DRESSED — Freeing The Body: The Birth Of Modern Dress | How Stuff Works Podcast (Transcript)

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DRESSEDÔøΩ Freeing The Body: The Birth Of Modern Dress | How Stuff Works Podcast (Transcript)
Length: 35 mins

ÔøΩ Cassidy Zachary
ÔøΩ April Calahan

AC: With over 7 billion people in the world, we all have one thing in common. Everyday, we all get dressed.

CZ: Welcome to Dressed: the History of Fashion. A podcast where we explore the who, what, when of why we wear. We're fashion historians and your hosts, April Calahan and Cassidy Zachary.

CZ: We'll start today's episode with the discussion about an exhibition April and I both recently saw at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City entitled Items Is Fashion Modern. The exhibit, which closed in January of this year, was only the second ever clothing related exhibition in the museum's 88 year history.

AC: The exhibition used 111 items of familiar clothing and accessories to explore the importance and cultural impact of apparel during the 20th and 21st centuries. Cass and I agree that this was a thought provoking exhibition but we did walk away with a bit of a shared reflection; and that was that despite its title, nowhere in the exhibition did it explicitly define fashion or address the incredibly rich and fascinating time period in which dress became modern.

CZ: So in this week's episode, we offer a parallel dialogue to the MOMA's exhibition. Instead of asking,  "Is fashion modern?", April and I bring you an episode entitled: Freeing the Body, the Birth of Modern Dress.

CZ: However, before we can move forward, there are a few important definitions we feel like we need to agree upon for the sake of this episode. For instance, what is the difference between fashion and dress? And what does the term modern really mean? On the surface, defining these words may seem like a fairly simple task but when examined up close they actually reveal themselves to be incredibly complex concepts.

CZ: Take the words fashion and dress for instance. These are two words that are often used interchangeably today. They're actually quite different in their meaning, right April?

AC: They are. And something really funny happened when I was visiting the exhibition. [Laughs]. And it illustrates that point that you're making, which is what are the particular items in this show, was this 1980s polo flea sweatshirt? And I was standing near it when there was a young boy kind of wandered up, he was probably like 7 or 8, and he stopped and to the woman that was standing next to me, he pointed to the sweatshirt and he said,  "Mom, I don't think this is fashion." [Laughs]. And I about fainted in delight. I think I texted you, actually.

CZ: Yeah, you did.

AC: Instinctually, he had grasped the fact that not all garments inherently belong to this category called fashion.

CZ: Right, and his reaction also is interesting because it demonstrates a defining element of fashion which is change. That Two-Tone purple sweatshirt was fashionable in the 1980s. It's just not fashionable today. Wasn't it Shakespeare who said,  "Fashion wears out more apparel than the man."

AC: Yeah. Gotta love the Bard. And it's this constant desire for change to replace still useful objects with others perceived to be more in line with the current mode. This is at the core of fashion. It's really a complex system that can apply itself to lots of other aspects of the world around us besides clothing, this can include the colors of our home interiors, the model of the phone that you're carrying right now, even the types of food that we eat. We assemble our identities through our association with these things. So clothing is only one aspect of the fashion system but one could argue that it's the most closely linked to our identities because of the intimate nature and intimate proximity to our bodies. So this brings us to a point. If a piece of clothing falls outside of this temporary realm of desirability, we can put it under the umbrella term of dress, meaning things that we wear. However, not all the things that we wear are fashion.

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