#OOTD, sick addition

Every semester I have students in my Fashion and Digital Media class create an #ootd (outfit of the day) post OR write about how and why they will not, cannot, create one. Whichever assignment students choose, the results are always fascinating. I have them write up a reflection on the process, the labor involved, any feedback they receive, and anything else that comes up. This assignment helps me get to know students, and it also gets us all thinking about the work involved in social media and self presentation, the feelings it brings up, the attitude needed to put yourself out there, fashion in digital spaces, and digital genres.

There are so many interesting discussions from this exercise and I have to admit part of me is scared to ask students to do it. It’s a big ask. (Of course, they do not have to post the #ootd photo anywhere public!). So far, students are surprised at how much work it takes to get that one good shot, how physically exhausting it can be to stage an #ootd, all the steps involved; often, students end up pleased with their results. I’ll add more after our discussion this week. In the spirit of the assignment, I’ll post my #ootd here.

First off, I am fighting some illness and not feeling my best. Getting dressed was difficult and I didn’t have my usual energy for it. My lack of energy made me go with flats instead of mules or clogs, which I usually wear. I had to make a few stops before getting to campus and didn’t want to deal with tiring shoes. The clogs I’m wearing are not yet broken in so that’s no fun. I should wear sensible shoes all the time but I find that really constraining. I’m not wearing high heels but also not ready for Dansko’s 24/7.

The jeans I have on are newly patched by me! The little quilt square I found at a cabin sale in Nebraska this summer. The woman selling it told me it was from the turn-of-the-century, wow. At first, I had on sweatpants under the tunic/caftan top but decided to go with the jeans. (Sick dressing ftw!).

I didn’t have the energy to get a really great shot, I only took four photos, which is definitely on the low end. I often take more because I have to get the look on my face right/normal (not weird/fake), the entire outfit in the photo, and any weird angles or a messed up dresser out of the background. Here’s the best I got today:

sick and dressing for comfort #ootd

I thought about posting this to stories, but felt too shy to do it. I worry that others will think I’m full of myself, or even worse, that I’m vain. I also worry that as an academic, people will take me less seriously. There’s a definite connection between fashion and frivolity, and this connection is gendered. Academics are not suppose to care how they look, they’re suppose to be so buried in their research they barely have time for basic self-care. Maybe this is changing, I’m not sure and not in a position to challenge it! (Meaning, my employment status is one half step above precarious). I also didn’t post on Instagram because I am vain! I don’t love the photo, I look tired, I don’t want people to see it and go “ew”.

Putting oneself out there, in digital land, is difficult and yet the spaces we inhabit have a way of inciting us to post, share, and take such risks. I would like us all to spend the semester thinking about how digital platforms induce this kind of sharing from users. How does one design something to make others share? Is it even the platform, or is it the network of followers and friends? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

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International Ladies’ Garment Worker Union (ILGWU) & the Digital Workers of Today

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A #bts (behind the scenes ) shot of getting a dress ready to photograph.

As I’ve mentioned, I recently began research into the Etsy shop, vintage clothing seller world. I’ve been conducting a participant observation (or ethnographic) study of this culture since last March. I’ve opened an Etsy shop with one of my BFFs to more fully participate in this world and its work. This culture covers a vast amount of geographical, cultural, and digital space and, while I don’t have hard numbers yet, it’s mostly populated with women. Briefly, women (and some men) set up shops on platforms such as Etsy, Instagram, or blogs where they sell vintage clothing. Each step of this process involves numerous forms of labor, which I’m slowing mapping out. For instance, setting up a shop on Etsy requires the following steps: finding stock, cleaning/mending/ironing it (that vintage smell is real, and stubborn); styling the garments; photographing the clothing; measuring; writing up descriptions; tagging the listings with SEO terms; pricing; and posting on the Etsy app.

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Measuring and trying to create a ‘look’ on the floor, before trying on the dress form and photographing.

These categories can be broken down even further. For example, finding stock requires regularly visiting thrift stores and going through the racks piece by piece. Finding estate sales, connecting with people who are clearing out stock, or hitting up the clothing recyclers who have enormous bins of discarded clothing they sell by weight/bundle (and this is an area I need to investigate). Many, (and again no numbers yet, or ever…this is qualitative!) Etsy shop owners also have Instagram accounts set up to promote their shop and tap into wider audiences. There’s work in Instagramming as well, which I will definitely get to at a later time.

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A bundle of clothing on display at Savers in Kansas City.

