Friday, December 15, 2017

Hoop Skirts and Equality

 From Racked:
In 2015, as part of a broader effort to excise Confederate symbology, the University of Georgia banned hoop skirts at official Greek functions. Administrators and Greek leaders couched their decision in vague, almost bureaucratic language. “We will continue to review costuming and themes for future events to ensure their appropriateness for our organizations,” wrote Ashley Merkel, president of UGA’s Panhellenic Council. Vice president for student affairs Victor Wilson bolstered her statement: “The discussion was about more than dress,” he wrote, “but about how you present yourself, and dress was part of that.”

Other proponents took a more vehement tone. “Remove the Southern belle from her inglorious perch,” urged Elizabeth Boyd, a University of Maryland American Studies professor. She continued, ““The Southern belle performances routinely staged on campuses across the South constitute choreography of exclusion.” It’s true: The hoop skirt has aged poorly. Its connotations 150 years post-heyday are antiquated at best, antagonistic at worst. From an inside view, though, this “choreography of exclusion” was anything but. Just the opposite, in fact: Its rebellion was quiet, subdued, and feminine, but a rebellion nonetheless. The skirts have lived long enough to become a villain of our racial imagination. To the women who wore them, they were heroic.

The hoop skirt lived many lives before reaching the antebellum South, known as the farthingale (to the Elizabethans) and the pannier (to French nobility circa 1718). The latter reached objectively absurd proportions in the later 18th century. If any garment can be considered choreographed exclusion, it’s the pannier. Handmade from whalebone or basket-willow and jutting several feet to each side, panniers embodied the conspicuous consumption of Louis XVI and his court. (Read more.)

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