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Title: From punk to the hijab : British women’s embodied dress as performative resistance, 1970s to the present
Author: Suterwalla, Shehnaz
ISNI:       0000 0004 2740 6107
Awarding Body: Royal College of Art
Current Institution: Royal College of Art
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis investigates how British women since the 1970s have used dress to resist dominant ideals of femininity and womanhood. I focus on examples of subcultural and alternative style as anti-fashion, as a rebuke to and also as the manipulation of the fashion system. The research is based on oral interviews with women in four case studies: punks in the 1970s, women who lived at Greenham Common Peace Camp in the 1980s, black women in hip-hop in the 1980s and 1990s, and Muslim women in the hijab since 2001. Participants were found using a combination of opportunity or volunteer sampling and snowball sampling techniques to gather a sample of approximately five interviewees per case study. The case studies are deliberately disparate, but they have been chosen because each one represents an important turn in British gendered identity politics of the last forty years, since punk style was interpreted by subcultural theory as resistance. They offer a wide range—from subcultural to religious dress—of cross-cultural examples to explore gender in terms of ethnicity, class, and nation, and to explain the ways in which these notions interact and overlap within contemporary British culture and history. Through my juxtapositions I provide an alternative narrative, a ‘new’ analysis of style as gendered to challenge any empiricist logic of conventional scholarship and to expose the fashion system as cyclical. This is a post-postmodern interdisciplinary investigation. I analyse the postmodern techniques of collage, bricolage, mixing and sampling in women’s style, where appropriation and customisation act as revolutionary practices of deconstruction of 5 meaning and interrupt grand historical narratives, However, I move beyond any postmodern focus purely on image and spectacle, or on simulacra and representation to locate women’s behaviour in situated bodily practice, and within their extended biographies. My interviews focus on women’s material and experiential views of their dress and style with an emphasis on their interpretations of style as lived experience. In this way I offer a turning out of fashion history; one that analyses the agentive action of each group’s style which I define as the punk ‘cut’, the Greenham Common ‘layer’, the hip hop ‘break’ and the ‘fold’ of the hijab. My emphasis is on the analytics of construction as displays that reveal the structures behind the fashioning of gender and identity, and I explore how these create new temporal and spatial subjective positions for women such as deterritorialisation for punks, utopianism for women at Greenham, reality for women in hip-hop, or a heterotopia in the case of British women in hijab. This study throws into crisis essentialist ideas: about the body, gender, a fashion object or the fashion system and its ideals to question the performativity of identity and history. Through its multi-layered discussion and interdisciplinary breadth, the thesis pushes at the boundaries of conventional design and fashion history scholarship in its exploration of embodied style as intertextual, and women’s fashion histories as shifting and mutating.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: W290 Design studies not elsewhere classified