Back to the future: Rewriting fashion history from the Cook Islands

by Kalissa Alexeyeff


This article engages in debates about the European and capitalist origins of the fashion system and aims to decentre this history from a Pacific perspective. Taking fashion to be a process of novel and transformative display, the article reconstructs a Pacific fashion system that innovatively presents local aesthetics, status and affiliation and re-presents social, economic and political identities and agendas. It examines present-day and historical accounts of clothing and dress in the Cook Islands, starting from a shirt described in 1896; it then tracks forward to contemporary logo T-shirts and back again to suggest an alternate fashion trajectory of bodily self-representation, collective display and distinction. Fashion emerges as an anticipatory social force that produces a multiplicity of meanings that move unpredictably across time, place and systems of representation.

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