, and historians often overlap and are included because the latter two adopted fieldwork approaches and techniques that anthropologists introduced to research and study human behavior. Several works have examined changes in dress practice in the face of the influence of trading companies, missionaries, and colonial settlements, focusing on exposures to Western-styled dress and its local adoption or creative alteration. In a rare study of how dress practice by both parties in a colonial situation affected each other, historian Sophie White (2012) has detailed changes in material culture, including dress, during the encounter between Native Americans and French colonists in eighteenth-century Louisiana.
In much of Africa, Western-styled clothing arrived long before missionaries. Missionary efforts to convert Africans prompted diverse responses to Western dress practice. In the early nineteenth century in Betchuanaland, a frontier region between colonial Botswana and South Africa, John and Jean Comaroff (1997) consider clothing as central to conversion to Christianity. The missionaries’ conversion efforts involved dressing African bodies in Western-styled clothes to cover their nudity as well as introducing new hygiene practices to care for those bodies. While converts eagerly accepted the clothes, they wore them as they saw fit, expressing their personal desires in a new culture of consumption the missionaries could not entirely control. Several works examine the incorporation of European styles and fabrics into local dress universes, for example the long dress worn by Herero women in Namibia and Botswana. The long dress made after the European fashion of the 1890s includes a heavy, full bustle skirt supported by several starched petticoats and a headpiece arranged like the horns of cattle. Hildi Hendrickson (1994) and Deborah Durham (1995) both describe the long dress that Herero people consider “traditional” as a product of missionary influences.
Recent interdisciplinary anthologies on dress practice in Africa edited by historian Jean Allman (2004), anthropologists Hildi Hendrickson (1994), Karen Tranberg Hansen and performance scholar D. Soyini Madison (2013), and art historians Suzanne Gott and Kristyne Loughran (2010), as well as by Victoria Rovine (2009), are concerned with the complex effects on dress practice of colonial rule, missionization and Pentecostal Christianity, Islam and more recent Muslim reform movements, and above all globalization.
Latin American dress has changed through selective incorporation of external elements. Maya dress in Guatemala, traje, is central to the identity of Maya people. Carol Hendrickson (1995) traces the cultural biography of traje, examining the elements of dress that come together into a complete garment and changes made to it over time. Traje is also worn in parades, beauty queen contests, and in the tourist business, as Walter Little (2003) discusses from Antigua, where Maya handicraft vendors dress in traje to attract the attention of tourists. Viewing dress as a complex ethnic marker among the Sakaka, an Andean group in northern Bolivia, Elayne Zorn (2004) identifies six variations of Indian “ethnic” dress. The variations range from pre-Columbian and Spanish-derived long pleated dresses with embroidery, polleras (pleated skirts), shawls, and felt hats to “new traditional” styles for women and handwoven pants, vests, and jackets with embroidery, factory-made shirts, ponchos, and white felt hats for men. The new styles with intricate embroidery are made largely of factory-made inputs.
Blenda Femenias’s (2005) study of women and dress in Peru provides comparable details. Scholarship on clothing in Latin America has documented the rich cloth traditions of Mesoamerica and the Andes, examining the changing dynamics of traditional dress in more detail than the clothing practices of the large wave of European immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century, with the exception of fashion scholar Regina Root’s (2004) anthology—the contemporary fashion scene.
Socioeconomic changes in China and their effects on dress are examined in detail by historian Antonia Finnane (2008), who describes trends in dress practice from the late imperial era until the present, demonstrating the existence of a vibrant fashion scene that gave way to military-inspired styles during the Cultural Revolution. Dress scholar Verity Wilson (1999) has explored how Chinese people experienced the dress edicts and production restrictions under the Cultural Revolution in the 1950s, when reform programs aimed to alter the dress styles of China’s diverse population in order to include them into a new socialist body politic. As anthropologist Sara Friedman (2004) has shown from Hui’an in southeastern China, the socialist denouncement of women’s distinctive dress practice, headpieces, and hairstyles varied widely. In China’s new market economy, such dress styles are described as ethnic. Zhao (2013) discusses the rapid growth of China’s textile and apparel industries since the 1978 reforms toward a market-oriented economy, and their role in the global commodity chain of clothing. Today, China is one of the world’s largest clothing markets as well as a major supplier of garments sold worldwide. Chinese clothing is about more than fast fashion that is mass-produced with short lead times and cost-saving labor and production practices. Chinese clothing styles have diversified and a fashion industry is developing that appeals to the style aspirations of middle-class consumers.
