Date of Degree

2-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Eugenia Paulicelli

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Fashion Design | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media

Keywords

Normcore, Race, Identity, Postmodernism, Gucci, Balenciaga

Abstract

This thesis takes as its subject the increasing instrumentalization of social and political content by the fashion industry in recent years. Such content raises questions about the relationship between notions of political resistance and market capitalism. Marxist theorists such as Frederic Jameson and David Harvey would perhaps view this phenomenon as a confirmation of the ways in which late capitalism incapacitates forms of political descent by absorbing it within its machinations. Within this line of thinking, the way in which various designers use the fashion runway as a forum for protest would suggest late capitalism’s seemingly boundless ability to absorb critique within the commodity form. Such a notion would run parallel to the claim by Jameson that the diversification of cultural production in postmodernism has rendered it illegible. The first chapter illustrates how such notions of absorbed resistance are consistent with the aesthetic project of several influential fashion designers today. The primary example locates this in the trend “normcore.” I will elaborate a history of the term, showing the ways in which New York based art collective “DIS” was instrumental in its formation. I will then show how the trend firmly established itself within canonical fashion aesthetics through the works of several celebrated fashion designers and brands.

The notion that the absorption of political descent within the market system indicates an incapacity of social resistance reaches an impasse however, when considering other forms of social resistance. Most notably, the persistence of racial inequality and the cultural output of minority groups advances an ulterior form of resistance whose project, while coterminous with economic exploitation, is not perfectly delineated within its terms. In the second chapter, I engage with such canonical postmodern thinkers as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler in order to think through specific examples of resistance by political outgroups, and their cooption by the fashion industry. Specifically, the popularization of hip hop style in the United States and globally has rendered it vulnerable to cooption by majoritarian groups. This phenomenon in the examples I enumerate has largely gone unaddressed in the fashion industry, and its obfuscation has furthermore aided the critique of absorbed resistance earlier elucidated.

The fashion industry has come under increasing scrutiny to rectify its problematic relationship to racial inequality. The protests against police brutality which seek to address racial justice that broke out during the Summer of 2020 have made it necessary for fashion brands to respond in kind, laying out a course of action in order to rectify its ongoing relationship to racial representation and systemic oppression. In the last section of this paper, I will reflect on the ways in which the brands I engage with have responded. In the end, this study emphasizes the way in which a close study of clothing and the fashion industry is relevant to ongoing discussions concerning political resistance within the frame of a market system.

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