37 Chapters
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2. Getting Ready

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

THE MOST COMMON OF ARTISTIC ACTS, getting dressed requires an intricate series of choices. To sample the range of decisions women make on a daily basis, let us follow Rani Mishra, a twenty-seven-year-old Brahmin housewife, as she goes about her routine on a typical September day, in the old joint-family compound in which she lives, in the city of Banaras.

Rani, the mother of two young children, wakes up before her husband, at six in the morning. She rises, still wearing the magenta petticoat and blouse of yesterday’s sari ensemble. The sari, a strip of cloth six meters in length, has to be tucked into a frame, provided by the “petticoat,” an ankle-length skirt of cotton with a drawstring waist. A “blouse” (called, like the petticoat, by its English name), is a custom-stitched, midriff shirt, which closes snuggly with hooks running down the chest. Women own many blouses and petticoats, which are changed often to match the sari in color and fabric.

At night, Rani, like many women, simply unwraps her sari and sleeps in the underclothes that she has been wearing all day. For sleeping, some women prefer a “maxi,” a floor-length cotton dress that some women wear around the house and others wear only in bed. Rani lives with her parents-in-law and her husband’s brothers and their families; she feels uncomfortable wearing a maxi in the house, because she considers it an intimate garment. The audience for her daily adornment is large—her extended family, the servants, and the vegetable sellers who come into the house every day with their baskets of produce.

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4 Reenactment Reliving the American Civil War

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

FIFTY THOUSAND PEOPLE, MOST OF THEM MEN, REENACT THE events of the American Civil War in locations across the country. Some interpret the life of a common soldier; others assume the persona of a famous general. All of them yearn to experience a piece of American history, and many also take on an educational task, since all the events occur on public ground before an amassed audience. Reenactors and self-defined living historians, these people are not interested in enacting a fictional European persona as the SCA players are, but they aim to impersonate actual military heroes on both sides of a divided United States in the nineteenth century.

I met Wayne Brunson at the Turning and Burning Festival in Gillsville, Georgia.1 Amid booths selling handmade crafts—pottery, baskets, quilts—his stand displayed a hand-painted sign reading, “Civil War Life / Just Talk / Nothing for Sale.” Brunson, an Alabama man who travels to Georgia’s public schools to demonstrate aspects of the life of a Civil War soldier, usually dresses in a Union uniform, despite having several Confederate ancestors. He has been a Civil War reenactor for more than twenty years, but he also spent time in the SCA, so he was able to compare the two activities for me. He began by telling me, “Civil War reenacting is trying to recreate the past and present it in a way that the public can see and visualize how things were in 1860s.” The SCA, he told me, is a private organization whose main activities take place in restricted spaces for an audience composed solely of SCA members. He admitted that the SCA “has contributed greatly to the knowledge of how life was in Renaissance and medieval time periods.” But Civil War reenacting, according to Wayne, is more interactive: “It’s more hands-on, it’s more public. We’re out here on display for the public. Most people don’t know—at Civil War reenactment events soldiers pay to get in too. We pay to be the attraction at a Civil War event. Some people do it for the fun of dressing up as a soldier, shooting at other folks. Other folks do it for the sense of history that it gives you, and your interaction with the public.” Civil War reenactors are on display in the presence of a discerning public, the uniforms, weapons, and accoutrements must look real, because, as Wayne said, “what the public sees is supposed to be nothing but what is authentic.”

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3 The Peacock Revolution

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

Journalist George Frazier is credited with popularizing the phrase “peacock revolution” to describe the styles coming from London’s young Carnaby Street designers, which promised to restore the lost glory of flamboyant menswear.1 Frazier was describing the explosion of choices that were suddenly available to men, ranging from Romantic revival (velvet jackets and flowing shirts) to a pastiche of styles borrowed from Africa and Asia. Expanded color palettes, softer fabrics, and a profusion of decorative details represented a direct challenge to the conformity and drabness of menswear at mid-century. For critics of the new men’s fashions, flowered shirts and velvet capes raised the specter of decadence and homosexuality, a fear that was reinforced by the emergence of the gay liberation movement. Just as women’s unisex styles had to balance being sexy and liberated, men’s styles tended to navigate the territory between expressiveness and effeminacy. But like many revolutions, the peacock revolution ended in repudiation and regression. Although fashion prognosticators in 1970 were predicting the demise of neckties and gray flannel suits, within ten years the pendulum had swung back with a vengeance. John T. Molloy’s Dress for Success, in 1975, had codified a return to conservative dressing for business. Within a few years the more flamboyant styles of the late 1960s and ’70s had been relegated to the back of the closet, if not the thrift shop.

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14. Before the Wedding

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

THE STREETS OF INDIA are dizzy with color: colors crackle and clash in the temples and shrines, in the marketplace, in the clothes women wear. Colorful ornament enhances beauty and signals desire, whether the goal of desire is worship, commerce, or the communication of one’s place in the cycle of life. At the beginning of that cycle, babies are peculiarly vulnerable, susceptible to disease, carried quickly into deaths that many believe are caused by supernatural powers. The tiny bodies of living babies are decorated to attract the benevolence of the gods while fending off malignant spirits. Many adorn the infant with amulets tied with thread around the neck, waist, or arm. Black kohl is used to line their eyes, for protective and medicinal purposes, giving babies a chic and sultry look. A round mark of black kohl, like a displaced bindi, is located on the face of the baby, often to one side of the head, to ward off evil spirits or deflect the evil eye cast by envious humans, especially if the baby is notably beautiful.

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Acknowledgments

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

MY AIM IN WRITING THIS BOOK WAS TO UNDERSTAND HOW COSTUME enables individuals to perform identities that are not expressed through daily dress. As a folklorist, I conducted case studies using ethnographic methods to show how costume functions to express identity in contexts full of intention and meaning. During this project, which began in 2007, I have accumulated debts to many individuals who have taught me about the significance of costume.

My first debt is to the people who furthered my intellectual pursuit by providing me with hours of recorded interviews and allowing me to observe, photograph, and understand costumes in use, both abroad and here in the United States. Two people in particular gave me much support and encouragement at the project’s beginning—Ellen Adair and Kersti Jobs-Björklöf. Both Ellen and Kersti spent many hours talking to me about the nuanced ways in which costume functions: Ellen on how costumes communicate on the professional theater stage and Kersti on how folk costumes express identity and heritage in contemporary Sweden. Ellen and Kersti not only shared their expertise with me; they also led me to other people to interview.

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