Re-Orienting Fashion: Dress, Culture, and East Asia

This seminar seeks to impart a broad understanding of the history and visions of East Asian fashion from the seventeenth century to present. It foregrounds a global perspective and transcultural approaches. The course consists of two parts. The first part examines the role of fashion in changing social, cultural, and political systems in China, Japan, and Korea. We explore how certain styles and silhouettes came to embody new gender identities, manifest nationalism in an age of crisis, and symbolize ethnic tradition as time went by. We pay special attention to the issues of how interactions with the West and globalization led to sartorial reforms and reinvention of the tradition in East Asia. The second part investigates the multivalent constructions and meanings of “Eastern dress” in Western art and fashion and in East Asian countries’ own engagements with their legacies. Issues to be examined include: Oriental clothing as inspirations for Western artistic movements and dress reforms, cross-cultural dressing, Eastern elements in contemporary fashion by both Western and Asian designers, and museum exhibitions of Asian and Asian-inspired dress. This course has two goals. First, it challenges the dominant narrative of fashion as a primary European phenomenon and presents multiple centers, parallel systems, and interconnected histories of fashion. Second, moving beyond the framework of “Orientalism” or “self-Orientalism” which implies a fixed East/West binary and inherent power imbalance, this seminar introduces diverse perspectives and nuanced approaches to cultural exchanges through fashion. The course includes two field trips to the galleries and storeroom of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 3 credits. Satisfies the geocultural requirement.