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Fashion Beyond Western Modernity: A Critique of the ‘Non-Western Fashion’ Concept

Almila, Anna-Mari (2015) Fashion Beyond Western Modernity: A Critique of the ‘Non-Western Fashion’ Concept. In: Fashion Tales 2015: Feeding the Imaginary, 18-20.6.2015, Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy.

Type of Research: Conference, Symposium or Workshop Item
Creators: Almila, Anna-Mari

There has recently been an increasing interest in ‘non-Western’ fashion in the field of fashion studies, involving critique of previous ‘Eurocentric’ fashion scholarship. While this focus is well intended, it often unintentionally reproduces the very West/non-West conceptual division which it otherwise criticises: to define fashion practices around the world today as ‘non-Western’ is to assume that fashion is somehow essentially ‘Western’ and ‘modern’, when it is emphatically not.

Contemporary post-colonial theorising alone is unlikely to move us much beyond this division. Since recent developments in so-called ‘non-Western’ fashions are always already embedded in centuries of ‘European hegemony’ over non-European societies, it is more useful to look at such matters in more profoundly historical ways. This involves considering pre-modern world systems, in order to see a fundamental issue often overlooked, namely that ‘fashion’ is neither simply ‘Western’ nor ‘modern’. Drawing on Janet Abu-Lughod’s analysis of pre-modern, pan-Eurasian world-systems, I show that fashion and related trade networks have empirically existed in many times and places other than the ‘modern West’.

I therefore argue that progress will only be made when fashion is more broadly defined in ways that are not covertly, and needlessly, geographically and historically limited. This involves recognising both that the concepts ‘fashion’ and ‘fashion system’ do not refer to exactly the same phenomena, and that while the former concept points to more universal properties of dress practices operative in many societies across time and space, the latter points to more specific forms of institutionalisation which are contextually specific. While there is indeed a particular ‘modern’ and ‘Western’ fashion system, ‘fashion’ per se is much broader than it, a point that must be recognised if we are to understand in better and genuinely less Eurocentric ways how dress practices work in different parts of the world, both now and in the past.

Official Website: http://convegni.unicatt.it/meetings_5303.html
Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: Globalization, Fashion systems
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: 18 June 2015
Event Location: Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy
Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2015 16:22
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2015 16:22
Item ID: 7672
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/7672

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