208 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 25 halftones, notes, bibl., index
Gender and American Culture
How College Students Redefined American Style
As Deirdre Clemente shows in this lively history of fashion on American college campuses, whether it's jeans and sneakers or khakis with a polo shirt, chances are college kids made it cool. The modern casual American wardrobe, Clemente argues, was born in the classrooms, dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and gyms of universities and colleges across the country. As young people gained increasing social and cultural clout during the early twentieth century, their tastes transformed mainstream fashion from collared and corseted to comfortable. From east coast to west and from the Ivy League to historically black colleges and universities, changing styles reflected new ways of defining the value of personal appearance, and, by extension, new possibilities for creating one's identity.
The pace of change in fashion options, however, was hardly equal. Race, class, and gender shaped the adoption of casual style, and young women faced particular backlash both from older generations and from their male peers. Nevertheless, as coeds fought dress codes and stereotypes, they joined men in pushing new styles beyond the campus, into dance halls, theaters, homes, and workplaces. Thanks to these shifts, today's casual style provides a middle ground for people of all backgrounds, redefining the meaning of appearance in American culture.
“Dress Casual explores issues surrounding race, gender and class, with Clemente arguing that once higher education became more open to those other than white elites, college administrators had to shift their attitudes about which clothing was considered appropriate.”
--Inside Higher Ed
“This engaging and highly readable cultural history is highly recommended for readers interested in the development of clothing or in early 20th-century college life.”
“The book’s thesis is convincing and enlivened by well-chosen illustrations and delightful quotes from students themselves. . . . Highly recommended.”
"A wonderful, informative, and engaging contribution to our understanding of so many aspects of twentieth-century America, the histories of gender, higher education, fashion, and entrepreneurship prominently among them."
--Daniel Horowitz, Smith College
"A thoroughly researched and often vibrantly written book. By highlighting the agency of collegians themselves and their influence on both college administrators and arbiters of the fashion industry, Clemente offers an original take on the history of clothing and consumerism that both builds upon and challenges existing scholarship."
--Lori Rotskoff, co-editor of When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children’s Classic and the Difference It Made
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