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  • From Punk to the Hijab: British women’s embodied dress as performative resistance, 1970s to the present

Suterwalla, Shehnaz, 2013, Thesis, From Punk to the Hijab: British women’s embodied dress as performative resistance, 1970s to the present PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

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
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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.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W290 Design studies not elsewhere classified
Date Deposited: 22 Aug 2013 15:55
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2013 15:55
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1355

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