Fashion Without Borders: Mapping the Transnational Threads of Sartorial Storytelling

deadline for submissions: 
September 23, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Siobhan Mei, University of Massachusetts Amherst
contact email: 

Seminar Proposal for the American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting

March 19-22, 2020

Clothes, as fashion scholar Tanisha Ford writes, serve as a “powerful social skin”. While the selection of what one wears is linked to taste and trends, clothes can also reflect one’s socioeconomic status, age, physical ability, gender, ethnicity, ancestry, and politics. In this way, clothes often function simultaneously as an assertion of one’s individual self and as a mode of publicly claiming community. Its historical role in the construction of identity situates fashion as unique within the material world and, as this seminar suggests, within literary cultures as well.

The relevance of fashion to transnational literary studies is becoming increasingly obvious, particularly as fashion gains traction in the public sphere as a serious form of artistic expression. In particular, the ritual of dress as a narrative mode has emerged as a powerful approach for thinking about how individuals, especially those marginalized within a dominant culture, identify and form communities across (and in spite of) national, linguistic, and socioeconomic boundaries. For example, the conceptualization of the dressed body as narrative is central to the work of scholars such as Carol Tulloch (2008) and Tanisha Ford (2019) who trace the social and political contributions of Black women’s fashion to the formation of Afro-diasporic communities in the Americas and Europe. Non-fiction anthologies such as Women in Clothes (2014) and Worn Stories (2014) also emphasize the capacity of clothes to tell stories of the self. In the narratives in these anthologies, clothes often serve as markers of possibility—material methods for rewriting national definitions of what it means to be beautiful, to be politically visible, and to be human.

This seminar seeks papers that explore the transnational possibilities of reading fashion in literature and welcomes topics such as: fashion as a global narrative mode, fashion and/in diasporic literatures, fashion in the archives, the representation of fashion within transnational feminist literatures, fashion as a site of political resistance in literatures of conflict, revolution, or social struggle, fashion and textuality, the role of fashion writing within transnational social movements, and the circulation/transformation of fashion styles or items in translated literatures.

Ford, T. (2019). Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of
. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Heti, S., Julavits, H., & L. Shapton (Eds.). (2014). Women in clothes. New York: Blue 
         Rider Press.
Spivack, E. (2014). Worn Stories. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press.
Tulloch, C. (2008). The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora
         London: Bloomsbury Academic.