The interplay between local and Western-styled dress is of central concern in Lisa Dalby’s (1993) study of the Japanese kimono. Describing the changing forms of cloth that gave shape to the modern kimono, she examines the kimono as work wear, fashion item, and art form. She explores how this wrapped, geometrically constructed garment faced competition from the West’s cut, tailored, and stitched clothes, gradually giving way to imported styles after the 1860s. Wearing Western-styled clothing in their everyday lives today, most Japanese use the kimono only for special occasions.
In many areas of everyday life in Japan, from schools to government offices, people wear uniforms—as Brian McVeigh (2000) has observed. But there are also reactions to widespread norms of uniformity by young Japanese, who dress up in thematic garments and apparel, assuming characters from comic books, cartoons, video games, and popular bands. As discussed by sociologist Yuniya Kawamura (2012), this dress practice, referred to as cosplay, and other creative styles of the fashion communities of Japanese youth, are beginning to influence youth fashion in other countries.
Recent anthropological dress scholarship—in an anthology edited by Sandra Niessen and others (2003)—has explored the influences of many diverse inspirations on Japanese and Southeast Asian fashion. Japan has become both an important player in the global fashion network centered in Paris and a fashion center for East Asia, unlike Hong Kong, where designers have had little success with their attempts to create an international style.
Unlike in Japan, where the kimono today finds largely ceremonial use, in India the sari continues to be worn widely. This draped and wrapped women’s garment coexists along with the shalwar kamiz and with Western dress styles, including jeans. Emma Tarlo (1996) provides rich insights into clothing choices in India over the past hundred years: both men’s and women’s dress consisted of cloth folded in special ways around the body, and throughout the colonial period there was tension between wearing cut and tailored dress and draped styles of clothing. More men than women adopted—and then rejected—different types of Western wear. In the 1920s, dress became a public issue when Gandhi promoted the use of homespun cloth in order to restore individual spirituality and public patriotism, yet he had little success with the Indian elite and village women. Mukulika Banerjee and Daniel Miller (2003) have extended the examination of sari use by emphasizing the personal and social relationship Indian women have with their clothes as well as looking at individual life experiences with saris from youth to adulthood and into old age. A special feature of this work is its attention to the sari’s materiality and to the consequences of the act of wearing this draped garment, especially the strategic possibilities of the pallu, the end of the sari that drapes over the shoulder. The authors also examine shopping for saris and consider aesthetics, design, manufacture, people’s preference for silk and cotton versus synthetics, and the effects of the visual media on the “modern” sari. Acknowledging the popularity of the shalwar kamiz, they suggest that the sari’s dominant status as an expression of cultural identity may decline over the long term. Even then, they view the two dress forms as complementary in representing contemporary Indian dress. Meanwhile, in South Asian communities around the world, the shalwar kamiz has become a widespread alternative to the sari among young West Asian women—for instance in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Asian women entrepreneurs have begun to manufacture shalwar kamizes that now have become a frequent sight in public in the West, as reported in a study of Asian women’s fashion by Parmindar Bachu (2004). Much more straightforward to wear than the sari, the shalwar kamiz also has considerable appeal to non-Indian women.
Indonesia, where Islam arrived much earlier than Christianity, is the world’s largest Muslim country. There, Western dress entered with Dutch East India Company rule in the early seventeenth century. Contributors to Schulte Nordholt’s (1997) edited book describe how Western dress was appropriated differently by urban women and men, while revolutionary youth activists dressed in a variety of uniforms. Inspired by Indonesia’s rich textiles, traditional dress persists, but is transformed, reconfigured—if not entirely reinvented—from a combination of woven cloths into dress consisting of a sarong (wrapper) wrapped around the lower body with a matching shoulder cloth slung over a blouse.
