Call for papers: Special Issue of ELN, "Fashion's Borders"

deadline for submissions: 
November 1, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Issue of English Language Notes

This special issue of ELN takes up the complex relationship between clothing and place and seeks to examine the transcultural flow of commodities (specifically clothing and fashionable objects) both within and across national borders. Fashion, we assert, is the cultural medium through which borders shift and move.

 Fashion theorists, dress historians and literary critics (such as Pierre Bourdieu, Diana Crane, and Rosy Aindow) have long argued that the twentieth century spelled the end of localized clothing cultures and regional dress, positing a diversity and richness of clothing practices that were effaced by the homogenizing powers of modernity. With the rise of ready to wear, such thinking suggests, clothing became less locally produced than mass distributed across nations and national borders, resulting in consumers who no longer knew where their garments had been manufactured or who had made them. This understanding of dress history largely credits local elites with knowledge of, and access to, imported styles and materials, placing modern consumers in an ever shifting game whose fashion rules are determined by connoisseurs who regulate social rank.  Arjun Appardurai, in his work on the cultural circulation of things, has remarked that in the domain of fashion what is “restricted and controlled is taste in an ever-changing universe of commodities, with the illusion of complete interchangeability and unrestricted access.” Such illusion, while challenged by the everyday clothing practices of ordinary individuals, remains powerful, resting as it does on the assumption that dress is “democratic” and subject to accelerated and widespread changes.

 Two salient contemporary examples of what we might call the aesthetics of sartorial disorientation can be found in the work of the German photographer, Iwajla Klinek, who has documented various micro-worlds that continue to preserve ancient traditions and rituals, and Zoe Leonard, who tracks the repurposing of clothing across national borders. Klinek has photographed children in the villages of Lausitz, The Black Forest, and Romania wearing traditional dress, and she has used classical portraiture to capture how contemporary subjects seek to preserve some semblance of ancient ritual through costume, at the same time that she reminds us of the transcultural flow of commodities, the relation between indigenous and mass produced goods, the role of the sacred in fashion, and how certain cultural objects can break down rigid boundaries between the tourist and the native. Klinek’s work is global in its outreach and reminds us that both traditional costumes and manufactured sartorial creations continue to play an important imaginative role in our negotiation of “authenticity” contemporaneously. Similarly, Leonard’s photographs document the circulation of recycled merchandise, such as used clothing, in order to track the circulation of goods and the homogenization of diverse geographical locations in the 21st century. Both of these examples illustrate a key conceptual dynamic that this ELN issue will explore: how fashionable objects and garments get culturally redefined, and what role the decontextualized circulation of those objects play across a range of historical periods, disciplines, and cultural traditions.

 We invite papers that examine how clothing is placed in particular texts, contexts or commercial venues, how it travels, and how it places or locates others in certain national and transnational contexts. We are interested in essays that examine the body’s borders as it intersects with larger defining regional and geopolitical borders—particularly how the institutional, spatial, and temporal journey of fashionable garments and objects travel across time. If one of the more pernicious symptoms of global capitalism has been the spread of an overwhelming uniformity of style and appearance, then how do local cultures and individual or community forms of expression respond to or resist such universalizing impulses?  How do literary works register such responses? To what extent have pre-industrial local clothing cultures been influenced by the fashions, textiles, and materials from elsewhere, and how? What texts might allow us to think about the role of dress under the impact of colonial rule or in contact zones? Where can we glimpse pockets of local dress culture despite the pressures of modernity and globalization? How are imported items from markets in Africa, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Mexico, the Middle East and elsewhere re-interpreted for new audiences? And lastly how do literary and visual texts depict the politics of taste and connoisseurship in the representation of international commerce with respect to both ready-made fashions and haute couture?

 Prospective authors should submit a 300–500 word proposal, clearly indicating the nature of the proposed contribution and accompanied by a brief biographical note and 2-page CV to the editors by November 1, 2020. We welcome both standard-length (20-25pgs) and shorter (10-15pgs) contributions; please specify what type of essay is proposed in the abstract. We also encourage collaborative work and papers that are submitted together as topical clusters or a roundtable discussion among contributors.

Please direct queries and proposals to the special issue editors Jane Garrity <Jane.Garrity@Colorado.edu> and Celia Marshik <celia.marshik@stonybrook.edu>. Include “Fashion’s Borders CFP” in your subject line.