American Studies | US Arts & Media: Sartorial Symbols in Late 20th-C America
A202 | 13242 | Carter-David

Wear It To “Work It” or Wear It To Work:
Sartorial Symbols in Late Twentieth-Century America

Summer I only

Instructor: Siobhan Carter-David

Required Materials
- Steele, Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now
- Sullivan, Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon
- Primary and secondary source documents on Oncourse or contained in
Internet links

Course Description
The purpose if this course is to explore the meaning of particular
popular American fashions as symbols of culture and identity. In this
course we will focus on the period between the counterculture and
social revolution of the 1960s and the end of the millennium, as this
era represented the “End of Fashion” - a relaxation of sartorial
norms that pervaded all aspects of American society.

As alluded to in the title, the course will consider sartorial
symbols from two perspectives. First, we will explore how notions of
what it means to “work” can be tied into labor exerted for a
paycheck, for a trim physique, and for activism, or at the very
least, the identification of being one who possesses social and
cultural awareness. Second, borrowing from late 20th-century fashion
lexicon, we will consider the idea of “working it” as linked to
dressing well for occasions or situations with motivations embodied
in ideas about glamour and for self-gratification. Whatever the
reasons people choose to wear certain fashions, the popularity of the
styles we will be studying can be tied into transformations in the
American social and cultural landscape.

We will examine alternative and sub-cultural fashions as well as that
which was considered mainstream. Additionally, we will give special
treatment to one American icon, the blue jean, as a sartorial symbol
that was adapted well to all of the modes and seasons of fashion. For
that reason, it will be studied as an omnipresent icon in every era
that we examine in the course.

Finally, this course is designed to help students learn how to make
inferences and read texts, artifacts, and visual media to create
their own interpretation; analyze and structure arguments; and view
issues and situations from varying and diverse perspectives.