Passing: Fashion in American Cities

black and white picture of people walking on a street in New York i Jack Allison, New York, 1938, Library of Congress

The idea of ‘passing’ and the issues it raises in relation to contemporary and historical notions of self-fashioning and identities is of central importance in a period of political, social and cultural upheaval.  The notion of passing also speaks to current discrimination and civil rights issues, and this conference seeks to examine the ways dress has been used to ‘pass’, to negotiate, resist and refuse contemporary prejudice, discrimination and status and beauty ideals.  We aim to explore dress, the body and the idea of ‘becoming’ – in relation to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and class, with the city as a key locus for attempts to outwit social and cultural mores through the artful deployment of dress.

The conference seeks to highlight and interrogate this important aspect of urban self-fashioning to understand its place within dress practices and visual culture, and to develop analysis of its place within American social life.


09:30 Registration

10.00 Dr Rebecca Arnold, The Courtauld Institute of Art


Self-Fashioning/Becoming American

10.30-11.30 Chair: Dr Rebecca Arnold, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Horace D. Ballard, Williams College Museum of Art: ‘W.E.B. Du Bois: A Boston Revolutionary Passing as a European Dandy’

Grant Johnson, University of Southern California: ‘Né Lifshitz: Ralph Lauren’s America’

Kalina Yingnan Deng, Parsons School of Design: ‘DIY Citizenship: East Asian Immigrant Females’ Sartorial Methods for (Re)dressing Lady Liberty’

11.30-11.45 Discussion

11.45-12.15 Break

Literature & Film

12.15-1.15 Chair: Professor David Peters Corbett, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Olga Vainshtein, Russian State University for the Humanities: “We are expected to be pretty and well-dressed till we drop”: fashion and “passing” in the novels of Edith Wharton

Elizabeth Way, Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT): ‘Dressing to Pass During Harlem Renaissance: Fashion in the Novels of Nella Larsen and Jessie Redmon Fauset’

Ksenia Gusarova, Russian State University for the Humanities and the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Political Administration: ‘Blanche’s Trunk and the Fabric of Urban Decay in Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire’

1.15-1.30 Discussion

1.30-2.30 Lunch (provided for speakers only)

Models & Magazines

2.30- 3.15 Discussion chairs: Professor David Peters Corbett and Niall Billings, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Film & Discussion: Queens at Heart Trans Women in the 60s, Dir. Jenni Olson (1967)

3.15-4.00 Chair: Dr Jo Pawlik, University of Sussex

John-Michael O’Sullivan: ‘Imitation of Life: Passing and Panic on the American Newsstand’

Alice Morin, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3: ‘New York through Dress in 1980s Fashion Photography: Vogue and Interview’

4.00-4.15 Discussion

4.15-4.45 Break

Passing As…

4.45-5.30 Chair: Dr Jo Applin, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Dr Renate Stauss, American University Paris and University of the Arts Berlin: ‘Passing as Fashionable, Feminine and Sane: “Therapy of Fashion” and the Normalisation of Psychiatric Patients in 1960s US’

Dr Colbey Emmerson Reid, Columbia College Chicago & Virginia Heaven, Columbia College Chicago: “Bullet-Proof Textiles: Exploring the Fabric of Safety and Risk in Chicagoland”

5.30-5.45 Discussion


This event has passed.

5 May 2018

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London