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1 The Political Symbolism of Dress

Politics of dress and the Economic Freedom Fighters | DispatchLIVE

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Portraits: Siphokazi Mathe - The politics of dress

MINA ROCES is a Phd graduate from the University of Michigan. She teaches at the University of New South Wales, School of History in Sydney. Born in the Philippines, Mina completed high school in Manila, then migrated to Australia with her family because of martial law. Her books include (Westport Connecticut: Praeger, 1998, Metro-Manila: Anvil Publishing, 2000), and (Manila: De La Salle University Press, 2001). In addition, she has co-edited three anthologies. Her research interests include gender and power in 20th century Philippines, a current big research project on second wave feminisms, spectacles and dress, the politics of dress in the Philippines, and Filipino migrants in Australia and transnational feminisms.

'Women, Citizenship and the Politics of Dress in Twentieth-Century Philippines' was first published in NIASnytt-Asia Insights, No. 1, 2004, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen. It is reprinted here with the permission of the publishers and the author. The whole text of the journal can be downloaded at

The Political Consequences of Dress

  • Deborah Smith Pollard, Ph.D.

    August 28, 2012 at 11:41 am

    What a great article! I’m currently professor of English literature as well as part of the team working on “The Will to Adorn,” a multi-faceted project by the Smithsonian, so the politics of dress are always on my mind as I get ready for work and as I interview others in the African American community about how they dress. While I’m not a hip hop generation professor, my students also comment on my boots, my Sisterlocks, eyeglasses, nail polish and clothes. I try to model for my students of all ethnic backgrounds what a “grown,” pulled-together, African-centered professional looks like in the academy even as I work their fannies off in their assignments!

    • Tanisha

      August 28, 2012 at 4:15 pm

      I would love to hear more about you and your work with the Smithsonian.

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    Gendered Strategies for Negotiating Power The struggle for full citizenship was expressed in sartorial code as clothing was used as a strategy by the disenfranchised to negotiate for space in the body politic and by a powerful woman who claimed to represent the 'nation'. The politics of dress expressed in terms of a Filipino dress/Western dress binary had gendered implications and complex gendered strategies for negotiating power. Since national dress is also constantly being reinvented, politicians, both male and female, have sought to reinterpret national dress based on their agendas. Precisely because dress expresses a multitude of codes, the battle over 'national dress' becomes more than a struggle to alter appearances.

    This book examines how the politics of dress has been incorporated in constructions of nationhood in both Asia and the Americas, and reveals how politicians and political regimes (including tribal, revolutionary, authoritarian, colonial, and democratic) manipulate sumptuary practices in order to create national identities, to legitimise hierarchies of power or to build personal political identities. In tackling these broad themes over two centuries, the editors and contributors grapple with gender politics; in particular, how men and women’s dress reflect their political and economic position in the nation-states.

    This collection of pioneering essays – the first volume in the Sussex Library of Asian Studies – explores the transnational nature of dress in a host of different locations and shows how changing dress codes have long been conversations between cultures. It brings the politics of dress into contemporary times and engages directly with the topical issues of dress legislation in the twenty-first century. Country case studies include: China, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Native America, Latin America and Argentina.