eBay Reader Abstract
Here’s the latest version of the abstract of the short little chapter I’m writing for the eBay Reader. I just received a compendium of everyone’s chapter abstracts, which I’m really excited about. I’m really excited about the whole thing again. I like the editors – they made some very usable suggestions for my first abstract, and they put up with me totally not realizing the first deadline (for the revised abstract below) was over a week ago. This I felt bad about – but with everything else going on, I pretty much didn’t notice it.
I haven’t read all of the compendium yet and I imagine I’ll go through the oh-how-exciting followed by the I-can’t-possibly-write-anything-that-good phases, hopefully closely followed by the phase wherein I write my whole chapter and it gets published. It’ll change a bunch still, and the title isn’t the final one I think – for one thing, it doesn’t include the word ‘eBay’. What can I say, I didn’t quite feel like it. Besides, the book’s title will have the word ‘eBay’ in it.
“Playing Dress-Up: Found Embodiments of the Past”
(Abstract)This chapter explores how my passion for vintage clothing – clothing I wear in everyday life-allowed my research to move towards exploring constructions of gender identity in a way that subverts traditional dichotomies of body-mind, private and public, imaginary and factual, virtual and actual. I discuss how vintage clothing purchased on eBay nearly always bears physical traces of past lives: a small thinned-out spot in the fabric caused by frequently repeated movements, faint sweat stains in the lining, a note left in a pocket. Such traces work to dissolve the distance between the past as an imagined/narrated story and a lived experience.
The act of allowing my research into my daily life by wearing clothing I use in my research works to dissolve another unproductive dichotomy: that a researcher’s thought-life is distinct from her/his lived and felt experiences. My research examines representations of female identity in Hollywoow movies and popular culture in the 1930s. Movie directors carefully choreograph characters’ movements on the set, overlaying on-screen motion with physical markers of the characters’ movement in society and culture. Significant among these markers is costuming, as clothing traces and defines the body’s motion in both physical and social spaces. Since 1930s fashion marketing was extremely closely tied to Hollywood costuming, I began to explore how women’s fashions in that era reflected changes in socio-cultural perceptions of femininity: how these fashions marked a significant shift in the way bodies/selves were perceived to exist in public spaces – which, in turn, reflected changes in how female identity was defined in relation to socio-cultural contexts. Being able to put on these pieces of clothing and experience moving in them led me to think about how clothing acts as both a screen to hide behind and a set of constraints that structures not only one’s movements but one’s social/public representation of oneself. I theorize that the range of motion allowed by the clothing we wear is closely tied to the range of freedom society grants us to determine our own path within it.
Wearing clothing I purchased on eBay allowed me to develop the theory that is now at the heart of my dissertation: that women encountered themselves in the motion of the actresses on the screen, actresses wearing clothing similar to their own, in a way that broke down the barrier between their imaginary and experiential lives. At the same time, these film costumes marked out a layer of social commentary in filmic narrative, which, in turn, provided movie-going women (the primary audience of movies in the 1930s) with a subversive fantasy of rebellion against the constraints of the society in which they lived.