In Focus II: (Re)Dressing the American Body

How does dress shape the American experience? In which ways have dress conventions been used to make bodies “decent” and “acceptable” in American society? And how do individuals employ dress to challenge hegemonic conceptions of Americanness, create community, and find belonging-in-difference? This is the second of two courses that will explore these questions and lay the conceptual and curatorial foundations of the spring 2025 Focus Project exhibition “(Re)Dressing the American Body.” This exhibition will use 12 case study dress objects to challenge and rethink historical and contemporary notions of American fashion and identity at the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, dis/ability, and body size. In a departure from other hemline histories and designer-focused exhibitions about American fashion, this exhibition will center the experiences of wearers, activists, and craftspeople to shed new light on the lived and embodied experience of American identity as mediated by dress.

This hybrid course (part seminar, part practicum) will introduce students to canonical and alternative histories of American fashion as well as the theories underpinning the exhibition. Guest speakers and field trips will further expose students to a variety of perspectives in the fields of fashion curation and public humanities. In class meetings with Bard Graduate Center gallery staff and faculty will enable students to gain insight and firsthand experience in the design and execution of the exhibition. Students will also be introduced to wardrobe studies methodologies, including oral history and sartorial biography—reinforced through skill-building workshops—in preparation for the final project: an interview-based deliverable for the exhibition gallery and website that will be presented during the final weeks of class. 3 credits.