There are various routes and places to find old stuff but most involve understanding what has value in todays market. Part of the reason I got into this was the rise of the “prairie” dress (see the Batsheva post). Growing up in Kansas, Nebraska and Texas, the whole prairie style thing was familiar. I knew I could get my hands on it with a few trips to local thrift stores. And this is what finding stock entails, sifting through stores such as Goodwill, various church store thrifts, Savers, Sals, etc. One of the things that’s mind blowing is just how saturated these places are with discarded fast fashion items (forever 21, etc). These items have little to no value on the vintage market. Finding older stuff, stuff pre 1995, is the goal. Military items are always great too, especially if older. There is a thrill in finding a wool sheath dress from the 1960s or a velvet dress coat from the 1940s.

This brings me to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU)–finding a tag with this logo is a sign the item is pre 1995, which is when the union dissolved. Garments with this label were made in America, in the Northeast, South, and West. Many of the chapters of this union were mixed racial and ethnic workers. Some brutal battles were fought through this union.

What I’ve learned so far about the history of the ILGWU is fascinating. The union came to be because young immigrant women were working in terrible conditions, getting sexually harassed, and dying. Two large strikes caught the attention of the world, and especially the rich elite women of NYC who stood with the garment workers. The early garment workers were men. Women were brought into the factories as independent contractors to make shirtwaists. Prior to working in the factory, women garment workers worked out of their homes. Bringing them to the factory exposed them to harassment but it also allowed them to organize together. Women were kept out of the unions initially because they were not seen as skilled laborers (there’s a connection here to, well, so many other spheres of labor: women’s labor is routinely considered unskilled). Also fascinating is that the union presidents were always men. Here’s an image from the Tex-Son Strike. The women deliberately played up their maternalism and used children to both counter the narrative that they were violent. Most of the workers were Mexican. The stereotype of Mexicans as violent has a LONG history, as do all stereotypes. The use of children in the strike also showcased how their wages supported families. From the images I’ve seen so far, the police physically brutalized numerous women on the strike.

Part of the thrill of vintage digging is imagining who had the item previously, and the conditions and worlds surrounding it. Finding an item with the union tag signals that it was made in America and part of a larger economy of manufacture, labor, laws, and trade. I can’t help but wonder about the women working in the union, making garments, that are found and re-sold by the millions of women working through digital platforms today. The union workers organized to have fair wages, a limited number of hours per week, numerous benefits, such as educational opportunities, and a pension. The digital and creative workers today have none of these things. And while digital/creative workers are not considered unskilled, necessarily, their work is not taken seriously. It’s seen as a “choice” or a hobby, and definitely feminine pursuit. As we’ve discussed all semester, whenever women do something, it’s devalued. Part of what I aim to uncover are the economics behind the creative labor of vintage sellers.

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Sorting out our finds from a day at various thrift stores.

I also want to take up the ways fashion both separates and, sometimes, unites classes of women. In the case of the early garment workers, when the wealthy caught wind they used their influence to help out. Similarly, we see how businesses can really tank if the world catches wind of their deplorable labor conditions. Garment work has always been feminized work. The mass production of garments ushered in the Industrial Revolution in the West and continues to modernize economies in developing countries. The digital revolution is similarly built on the massive amounts of ‘work’ done by women, even if that’s taking selfies and sharing on Instagram. Women not receiving anywhere close to the lion share of wealth created in and through both technological revolutions is the thread that binds these different moments in time.

Prairie Dresses and the Digital Economy of Women

I wrote about the recent prairie/religious/Batsheva fashion trend for my Spring 2018 class, Fashion and Digital Media. If you’re interested in fashion, please check out our blog “For(war)dham Fashion” and all the GREAT posts by the students in the course.

Here’s my post, which I’m hoping to turn into a bigger paper/project…

Batsheva dresses started creeping into my Instagram feed last year. At first, I couldn’t believe anyone would go for these, let alone the fashion world. They definitely fit the ‘modest core’ (is that a thing?) fashion trend. The dresses were so strange, and yet I wanted one. They reminded me of my childhood and the games I played, books I read, and worlds I imagined—Little House on the Prairie, Annie, and The Boxcar Children. They also reminded me of the Laura Ashley and Gunne Sax aesthetic of the 1980s, two “it” brands for a spell. The Batsheva dresses are overtly feminine with their ruffles and flower prints, high collars, long sleeves. They look mildly restrictive in their cuts and the complete opposite of athlesiure. I don’t think they’re made for super curvy women, and from the initial images of the dresses, being rail thin helps give them an edge. When thinking about the dress on myself, I immediately worried it’d look too real—meaning the fashion-statement-making impact (and the irony) would be lost. The dresses seem to be a young, thin woman’s game.

