A garment is more than just an article of clothing or a material designed to fit the latest trend. It is a wrapping; a visual prop that speaks to the visible and invisible nature of cultural and gendered performances. Several of the artists in the exhibition express social norms and traditions through dress. Trine Søndergaard’s portraits reveal more than 19th century Danish headgear—they establish a sense of place and continuity, as these headdresses are specific to the island of Fanø, bringing out of obscurity a little-known article, thus establishing the viewer as an outsider to that community.
The portrait also instigates unspoken dialogue about the expectations placed on women’s appearances and their perceived fragility, as the strude was exclusively worn by women, intended to protect their delicate features from the harsh Nordic climate—a standard not required for men.
Similarly, we turn our attention to Deborah Kass’ ghostly photograph of Barbara Streisand’s Yentl. The power of men’s fashion as an entry point into a world of intellectual privilege is at the core of the film’s and the artwork’s message. While the character’s nature, beliefs and convictions do not change, the shifts in costume alter the parameters that dictate her social relationships.
Fashion can also hold cultural residues. Looking back into the previous gallery, Yinka Shonibare’s red fan patterned draped batik is more than a fabric linking a globalized world—it also sets the stage for considering the contemporary material culture that persists from a colonial past. What other readings can we obtain from the dress of individuals featured in this exhibition? How does this help us consider how we use fashion in our own lives?