02 October 1983

Thoughts on ISP Topic: "The Role of Drag and Burlesque in Revolutionary Social Movements"

Drag and burlesque, similar to Carnival, becomes site where participants redefine themselves through subversive movement vocabularies and imaginative forms of embodiment and costume. As the performance, rather than the costumes themselves, are for performance value, the act of drag and burlesque become akin to the work of many couture houses. The performance becomes more important, with the garments only telling part of the story, considering the importance that gender-appropriation in movement, voice, and makeup and hair play in communicating the total vision.

The recent exhibition at the Museum of FIT, “The Queer History of Fashion,” further reinforces the ways in which fashion is very much about reinforcing gendered paradigms, even in contexts in which it claims to challenge these notions. The curator in the description of the exhibit asserts, “The exhibition will trace how the gay vernacular styles changed after Stonewall, becoming increasingly “butch.” Lesbian style also evolved, moving from the “butch-femme” paradigm toward an androgynous, anti-fashion look, which was, in turn, followed by various diversified styles that often referenced subcultures like punk.” (FIT). The fact that androgynous styles are considered anti-fashion further illuminates fashion’s role in reinforcing clearly gendered embodiment.

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