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Accessorizing the BodyHabits of Being I$

Cristina Giorcelli and Paula Rabinowitz

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780816675784

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816675784.001.0001

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In Closing/Close Clothing

In Closing/Close Clothing

(p.237) Conclusion In Closing/Close Clothing
Accessorizing the Body

Paula Rabinowitz

University of Minnesota Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter begins with examples of how shoes have entered the political theater. One incident occurred on December 14, 2008, when Muntader al-Zaidi, a twenty-eight-year-old Iraqi journalist attending then president George W. Bush’s “farewell” visit to Iraq, hurled first one then the other of his shoes at Bush, almost hitting his target both times. The chapter then summarizes the themes of the preceding chapters, many of which say that the body is no-body without its dressings; and so its presence as a political actor requires that the accessories of dress, close clothes, become the means through which the body speaks.

Keywords:   fashion, accessories, shoes, politics, body

On December 14, 2008, Muntader al-Zaidi, a twenty-eight-year-old Iraqi journalist in attendance at then president George W. Bush’s “farewell” visit to the nation he had invaded five years before, hurled first one then the other of his shoes—black leather oxfords, to be exact—almost hitting his target both times. In stocking feet, he was wrestled to the ground, arrested, and tortured, he claims, for the subsequent year of his imprisonment. His act, a direct refutation of the images broadcast at the war’s beginning of Iraqis brandishing their shoes against the downed statue of Saddam Hussein, spurred numerous “shoe demonstrations” since—including thousands of shoes left lying on the street before 10 Downing Street to protest Israel’s war in Gaza on January 3, 2009; a Mexican student setting fire to his shoe at a demonstration in front of the United States Embassy in Mexico City protesting Israel’s war on January 11, 2009 (this burning shoe packed a double wallop linking Muntader al-Zaidi’s act to Richard Reid, the “shoe-bomber”); and another student, Selcuk Ozbek of Anadolu University, flinging his shoe, a Nike sneaker this time, at Dominique Strauss-Kahn, director of the International Monetary Fund at a speech at Bilgi University in Turkey. In the meantime, the Turkish shoe company that claimed to have made Muntader al-Zaidi’s shoes saw a worldwide spike in its sales after his act.1 Thus consumer capitalism rides on the heels of political activism; visibility becomes (p.238) a marketing tool. This inevitability—from political act to marketing tool—has been at the heart of modern fashion.2

That shoes—at once the most fetishized and most useful of accessories, as I argue in my survey, “Barbara Stanwyck’s Anklet: The Other Shoe”—have entered political theater speaks to the essence of what many of the essays in this collection on “Accessorizing the Body” intimate: that the body is no-body without its dressings; and so its presence as a political actor requires that the accessories of dress, close clothes, become the means through which the body speaks. Manuela Fraire, in her meditation, “No Frills, No-Body, Nobody,” Cristina Giorcelli in “Wearing the Body over the Dress: Sonia Delaunay’s Fashionable Clothes,” and Paola Colaiacomo in “Fashion’s Model Bodies: A Genealogy” explain in various ways—through Lacanian analysis, art and literary history, and semiotics—how the model body/the modern body is a clothed body, an accessorized body. Without the adornment of cloth, leather, metal, string, plastic, and everything else draped over, wrapped around, hung upon, tied to, and on and on, the body, its presence is never fully legible. Being seen, the first of any political acts, requires attention to what is on the body—and what gets taken off it.

Sonia Delaunay’s patterned dresses, made as potential mass-marketed cutouts, suggest just how strange and ambivalent the modernist body and its accessories are: her bold appliqués, blazoning letters and poems, and iconic names make their way into the tragic and defiant efforts of Hungarian tailors to resist Nazism by decorating the horrible yellow stars. As Zsófia Bán makes clear in “The Yellow Star Accessorized: Ironic Discourse in Fatelessness by Imre Kertész,” this gesture, remarkably described, harks back to that urtale of American resistance, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a novel, as text/ile artist Maria Damon reminds us in her statement accompanying Terra Divisa/Terra Divina: (T/E/A/R), in which Hawthorne is reworking the story of his family’s own haunting history in the form of his ancestor Judge John Hathorne who presided over the Salem witch trials. Thus the working by hand over a mark of shame (Hester’s “A”) and murderous humiliation (the canary-yellow Star of David) becomes a means of transvaluation, as pride of workmanship and even beauty insist on an “appeal,” as Bán notes, for and of (p.239) the individual, whose decorated body, whose accessorized body, insists on being seen and being read.

