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Uniformities of fashion: A critical reading of women’s clothing in altermodern China

Uniformities of fashion: A critical reading of women’s clothing in altermodern China
Uniformities of fashion: A critical reading of women’s clothing in altermodern China
This thesis examines key features and particularities of women’s fashion, specifically the cheongsam, which is frequently taken as representative clothing in present-day China. In locating fashion within the contemporary cultural and political context, i.e. understanding the sartorial as situating a set of visible codes and structures of meaning, the thesis characterizes various complexities of Chinese female identity, as well as broader social, economic and political complexities, the significance of the Chinese fashion market in the global economy is analyzed, demonstrating how global brands and styles heavily influence Chinese consumer trends, and yet, equally, how the Chinese fashion system is itself formed of its own internal logics and emergent trends. Adopting the theoretical term ‘altermodern’, China is positioned in terms of its rapid modernization, which presents its own rhythms and logics that cannot be wholly understood in terms of a Western discourse of modernity, postmodernity and the global. As part of its analytical method, the thesis makes reference to Roland Barthes’ The Fashion System. While this work is now arguably out of date, its underlying thesis of fashion as a ‘system of signification’ retains pertinence, and crucially, in this thesis is updated in two important ways. Firstly, in outlining the contemporary, altermodern context of China, the notion of a fashion ‘system’ is greatly expanded, here taking on board new trends in global trade, new technologies (with social media presenting whole new systems of signification and exchange), and the hybridity of designs and consumption of fashion. Secondly, in looking to Barthes’ later work, and in particular his interest in the ‘Neutral’, a key argument of this thesis is of a certain ‘neutrality’ of fashion. This is by no means to suggest of anything banal or insipid. Barthes’ interest in the Neutral radically expands his understanding of signification, breaking away from binary oppositions to instead pay attention to more fluid gradients or intensities of difference and exchange. Notably, he is also heavily influenced by Asian philosophies, including a keen interest in Taoism, which provides an important bridge for this thesis in taking on a specific Chinese perspective. While accepting much of the arguments that show how global-local contexts lead to identifiably postmodern and hybrid aesthetics, this thesis also makes a specific argument that for women in contemporary China the flux and mix of available clothing and designs is experienced in a neutral manner. In other words, rather than position new production and consumption trends in China only in terms of ‘hybridity’ (which leans towards a Western bias and a binary logic of host-recipient), there are more fluid ways in which we need to understand how women engage in fashion in China today. As a key ‘figure’ running through this study is a complex notion of ‘uniform’. A literal uniform, the Mao suit, is examined, and shown to represent a specific ‘dream’ of social freedom. This is set in contrast to the Cheongsam (banned under Mao’s leadership), which has gone through multiple evolutions. As a cultural device it represents a rich set of connections, linked to a new, modern China, which offers a more complex ‘dream’ of both a collective and individualized freedom. The cheongsam is the central example of the thesis. It is shown to be infused within the dominant, largely homogenized fashions of globalization, characterized here as a kind of ‘uni-form’ (i.e. the univeralisation of trending styles). Yet, equally, the ‘fluidity’ of the cheongsam, being both flexible and distinctive, presents its own fashion system of more subtle gradients. It is presented, then, in this thesis as both a highly visible example of contemporary, hybridized fashion in China, and as a tool for understanding the more general, everyday ‘neutralities’ of how women – in choosing what to wear - articulate new identities in contemporary China.
University of Southampton
Feng, Jie
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Feng, Jie
04452f3e-c817-4657-a717-f535e1378d73
Turney, Joanne
7693d7d8-fa70-42ef-bd6e-a7fd02d272ab
Bishop, Ryan
a4f07e31-14a0-44c4-a599-5ed96567a2e1

Feng, Jie (2019) Uniformities of fashion: A critical reading of women’s clothing in altermodern China. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 223pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

This thesis examines key features and particularities of women’s fashion, specifically the cheongsam, which is frequently taken as representative clothing in present-day China. In locating fashion within the contemporary cultural and political context, i.e. understanding the sartorial as situating a set of visible codes and structures of meaning, the thesis characterizes various complexities of Chinese female identity, as well as broader social, economic and political complexities, the significance of the Chinese fashion market in the global economy is analyzed, demonstrating how global brands and styles heavily influence Chinese consumer trends, and yet, equally, how the Chinese fashion system is itself formed of its own internal logics and emergent trends. Adopting the theoretical term ‘altermodern’, China is positioned in terms of its rapid modernization, which presents its own rhythms and logics that cannot be wholly understood in terms of a Western discourse of modernity, postmodernity and the global. As part of its analytical method, the thesis makes reference to Roland Barthes’ The Fashion System. While this work is now arguably out of date, its underlying thesis of fashion as a ‘system of signification’ retains pertinence, and crucially, in this thesis is updated in two important ways. Firstly, in outlining the contemporary, altermodern context of China, the notion of a fashion ‘system’ is greatly expanded, here taking on board new trends in global trade, new technologies (with social media presenting whole new systems of signification and exchange), and the hybridity of designs and consumption of fashion. Secondly, in looking to Barthes’ later work, and in particular his interest in the ‘Neutral’, a key argument of this thesis is of a certain ‘neutrality’ of fashion. This is by no means to suggest of anything banal or insipid. Barthes’ interest in the Neutral radically expands his understanding of signification, breaking away from binary oppositions to instead pay attention to more fluid gradients or intensities of difference and exchange. Notably, he is also heavily influenced by Asian philosophies, including a keen interest in Taoism, which provides an important bridge for this thesis in taking on a specific Chinese perspective. While accepting much of the arguments that show how global-local contexts lead to identifiably postmodern and hybrid aesthetics, this thesis also makes a specific argument that for women in contemporary China the flux and mix of available clothing and designs is experienced in a neutral manner. In other words, rather than position new production and consumption trends in China only in terms of ‘hybridity’ (which leans towards a Western bias and a binary logic of host-recipient), there are more fluid ways in which we need to understand how women engage in fashion in China today. As a key ‘figure’ running through this study is a complex notion of ‘uniform’. A literal uniform, the Mao suit, is examined, and shown to represent a specific ‘dream’ of social freedom. This is set in contrast to the Cheongsam (banned under Mao’s leadership), which has gone through multiple evolutions. As a cultural device it represents a rich set of connections, linked to a new, modern China, which offers a more complex ‘dream’ of both a collective and individualized freedom. The cheongsam is the central example of the thesis. It is shown to be infused within the dominant, largely homogenized fashions of globalization, characterized here as a kind of ‘uni-form’ (i.e. the univeralisation of trending styles). Yet, equally, the ‘fluidity’ of the cheongsam, being both flexible and distinctive, presents its own fashion system of more subtle gradients. It is presented, then, in this thesis as both a highly visible example of contemporary, hybridized fashion in China, and as a tool for understanding the more general, everyday ‘neutralities’ of how women – in choosing what to wear - articulate new identities in contemporary China.

Text
thesis final -Feng Jie - Version of Record
Available under License University of Southampton Thesis Licence.
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Published date: January 2019

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 433194
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/433194
PURE UUID: d82487bf-127c-4231-8df9-805ac65b7b97

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 09 Aug 2019 16:30
Last modified: 09 Aug 2019 16:30

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Contributors

Author: Jie Feng
Thesis advisor: Joanne Turney
Thesis advisor: Ryan Bishop

University divisions

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