Conference Report: ReDressing the Narrative, Week One

Over the last half of May, many costume historians and academics (including me) attended the digital conference, ReDressing the Narrative: Reimagining Costume History Pedagogy.

The conference was initially intended to be a one-day workshop for 25 participants but when it became clear that the pandemic would make an in-person event for traveling scholars impossible, the planning committee reconceived the event as an online event spanning four days over the course of two weeks and encouraging participants to create their own peripheral programming--lectures, discussion groups, and panels via Zoom. Over 70 attendees were able to participate in the virtual event.

Crop from Raven Ong's lecture on how Filipina fashion incorporated elements of European style.
Left is a photo of a Filipina woman, right is a European fashion illustration, 1900s.

In addition to the main programming, I got involved with several of the peripheral events. My first was a Zoom discussion, "Inclusive Teaching Strategies," led by Lia Hansen of Vanguard University. We began by identifying many different populations we might consider in terms of inclusive teaching, from race/class/gender to differently-abled students to those for whom English is not their primary language, etc. Many aspects of theatre have traditionally been taught in American schools from an affluent white male perspective and we brainstormed ways to expand the focus to consider diverse viewpoints and experiences. We also discussed the creation of agender measurement sheets with a space for a performer's pronouns.

One simple suggestion was to de-gender labeling of findings.
Instead of "male" and "female" snaps, use "prong" and "divot."

My next session was a fantastic lecture by Raven Ong of Central Connecticut State University, "Filipiniana: Fabric and Silhouettes in the Transnational Journey." Ong gave a brief overview of Filipino history and the social oppression put in place by the islands' Spanish colonizers beginning in the 16th century.

He spoke a bit about the development of what's now considered traditional Filipino dress and showed juxtapositions of Filipina portraiture and European fashion plates to illustrate how the shapes popular in Europe were reimagined by the Filipina women with what garments and textiles they were allowed to wear and were comfortable in their tropical island nation. Many of the fabric names were familiar to me as materials commonly used in millinery--piƱa (pineapple cloth), abaca, sinamay.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the pattern shape and pleating construction technique for the signature Filipina fashion detail, the butterfly sleeve (worn most famously by Imelda Marcos).

Filipina gowns of the 1950s showing the influnce of Charles James and Dior

Look for the second post in this report, in which I'll talk about the second week of the conference and its final weekend worth of lectures and breakout groups!


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