Decolonizing Fashion at the Costume Society of America 2019 Annual Symposium

by Arti Sandhu & Elke Gaugele & Rachel Silberstein & Osuanyi Quaicoo Essel & Rebecca Fenton & Harriet Hughes & William Bamber & Sarah Cheang & Abby Lillethun & Linda Welters

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April, 2019

Mid-April 2019, the RCDF organized two research presentation panels for the Costume Society of America’s 2019 annual symposium. The annual symposium’s theme was ‘Diffusion and Diversity in Dress,’ and while past years have included content that focuses on fashion and dress research beyond the West, this was a first for CSA — to have an entire conference devoted to the exploration of diversity and how it could be better implemented and explored in the fields of academia, curatorial practice, and dress research. So even though the two RCDF panels were not alone in exploring non-Western fashion and dress, the umbrella of “decolonizing fashion” allowed the panelists to focus their arguments and explore common themes or strategies through which the canon of fashion studies could be challenged and re-envisioned. The nine presentations in two back to back sessions represented diverse areas of fashion research, ranging from South Asian historic and contemporary fashion, African textiles and clothing innovation, stereotyping of non-Western dress systems through Western curatorial conventions, the history of critique of modern fashion along the lines of decolonization, to explorations into how fashion studies pedagogy itself can be decolonized. One of the key themes that emerged across the two panels was that of going beyond merely exposing Eurocentric biases to identifying the sources for these biases that have historically informed dress research and articulation of the fashion phenomenon.

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