Fulfills Humanities, Intermediate
This course uses fashion, the popular styles of dress and ornament at a specific historical period, as a useful tool to examine issues of culture, politics, economics, and gendered power across Africa from the late 1800s to the present. One key question will guide this course: how have changing fashion trends in Africa reflected local concerns and anxieties among women, men, youth, and marginalized individuals, past and present? In so doing we will ask how clothing and accessories reflect issues of ethnicity, nationality, race, class, sexuality, and gender. Students will also learn about the critical roles that fashion has played in larger movements including revolutions, nation-building campaigns, and globalization. Coursework includes media news reports that summarize contemporary news related to the course’s topics and three essays. Students will also participate in two African fashion history workshops—one on African fabrics and the other on cocoa butter lotion.
Various subject matters of exploration include how self-proclaimed African fashion gurus on the continent portray diverse African fashions on Instagram. Such postings include interpretations of “traditional” attire and may feature the bright and colorful lives of The Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People, a subculture dominated by men and centered in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. Critical analysis will address the gendered politics of clothing—from examining Uganda’s miniskirt bans to exploring how women use the hijab to claim power in African Muslim cultures including Egypt, Senegal and Tanzania. Beyond using fashion as a useful lens to understand African societies and cultures over time, students will realize that their morning dress rituals are anything but mundane.
Because this is an interdisciplinary class, course materials will draw from diverse disciplines and sources including comic strips, graphic novels, animated cartoons, newspapers, films, podcasts, documentaries, Instagram, and street art as well as scholarly texts. Course readings will include Beauty Diplomacy: Embodying an Emerging Nation by Oluwakemi M. Balogun (2020), the Feminist Africa’s issue on fashion and beauty (2016), Contemporary African Fashion edited by Suzanne Gott and Kristyne Loughran (2010), and African Dress: Fashion, Agency, Performance edited by Karen Tranberg Hansen and D. Soyini Madison (2013). The lecture schedule will include several “Scholar meets ACS students” sessions in which various guest speakers share their works on related course topics with students.