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A Change of Clothes: Femininity, Fashion and Feminism

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March 6 through August 28, 1993

Program Locations:

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Edna Barnes Salomon Room

Can a woman be defined by her clothing?

Clothing has long been considered a badge of cultural identity. Women today dress the way they do as a result of numerous 19th- and 20th- century social evolutions, revolutions, and disruptions. Three important concepts – femininity, fashion, and feminism – can help us understand the origins of modern dress. First, there is a historical relationship between a woman’s outward appearance and her essential femininity. Second, Western society promotes fashion as a worthy pursuit for women, drawing them into a world of self-imposed rules and regulations based on imitation, conformity, and consumerism. However, current clothing modes and styles have been radically affected by 20th-century changes in women’s status, employment, and social mobility. Third, in recent years, feminism (a misunderstood and maligned concept even today) has challenged long-held assumptions that women and their apparel have a subordinate role in society.

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