Narratives of Dress

Sarah Liggera ’17
Contributing Writer

Over the years, dress has become a language in and of itself: a way of expressing yourself as a person, your beliefs, your interests. When I came out, the first thing I did, no matter how shallow it may seem, was cut my hair, change my wardrobe and buy some cologne. My clothing did not define me or change who I was, but, like painting  or poetry, acted as a convenient mode of expression. This is not unique to me as an individual, or me as a queer person. The role of dress as a means of expression is common throughout various cultures.

The patterns of dress have become indicative of an environment as a whole, of progression, and of change. In the rebellious ’60s, men and women alike grew out their hair and dyed their shirts, their clothing expressing their dissent with the  mainstream conservative culture of the ’50s. And just as the 1920s flapper style of New Englanders influenced the culture and societal perception of women, dress has had a similarly influential role here at Smith College.

The intention of “Narratives of Dress: What Can a Garment Say?” is to analyze and discuss how the mode of dress has influenced and informed the Smith curriculum. During this two-day symposium, Smith faculty will lead a discussion about the work of a variety of Smith alumnae from across the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as outside experts from a wide spectrum of fields. Presentations include topics such as “Social Dressing and Conventions of Dress,” “What a Single Garment Can Say,” and “Finding History in Closets and Drawers.” With representations of diverse disciplines, from American Studies to history and literature, Smith students will be exposed to a wide range of perspectives and will have the unique ability to become a part of the historical archives.

“Smith’s campus itself will become a site for displaying dresses, shoes and other interesting articles of clothing … With archive photographs and museum vitrines stationed throughout the College, students will be asked to participate in this celebration of dress by submitting photographs of themselves in ‘typical’ student attire. These images will be compiled and stored in the Smith archives for use by future scholars of dress,” reads the Smith page describing the event.

“Narratives of Dress” represents a chance to not only learn about history, but also to become a part of it – the subject of future academic study.

The symposium will be held on Nov. 1 and 2 and is hosted by Smith College itself. The event is free, but interested parties are requested to register by Friday, Oct. 25, through the Smith website.

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