Today a friend of mine posted on Facebook about a blog called Academichic. It’s now defunct, but its archives are still available. It’s worth checking out for those of you interested in the intersections of fashion, feminism, and academia. It was written by a group of (mostly) grad students who decided they wanted to have fun with clothes. Being grad students, they pulled out the heavy hitters of theory to justify their project:
When beginning graduate school we each had an existential wardrobe crisis. What does one wear in grad school anyway? We recognized that our undergraduate hoodies and jeans were no longer appropriate but were unwilling to accept the shoulder-padded khaki polyester suit that was ubiquitous among our female professors. As feminist scholars, we were also forced to reconcile the perceived-superficiality of our interest in style with our academic commitment to questioning gender and class essentialisms.
Today, in the face of all our eye-rolling colleagues, we defiantly wear dresses, fitted jackets, and pointy toe shoes. To teach in. And sometimes just to the library!
But don’t worry. We’ve done our research on this one too. Cultural critic Fred Davis calls fashion “a visual language, with its own distinctive grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.” Theorist Judith Butler, in Gender Trouble, points to the power of clothing to create and constantly recreate identity. And even philosopher Charles Baudelaire praised cosmetics and garments for creating beauty where nature fails. In short, fashion is a powerful tool for creating identity, subverting class or gender norms, performing self, and appreciating aesthetic beauty.
This won’t be our dissertation, but it might keep us sane in the mean time. With this project we hope to inspire other academics to embrace their love of clothes, to create unique and beautiful outfits, and to engage in a metadialogue about the art, literature, and garments that can move us all.
Then again, isn’t it a typical academic/feminist quirk to think that having fun with clothes has to be justified at all?
What struck me about the blog was not so much the fashions themselves (though one post on chopping up clothes did make me think about carving an old, too-blousy dress of mine into a skirt). More impressive was the camaraderie the blog authors created, very much in the spirit of Iris Marion Young’s idea that finding pleasure in one’s clothes can be a wellspring of community.
Also, should I ever start wearing shoulder-padded khaki suits, somebody please tell me to stop.