The Radical Act of Dress Up
Translating the Past through the Radical Act of Dress Up explores how we construct our identity by patterning our behavior on role models from the past. The 19min performance involves me putting on and taking off a series of bifurcated garments that I have sewn for my ‘Pantsuit PhD’. Each ensemble illustrates a different concept of radical dress relevant to my thesis A Radical Suite of Changes: The Revolutionary Timeline of the Pantsuit (1917-1946).
The reshuffling of a skirt suit into a bifurcated ensemble explores the iterative transformation of bifurcated wear, whilst delineating the transgression of dress codes. A baggy Oxford bags design highlights how the appropriation of traditionally male-gendered garments by women who “wore the trousers” became a symbolic gesture in dress reform that stood for the will to equality in different waves of women’s movements. A bold geometric-print beach pajama with a flashy colour scheme is representative of a moment of sea change in fashion, when women made a spectacle of themselves on seaside promenades in the late 1920s and ushered in a period when it was more acceptable for ordinary women to wear pants in public. My account of the troubles of making a fashionable pair of 1930s kitchenette pajamas that accommodates the fundamental functional bodily transformations of pregnancy and breastfeeding articulates the connection between domestic sewing, (social) reproduction and women’s work. Other pantsuits problematize different conceptual configurations of of reproduction, authenticity and (cultural) appropriation in re-enactment practices and vintage communities and popular culture today.
Shot from a cropped frame , the juxtaposition of my headless body articulating a philosophical lecture on dress plays with the Cartesian problem of the mind-body, where my breathlessness during the physical exertion of giving a lecture-performance acts to disrupt the sense-making activity of dressing in a dialectical critique of its own process. Caricaturing the cliché of the nude performance-artist, my performance in an intermittent state of undress becomes secondary to my demonstration of the radical concepts embodied in the ostensibly “frivolous” fashions, grounding them in Benjaminian and Feminist theory.
The artistic lecture performance was part of the online conference-performance Sneaky Translators curated by Gabriel Ben Moshe and Boris Buden held in July 2021 at the Bauhaus University Weimar.