Modernist clothing—as the essays in this first volume of Habits of Being show— differs from ideas of dress and its accessories from earlier periods. In the West, premodern clothing, of necessity in colder climates, thickly draped the body: think of the layers of sleeves and aprons and bodices Jan Vermeer carefully painted on his milkmaids and ladies, or the jewels hanging off Queen Elizabeth’s already heavily embroidered gowns and cloaks in her many portraits. As clothing minimized and simplified it remade the body itself, and with it its significance. The modernist attention to “model” bodies meant stripping clothes down to essentials—giving the illusion of a body in direct connection with its accessories, its close clothes, so much so that, as Micol Fontana notes in “The Cult of Femininity” and as Coco Chanel made famous, the sleek black dress adorned by a string of pearls or a well-placed button was all any elegant woman would need. A dress itself, as Sonia Delaunay’s creations make clear, was a special kind of accessory indicating freedom of expression and movement, a declaration that the body beneath was an essential aspect of its style. As Becky Peterson says of Laura Riding’s poem, “The Virgin” “wears her body like a garment.” If, as Martha Banta argues in “Coco, Zelda, Sara, Daisy, and Nicole: Accessories for New Ways of Being a Woman,” Chanel’s little black dress encoded an entire ethos of unspoken feminist sensibility, as the female body became a “sporting” body, one that was identified as the “American Flapper”—in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words, “both ‘beautiful’ and ‘damned’”—and epitomized by Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby, these “clean, hard, limited person[s]” were, as Banta astutely notes, perfect avatars for the ensuing commodity capitalism of the twentieth century. These women thought they were individuals, making up a new form of womanhood, but were in fact responding en masse to fashion’s call, even when they were making it up.

Jeffrey C. Stewart reminds us, however, that even slaves to fashion can intervene and redirect the meaning of fashion’s accessories. When he quotes Zora Neale Hurston who “‘set [her] hat at a reckless angle and walked out’” of a racist doctor’s office, Stewart explains she was using this “gesture” to claim her position of authority, despite being black, (p.240) female, and poor, in the face of Jim Crow. A rakish “Black Hattitude” challenged prevailing notions of African American inferiority and became one of the not-so-secret tactics of black defiance since at least the 1920s. Anyone could buy a hat, it was a democratic symbol—yes, class was marked by fabric, style, ornament, trimmings—but everyone put on a hat to go out in public; yet only a few could wear a hat, and wear it with a vengeance. This theme of sartorial rebellion is echoed, according to Bán, in the stylized Stars of David crafted by Hungarian Jewish tailors in response to Nazism. In “The Cinematic Jewel: Fetishizing the Goods,” Vito Zagarrio’s analysis of Giuseppe De Santis’s 1949 Riso amaro, the film that made Silvana Mangano into an international star—the Italian Rita Hayworth—he unpacks the multiple ways in which seemingly silly gestures, in this case pawing over a string of (fake) pearls, are precisely how class was expressed in postwar Italy as it recovered from Fascism and war. American popular culture and costume jewelry can be exchanged across geopolitical and economic borders, giving access—the root of the word accessory—to anyone who has the moxie and style to use these new modes for advancement. The results of dabbling in commodity fetishism might have ultimately been disastrous for the mondine working the rice fields; still these icons of plenitude beckon and allow momentary escape from the grind of daily labor. After all, Mangano’s “boogie-woogie” dance ushered in the hourglass figure of the 1950s; her ripped stockings augur Madonna’s 1980s punk-inspired wardrobe.

In her essay, “Enchanted Sandals: Italian Shoes and the Post–World War II International Scene,” Vittoria C. Caratozzolo explains how this international exchange between Italy and America, this time reversing the direction and moving from poverty to glamour, worked in the 1950s as she looks at the hidden meaning connecting Pompeii antiquities, Freud’s use of archaeology as a metaphor for psychoanalysis, the image of Gradiva and her sandals in Jensen’s story, and Diana Vreeland’s first pair of leather thong sandals bought in Italy just before the war. This story of cultural interfaces across epochs and continents describes the arc of social mobility connected to fashioning accessories in the immediate postwar years. Poor peasants from Italy pick up on American popular culture; fur-clad free-spirited Americans traipse around New York in their Italian cobbled (p.241) sandals. By this time, the Fontana sisters, always wearing their strings of real pearls, were styling American movie stars in beautifully crafted Italian handbags and fur collars, bringing touches of elegance into public view through their use of the rich and famous to model their designs, relying on publicity shots in magazines to widely circulate them. Vreeland’s description of how she got a New Jersey shoemaker to reproduce her worn-out Capri sandals, so she could walk the streets of New York with the same casual freedom as the transplanted peasant women newly arriving in Rome had, offers one version of “going native,” for a profit.