A different approach to examine changes in interaction with clothing is evident in a collaborative British research project across the Pacific Islands between anthropologists and art historians who are challenging scholarship about how materiality comes to matter. Attributing a transformative potential to fibrous surfaces, this scholarship sees materiality as powerful in its own right. Edited works by Chloe Colchester (2003) and Susanne Kuchler and Graeme Were (2004) analyze the cultural and ritual significance of dressed bodies and their adornment by gender and status/rank relations, and the mutual vexations dress caused Europeans and Pacific Islanders in early encounters. They include an analysis of constructions of nakedness, dress, and morality in early European explorers’ descriptions of Tahitian women stripping. Missionaries delighted in Pacific Islanders’ adoption of clothing, seeing it as a sign of religious conversion. But understanding clothing as a product of conversion masks its attraction as a material medium of ritual efficacy. In Melanesia, missionaries saw the eager adoption of printed calico as an outward sign of conversion, while Melanesians interpreted such prints with reference to systems and ideas about empowered bodies. In effect, printed calico became an agent of translation, enabling people to establish connections between existing systems and ideas and new ways of being.
Perhaps because of its visibility, few single items of clothing have received as much scholarly and popular attention as the veil, the practice of covering women’s heads and bodies, referred to variously as the hijab (headscarf), niqab (face veil), jilbab, chador, burqah, and bui-bui (regional names for full-length gowns). As a dress practice, veiling ensures modesty and protection from the male gaze. Dress practices involving degrees of veiling have become symbolically charged as an emblem of Muslim identity and women’s subordination, even though veiling varies both temporally and spatially across the world’s Islamic societies, where women neither veil everywhere nor all the time. Anthropology’s cross-cultural observations include Susan Rasmussen’s and Elisha Renne’s (2013) work on such variations as men’s face veils and women’s headdresses among the nomadic Tuareg in Niger, and women’s turbans in northern Nigeria. As few works have examined how socioeconomic changes and religious reforms have changed Muslim men’s dress, geographer Tina Mangieri (2013) offers a rare analysis of Muslim Swahili men’s changing dress practice and fashions on the east coast of Kenya as a result of increasing contacts with the Arabian peninsula.
A recent anthology about veiling practices in Africa edited by Elisha Renne (2013b) offers valuable historical insights into past dress practices revolving around modesty and in particular, more recent changes in dress styles and fashion influenced by religious reform movements and general socioeconomic change, including dress inspirations from the Middle East as well as from popular Indian cinema and South American telenovelas. In a discussion of changing dress practice in Zanzibar, historian Laura Fair (2013) suggests that the recent adoption of niqab has more to do with fashion than with religious fundamentalism. In a globalized world, dress options have widened considerably because of broader style exposures as well as because of the increased availability of printed textiles.
Recent works on dress in the Muslim world, including diaspora communities in North America and Europe, are drawing attention to complex dynamics surrounding dress and its changing cultural and political associations. In Turkey, where the veil was banned in public, young women began challenging the ban by wearing veils both to university and in parliament. Fadwa El Guindi’s (2003) study of Egypt prior to the 2011 revolution shows how the hijab became both an object and a symbol for a new Islamic consciousness and activism.
In the West, the veil so dominates public perceptions of Muslim women that recent transformations of Islamic dress practices in major cosmopolitan centers with sizeable Muslim populations have tended to go unnoticed. Focusing on Great Britain, showcasing London along with trips to the Continent and Internet excursions, Emma Tarlo (2010) examines dress biographies, fashion geographies, and shopping venues. Her goal is to demonstrate how Muslim women have approached covering in the post-9/11 urban situation, which has been marked by accentuated public and media hostility to women’s dressed bodies. Tarlo discusses how women choose many different routes from a wide cultural repertoire of possible ways of being Muslim in London. The post-9/11 sartorial map of London has no fixed category either for Muslim women or for religious dress, although the press and the media continue to reproduce stereotypes to that effect. Confronting such stereotypes, Tarlo notes the diversity of Muslim perspectives and experiences, arguing that women’s increasing visibility through dress practice is a result of their deliberate search for identity, faith, and politics. She does an excellent job at demonstrating that young cosmopolitan Muslims do not see a tension between “fashionable” and “Islamic,” and that rather such dress practices feed on one another with significant local variations.
