Fashion Forward: Centering Justice in Fashion History
October 1, 2021 – March 2022 / MARY ALICE GALLERY
Social justice philosophies are moving to the forefront of many cultural organizations. To form a just society, institutions must ensure equitable distribution of opportunities, wealth, and privilege. Within North America and Europe, numerous communities, including people of color, the queer and trans communities, women, immigrants, and those of a lower socioeconomic status have experienced significant marginalization due to their social identities within capitalist economic systems. Some individuals have experienced multiple layers of oppression from their intersecting identities (e.g., Black women). However, an increasing number of museums are beginning to address racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism, and/or other interconnected systems of oppression in their operations, collecting practices, and exhibitions.
Fashion Forward: Centering Justice in Fashion History confronts the traditions and practices of the past by reinterpreting a selection of objects from our collection using justice-oriented lenses. Since the founding of the Textiles and Clothing Museum in the 1920s, museum artifacts have been used as a teaching resource in the classroom and the gallery, further arguing for a thoughtful consideration of the stories they are used to tell. The chosen objects were previously featured in the exhibition and corresponding catalog Treasures of the Textiles and Clothing Museum (2013). The use of the word “treasures” implies that these objects have great significance, value, or prestige, but this assessment has also been based largely on traditional, dominant understandings of history. Objects within collections–ours included—are biased toward the histories of white, heteronormative, and affluent individuals, those who have traditionally held more power in society. By centering and uplifting marginalized voices, we reveal additional stories that often have been omitted from mainstream narratives, inviting visitors and other scholars to consider and create fashion histories that are forward-thinking, equitable, and just. In the exhibition we use a number of themes to explore expanded and rich justice-oriented perspectives on the artifacts in our collection. Cultural Appropriation and Imperialism outlines issues related to appropriation, and cross-cultural distribution and consumption of cultural materials, ideas, and products. Racial Inequities investigates objects belonging to white-appearing individuals, whose stories have been widely told, while their non-white counterparts have not. Shifting Masculinities uses a variety of familiar fashions to discuss issues such as how the gender binary has been historically constituted through fashion and differing perspectives of what constitutes masculinity in different historical eras. The contributions of women fashion innovators, women’s suffrage efforts, and changing views of the institution of marriage are some of the topics explored in Women and Feminism. Socio-Economic and Class Barriers and Environmental Justice examine ideas related to access and participation in fashion, as the impact of fashion on humans and the environment, respectively.
Kyra G. Streck, masters student, Apparel, Merchandising and Design and Agatha Huepenbecker Burnet endowed graduate research and teaching assistant
Ginger Stanciel, masters student, Apparel, Merchandising and Design and Agatha Huepenbecker Burnet endowed graduate research and teaching assistant
Joshua D. Simon, masters student, Apparel, Merchandising and Design and Agatha Huepenbecker Burnet endowed graduate research and teaching assistant
Kelly L. Reddy-Best, associate professor, Apparel, Merchandising and Design and director and curator, Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Museum
Jennifer Farley Gordon, lecturer, Apparel, Merchandising and Design and digital curator, Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Museum