Peterson’s discussion of “Precious Objects: Laura Riding, Her Tiara, and the Petrarchan Muse,” examines the poems (Riding) Jackson wrote as she donned Spanish clothing and more intimately wore a handmade tiara inscribed with her name. Her acts of dressing and writing detail another form of rebellion: a poet’s going native, as she adorns herself with the trappings of her namesake the Petrarchan muse on the one hand, and walks around Mallorca dressed in Spanish mantillas on the other. Like the strands of a pearl necklace or the filigree of an anklet, this gold headpiece encoded her double desire—as poet and as muse. That she chose these residual symbols of tradition just before Franco’s war on the Spanish Republic belies the idea that this appropriating gesture might be a radical act. One feature of clothing and especially accessories during the twentieth century is its basic ambivalence. Traditional costume can be used as a form of resistance, as Raymond Williams notes; yet it can also bespeak a regressive desire to return to a mythical past free from the tensions and conflicts inhering in class confrontations and struggles for racial, sexual, and gender civil rights.3 It is precisely this complicated relationship between individual bodies and social movements that the commodity form and its exchange, so central to any experience of clothing—as a wearer, a (window)shopper, a thief, a collector, an editor, etc.—during the traumatic years of the first half of the twentieth century, made visible.

Laura Riding’s appropriation of symbols of social and spiritual transcendence through Spanish dress and regal jewelry, no matter how playful (as when she appears as a Spanish dueña), paradoxically echoed the attentions the Spanish clergy and the Falangists (p.242) paid to women’s attire. Seeking to celebrate pure “Spain” in the face of both French decadence (and its reemerging fashion industry) and American popular culture (with its Hollywood images of abundance) in the immediate postwar years, authorities in the Feminine Section of the Falange instituted a number of regulations to control women’s attire and to stress, on the one hand, a proper bourgeois mode of femininity, and on the other, a return to traditional Spanish regalia. They did this through church decrees, school dress codes, and, as Giuliana Di Febo explains in “Spanish Women’s Clothing during the Long Post–Civil War Period,” primarily through home economics texts and popular women’s magazines. Thus Spanish Fascist fashion consisted then of a curious combination of haute bourgeois decorum and wild gypsy-like peasant garb, at once restrained and modern, kitschy and retro.

Fascist interest in women’s dress took its cues from long-standing restrictions about women’s sexualized bodies promulgated by Catholic church doctrine; however, again, the modern body that had to be contained was a clothed one, one whose skirt lengths needed constant monitoring and whose sunbathing required full-length robes. This concept of the reconstruction of the body through regulated clothing had its most outlandish, and prescient, exploration in the various items of dress designed by Futurist artists such as Giacomo Balla in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Art historian Franca Zoccoli traces “Futurist Accessories” through the various extravagant experiments—in sound helmets and metal ties and aerodynamic vests, among others— that resulted from the various manifestos Futurists pronounced on (men’s) clothing. Unlike the Fascist repressive emphasis on controlling the female body or the murderous Nazi obsession with marking the Jewish body, Futurists, who celebrated militarism, airplanes, and machinery, saw clothing as a project for redeploying masculinity in the service of modern materials playfully refitted to new and absurd ends. Designing unwearable clothes and especially accessories called attention to the regimentation of everyday life through the “uniform” of the business suit and tie, implying that “free enterprise” was itself authoritarian.

What Mino Delle Site proposed with his metal tie—a kind of quotidian armor—has (p.243) hauntingly reappeared almost one hundred years later. Photographer Milagros de la Torre exhibited selections from her series of pictures of “protection clothing” at the International Center of Photography’s 2009 exhibition, Dress Codes. Her portraits of shirts, jackets, and vests, for men and women, which seem to be merely the everyday wear found on citizens of any European, American, or Latin American city, appear unremarkable, isolated as objects lacking much charm. But these are bulletproof clothes designed to be worn as a form of camouflage in the world’s dangerous streets. Miguel Caballero, known as the “Armani of Armored Clothing,” is doing a booming business among the wealthy elites of his native Columbia and in Mexico, where de la Torre photographed these items for her series Bulletproof, 2008; his business is expanding rapidly across the Middle East and Asia.4 Where the Futurists imagined (and occasionally actually sported) eye-catching designs of industrial materials as clothing in an effort to bring the modern machinery of war into everyday use, Caballero is molding lightweight Kevlar into nondescript jackets and everyday shirts (including the ubiquitous Guyaberas and Tshirts) as protection against current forms of urban class and gang warfare. What is essential is the invisibility of this accessory and its material—a radically antifashion, even antimodern, statement about clothing’s meaning: it does not reveal the body but sheathes it, to cloak its class distinctions, to preserve and protect it. The horrors of war turned inside, like lapels shielding against a cold wind.