Great Britain is a multicultural society and—unlike France—has not issued any formal ban on overtly religious dress. In 2004, the French government banned the wearing of religious signs in schools in a controversial decision that, according to John Bowen (2008), has roots in the specific French context of a long and complicated relationship between Church and State. Even then, Britain has had its share of controversies over what is considered to be proper Muslim dress, as have several countries in Europe and North America. Some of these controversies are discussed in the recent anthology by Emma Tarlo and Annelies Moors (2013). Their work takes a broad geographical sweep through detailed case studies from several countries in Europe, Canada, and the United States, providing a global perspective on Muslim dress practice.
Globalization does not produce uniformity in dress practice even though people across the world wear many of the same garments and accessories, for example jeans and sneakers, shirts and dresses, and suits and ties. This is an important reason as to why some dress scholars prefer terms such as “world dress” or “global fashion” to “Western dress.” Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward (2011) demonstrate this point emphatically in their interdisciplinary anthology on jeans, Global Denim. Jeans are present in all countries of the world and worn widely everywhere. In spite of their ubiquity, there are national differences, marking social and class distinctions and influenced by specific body aesthetics—for instance in Brazil, where jeans are manufactured from a type of stretch fabric that eroticizes the body. The jeans worn by young Italians also have an erotic potential. In India, jeans are less widespread, yet urban women and men of better means and young people wear jeans as part of their everyday clothing. And in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, the location of India’s vast film industry popularly known as Bollywood, female and male film stars who advertise and market jeans are becoming important models for how to wear jeans for a broad Indian public.
Jeans are not the only garment that has become a prominent part of the everyday world of dress globally. Although it is rarely explained in this way, the international secondhand clothing trade is a part of the global circuit of garment production. Along this circuit moves Western-style clothing, much of it manufactured in developing countries, into markets and stores in the developed world. Since the early 1990s in the West, high-level consumerism facilitated by declining prices of apparel and footwear, especially women’s, has ensured the creation of a vast surplus of unwanted clothing, which consumers donate from time to time to charitable organizations. The vast surplus of unsold donated clothes collected by such organizations constitutes a commodity chain in the global garment production circuit in its transfer to textile graders and processors who sort and bale the clothes destined for export. In her study of this process, Karen Tranberg Hansen (2000) advises scholars not to take the Western significance of such garments for granted. For secondhand garments do not travel with ready-made meanings attached to them, but rather their meanings change at different stages of the process. In the view of the consumers Hansen studied in Zambia, the only Western thing about such clothes is their origin. Consumers in Zambia reconstruct these garments as “new” or “fresh” and transform them by notions of taste and selection to fit the embodied dress norms of their local clothing universe.
The growing popularity of jeans across the world ensures their importance in global systems of production and sale. But this importance hides the exploitative social relations of production so evident in garment manufacturing for export from developing countries like Bangladesh and in the West’s metropolitan sweatshops. What is more, consumers’ “love of jeans” conceals vast environmental problems associated with cotton production and the use of fabric dyes and chemicals, giving rise to complicated questions about sustainability.
Although some anthropology dress scholars are concerned with these interconnections, they have not yet had a distinctive imprint. Overall, their work has had more to do with unfair labor practices in gender and age terms than it has with dress. Still, there are important exceptions. Lucy Norris (2010) follows the flow of recycled clothing in India, both domestically and for export. Unlike Zambia, India prohibits the import of secondhand clothing from the West. It permits the import of woolen fibers among which are “mutilated hosiery,” a trade term for wool garments shredded by machines prior to export. Norris examines two processes. One is the import of “mutilated” materials: their sorting into color ranges, shredding, carding, and spinning; and their reappearance as thread used for blankets, knitting yarn, and wool fabrics for local consumption and export. The second process is domestic practices—such as bartering—that extend into the commercial sphere, providing households a way of reducing excess and providing clothing to the poor. New opportunities arise by reworking materials into textiles with appeal to Western markets. As a result, an export supply chain has emerged, formalizing what had begun as an informal trade. Kedron Thomas’s (2013) work on Guatemala focuses on the production of copied and rebranded clothing by small-scale manufacturers and the contradictions between national observations of trademark laws and the small producers’ own agendas. In Peru, Blenda Femenias (2005) has explored artisanal textile production for the international tourist market. Others, like Kimberly Grimes and B. Lynne Milgram (2000), have looked at clothing production, sometimes organized by fair trade principles, investigating local and regional efforts to redirect the unequal terms of the global garment production industry. Future anthropologists will no doubt continue such challenging research efforts in the context of a rapidly changing global market production system.
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