Fashion. In some circles, it is a source of endless devotion. For others, it connotes superficiality and invites scorn. Many contemporary cultural critics have characterized fashion as antithetical to social liberation or the formation of political consciousness.
It is a debate that is echoed in the critiques of mass culture more broadly. Does [insert: fast food, sports, reality television, etc.] result in the total debasement of culture and commercial conquest? Or does it instead allow for new possibilities for social connectedness and personal transformation? In some ways, fashion has come to represent the most extreme and depraved aspects of modernity and the culture of late capitalism. The voracious appetite for the new. The paradoxical compulsion for death and planned obsolescence. An obsession with surface, spectacle, and unmitigated exhibitionism, coupled with an insidious and deepening narcissism. All of these tendencies of course serve to fan the flames of an ever-expanding, multi-billlion dollar global industry. Fashion is modernity caricatured.
And yet this parody has flattened the dialogue about fashion and clothing design. Embedded in the perpetual critique of fashion is a deep misogyny that has masked a dynamic creative dialogue both within the fashion industry and far beyond. My scholarship is devoted to that middle space between total disregard for fashion and empty idolatry. Considered in my work instead are moments of critical, artistic and intellectual engagement with fashion and the clothed body.
− Annemarie Strassel, PhD
Annemarie Strassel is union activist and cultural historian with expertise in fashion studies based in Detroit. She holds a PhD in American Studies from Yale University and serves as the Director of Communications for UNITE HERE.