From shoes, still carrying the sweat and odor of a man’s foot, to jackets lined with bulletproof material, contemporary warfare moves in on the modern body, making its clothing and especially its accessories emblems of conflict. Irving Penn, whose fashion photographs, especially of his wife, model Lisa Fonssagrives, set the standard for mid-twentieth-century glamour, published his first photograph for Vogue’s October 1943 cover in the midst of the horrors of World War II, with massive battlefronts covering the Pacific and Europe. The color image presents a thoroughly placid yet engrossing scene of accessories posed as a modern trompe l’oeil still life—belt coiled as a piece of fruit, handbag positioned as a basket, gloves and scarf draped across a table. In subdued browns and greens, it limns an antidote to the machinery of death, harking back to an (p.244) aristocratic world of rich leathers and smooth silk. Absenting the human body, it allegorizes the work of accessories—these having their origins in military attire—to carve the contours of modern appropriations and make the body visible as a war machine. It would appear at first glance a far cry from the stark renderings of isolated shirts and jackets displayed without any adornment in Milagros de la Torre’s photographs or the anarchy captured in the video of Muntader al-Zaidi’s notorious pitch; but the public movements and mobile bodies brought together through these seemingly mundane articles resituate these and other items of modernism’s accessories from the naked form to the social sphere. The cliché that clothes represent a second skin must be turned inside out, as the essays in this volume attest: close clothes are the skin, or more properly, skin accessorized—the (decorated and decoded) membrane maintaining both social and psychic cohesion as well as disintegration. Identities are constructed in the close clothes accessorizing the modern body.



(1.) Sebnem Arsu, “Another Shoe Flies, This Time in Istanbul at I.M.F. Director,” New York Times, national ed., October 2, 2009, A4; and Sebnem Arsu, “‘Bush Shoes’ Gives Firm a Footing in the Market,” New York Times, December 20, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/world/middleeast/21shoe.html. See also Stephen Farrell, “In Step with His Time: Muntader’s Legacy,” New York Times, February 9, 2009, http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/19/in-step-with-his-time-muntaders-legacy/; Eric Owles, “‘Shoedenfreude’ and Shame: Reactions from Around Iraq,” New York Times, “At War” blog, December 15, 2008, http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/15/iraqis-pick-up-their-shoes-reaction-from-around-the-country/; and Abeer Mohammed and Alissa J. Rubin, “To Make Female Hearts Flutter in Iraq: Throw a Shoe,” New York Times, March 13, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/14/world/middleeast/14iraq.html?scp=2&sq=&st=nyt.

(2.) Mohammed Hussein, “Shoe-Hurler Raises Up Iraqis Reputation Abroad,” New York Times, “At War” blog, December 25, 2008, http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/25/shoe-hurler-raises-up-iraqs-reputation-abroad/.

(3.) “A residual cultural element is usually at some distance from the effective dominant culture, but some part of it, some version of it—especially if the residue is from some major area of the past—will in most cases have had to be incorporated if the effective dominant culture is to make sense in these areas. Moreover, at certain points the dominant culture cannot allow too much residual experience and practice outside itself, at least without risk. It is in the incorporation of the actively residual—by reinterpretation, dilution, projection, discriminating inclusion and exclusion—that the work of the selective tradition is especially evident.” Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 123.

(4.) “Clothing with a Secret: Milagros de la Torre,” broadcast by Alex Gallafent for Public Radio International, The World, October 5, 2009, http://www.theworld.org/tag/milagros-de-la-torre/. See also the Web site of Miguel Caballero, “High Security Fashion,” http://www.miguelcaballero.com/cms/front_content.php. Roberta Smith, “Beyond a Simple Fashion Statement,” review of Dress Codes at the International Center of Photography, New York Times, national ed., October 9, 2009, C23, 25. (p.246)