The dresses definitely bring home Simmel’s 1957 thesis that fashion, at it’s core, is a way to stand out, especially for the upper, and upper aspiring classes. Wearing a frilly, modest core, Amish style dress does not read as “basic” in 2018. If we follow Simmel’s thesis, eventually the suburban women will be wearing such frilly dresses and the elite will have moved on to something radically different. Part of the appeal of the Batsheva aesthetic is that it’s a fashion risk. The ability to take a risk is a way to signal not only one’s fashion sense but also a way to signal cultural capital. Batsheva Hay, the designer herself, embodies lots of cultural capital–Ivy League educated, a lawyer, married to a fashion photographer, and, according to her Instagram, runs with a fascinating crowd of intellectuals, artists, actors. All of this capital enables her to take sartorial risks, to go against the grain. Risk taking helps one stand out online, creating value via likes, followers, ads, and, potentially, sponsors. It is an especially important way to stand out in a digital economy flooded with #ootd posts.

A look from Batsheva’s Downtown Modesty.

What’s especially interesting about the Batsheva dresses is the religious reference to a traditional style of dressing, which by its unchanging nature (tradition) is anti-fashion. Back to Simmel, for fashion to even exist, there has to be a break from tradition, a society that changes. Change in fashion comes from the back and forth between standing out and fitting in. The Amish (and other traditional or orthodox groups) do not ever change their dress, they are not a part of fashion. Wearing an Amish inspired dress then is a risk: you have to be able to effectively signal that you are not Amish (ie not traditional), that you are instead fashion. The sociologist in me enjoys watching fashion, like capitalism itself, turn up every nook in search of new forms of value. Traditional dress has always been so anti-fashion, it held no value for the capitalist system. But capitalism doesn’t care so much about cultural differences if they can be mined and turned into profits.

Until I taught this class I was under the impression that digital media was democratizing or at least upsetting the fashion world. After all of your wonderful presentations, however, I see that there are different digital classes of fashion just as there are different fashion classes IRL. Mainstream digital fashion seems to be ‘the blonde salad’ and her millions of followers whereas the elite digital fashion class may be Batsheva (with her 4554 followers as of 5/9/18). The cost of the clothing may not be determinative of class in the digital world—it’s more about attention. Who has the attention of the elite vs who has the attention of the masses, or who has the attention of both. As we kept returning to all semester, it’s women (their attention, participation, production and consumption) that create, circulate, and stand as massive sources of value in this digital economy of attention. While we’re all out here #ootd-ing, Instagram is minting money!

That’s not to say digital media is not important for women, feminism, and other marginalized peoples and movements. Cinematic media gave us what Laura Mulvey termed “the male gaze”—a way of identifying with images, a way of looking at women as body parts and less-than-full-humans. The male gaze is a product of technology. The camera cuts out all the elements of real life (the set crew, the grips, etc) so that all viewers see is one version of reality. Digital media upsets this omnipotent construction of reality because we see everything, or way more than before. We see the make-up application from bare face to full contour; we see a fashion haul; we see all the labor that goes into making an image. This is a new type of gaze. A gaze that creates a fleeting identification with others instead of some oedipal desire. We no longer sit in a dark theater, we check our feeds all day. Women are creating, circulating images and stories en masse. The digital gaze is, or can be more easily, a female gaze.

A look from Batsheva’s Downtown Modesty.

Which brings me back to Batsheva. Yes, the dresses are a break from the norm and therefore a fashion risk (a way to stand out). But they also speak to a female gaze. These are not the dresses of a male gaze/male fantasy, they definitely fit into the “Manrepeller“, ugly-cool zeitgeist. These are dresses that speak to some deep girl/femme culture and play. She makes the dresses in adult and child sizes so mothers and daughters (or sons!) can dress alike.

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 A vintage and handmade little-house-on-the-prairie type of dress I found. 

 

Nerds, Geeks, and Bros: New course for Fall 2018!

I’m going to be teaching a new course this fall titled “Nerds, Geeks, and Bros.”  It’s DTEM 3444, Wednesdays 2:30-5:15. Please take a look at the course description and consider taking it!

Course Description:

This course looks at the rise of the ‘nerd’ as a way to investigate shifts in masculinity, race, and power with the rise of the digital economy. Part of the course investigates how men, starting in the 1960s to the “Brotopia” of Silicon Valley today, dominate digital technologies and the STEM field. We will examine the historical and cultural shifts that changed computer work from a feminine job to a masculine one. From examinations of popular culture, such as movies, students will trace how the nerd figure became a new hero. The nerd hero is overwhelmingly male and white and represents shifts in gender and racial politics. Students will read from history, social science, communications, as well as study popular media such as movies, television, and advertisements. Through an investigation into the nerd, geek, and bro, figure students will see how women and minorities’ innovations have been left out of history, as well as left out of the industry. By the end of the course, students will advance potential solutions to the inequalities in the technology industry.