The World in Dress: Anthropological Perspectives on Clothing, Fashion and Culture

Hansen, Karen Tranberg. 2004. “The World in Dress: Anthropological Perspectives on Clothing, Fashion, and Culture.” Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol.33, pp.369-392.

Daniel Varela

Independent Reading Notes

“The World in Dress: Anthropological Perspectives on Clothing, Fashion and Culture”


  • Scholars examine the significance of dress in the context of the entire economic circuit and the unequal relationships between its actors.
  • Fashion research=becoming scientifically popular. There are even museum exhibitions where fashion is displayed as art.
  • Because of theoretical paradigms, the study of fashion has been neglected and considered superficial.
  • Fashion study started to become popular in the 1980’s.
  • Fashion is importantly connected to consumption: not only in the economic market but also in the construction of cultural identity.
  • Clothing research is not a separate anthropological field, its part of other anthropological studies.
  • Strive for power influences the dress and its presentation.
  • Influential change not only includes westernization and colonialism, but also globalization.
  • Term “dress” is neutral. There is a misconception with the definitions of “clothing, costume, dress, garment, apparel and fashion.”
  • The trivial attitude of consumers devalues the importance of dress as cultural/economic importance.
  • The westernization of fashion and commercial manufacturing has caused non-western countries dress to be “traditional”; antiquating a common identity.
  • Dress touches the body and is an outward presentation-reason for anthropological approach.
  • Subjective and social experiences of dress do not always combine well.
  • People care a lot about their perception to others, influencing dress decisions.
  • Clothes are an important consumption good.


Latin America

  • Mesoamerica and the Andes are the top dawg regions of research.
  • They’ve examined the changing dynamics of indigenous dress
  • De pollera is an identifier for the Indigenous community; cholo is an urban Indian and de vestido is an Indian in white/mestizo dress.
  • Traje is tradition Mayan dress. The community uses trajes for tourism advantages and parades.
  • “New Traditional” is carefully chosen characteristics of the traditional culture and become a mainstream connection. Example= Bordados from Peru- garments with brightly colored embroidery.
  • Cholo pacenos=migrant Aymara servants who are in house workers in elite neighborhoods.


  • Scholarship on African dress is based on the transformation of cloth/clothing. Also the effects of colonization, modernity and globalization on dress and identity.
  • Local practices have changed in complex ways in interaction with Islam and Christianity.
  • Africa presents two broad dress cultures= 1. cloth draping 2. tailored western style.
  • Nigeria=young women dress in black cloth at marriage, hunters wear black and white striped shirts and chiefs wear red masquerade cloth with intricate patterns. White cloth is related to spirituality.
  • Buna cloths outlive their owners and are handed down.
  • Technologies of cloth production are determined by several types of cloth, conversion to Islam on the cloth trade, British colonialism and factory produced yarn.
  • Missionary conversion in Botswana and South Africa reformed regular nudity and hygiene regimes.
  • Dress effects=class, gender, and generation.
  • The idea of national dress is different pre/post independence.
  • La sape is French slang for elegant and fashionable clothing
  • Spirits of the Bori cult choose their mediums based on their dress.
  • Artisan production is in danger because of a global economy dependent on mass production.

South Asia

  • India dress is influenced by colonization and imperialism/nationalism.
  • The dress icon is a sari=a draped garment for women.
  • Shalwar kamiz is the representation of regional/national and international Indian dress.
  • In 1920’s Ghandi promoted the use of homemade cloth to restore spirituality. It was not successful for the Indian elite and village women.
  • Ethnic fashion revived in the boutiques.

East and Southeast Asia

  • Dress changes because of political/socioeconomic transformation into western standards, and military dominance and globalization processes.
  • Dress icons= sarong in Indonesia, qipao in China, ao dai in Vietnam and kimono in Japan.
  • Indonesian dress is a product of changing relationship between indigenous, Muslim and western influences.
  • The kimono and western style are in competition with each other because the kimono also represents work wear/fashion item and art form.
  • The Japanese usually wear kimonos for special occasions because they regular wear western dress.
  • China combined the dress elements of many national ethnic groups and western styles with a focus on gipao fashion; which is an emerging fashion.
  • China’s dress evolution is influenced by the Cultural Revolution because certain styles were outlawed and replaced with a mandated style.
  • The ao dai in Vietnam is considered the national costume.
  • Japan has become a key player in the global industry of high fashion, both in Europe and East Asia.
  • In response to uniforms, Japanese youth fashion themselves with cute things to counteract expectations.



  • Missionaries were happy about religious conversions because it was an adoption of new morals for mind and body.
  • The missionary inspired Mother Hubbard dress is the national dress and associated with the definition of proper womanhood.
  • Dress has a cultural and ritual significance and has standards for gender and status/rank.

The Veil

  • Burdened with cultural significance against women in the Islamic societies.
  • Some references to the veil: hijab, chador, burqah and bui-bui. And because of its visibility it’s become a Muslim identity.
  • Politics and religion heavily influence on women’s dress.
  • In Turkey, blue headscarves and long coats were association with the Islamic political party. Turning Testettur into political chic.
  • Hijab in Egypt became a symbol for Islamic activism
  • For some Islamic societies, the adoption of “veiling” is symbolized as presenting strong womanhood and challenging societal norms towards gender and class.

Beauty Pageants

  • Representation, gender construction, performance and politics.
  • The winning queens in Liberia represent different tribes, which then causes political conflict in the body of the queen.
  • In Belize beauty queens were spokeswoman for the new political reform.
  • In British Virgin Islands, Mr. Personality and Ms. Glamour challenge stereotypical gender norms; the women are in business wear and do sports while the men express talent and wear a bathing suit.
  • Miss Galaxy beauty contest is on Tonga Island; demonstrating beauty, glamour, flamboyancy and creativity.
  • The contest removes itself from a local connection because of its challenge against gender norms, but it’s still local because of its physical location.
  • Miss Germany and Miss Canada are transgender beauty queens that challenge gender norms of the pageant business.

Secondhand Clothing

  • Thrift stores are created for a niche market in the West, but in third world, second hand clothing is an important source of clothing.
  • The retro style is popular amongst youth style.
  • Growth of the secondhand clothing market in Zambia is representation of economic decline.
  • India prohibits the import of secondhand clothing.
  • India receives mutilated fabrics that are manipulated to produce other goods. They also depend on their own national second-hand resources.

Production Issues

  • Export/Import/Production of dress defines the difference between global north and south.

The World in Dress

  • Latin America focuses on indigenous dress and its transformations
  • African dress stresses the significance of dressing well and style dynamics in contemporary clothing.
  • South Asia examines the changing cultural importance of the sari and its interaction with other dress styles.
  • East and Southeast Asia explore the influence of local fashion and the export/important of Asian Chic.
  • Ethnic dress is dynamic and always changing
  • The continuous shift in dress is associated with economic/political shifts.
This entry was posted in Annual Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The World in Dress: Anthropological Perspectives on Clothing, Fashion and Culture

  1. Pingback: Symbolic culture clash at the end of empire - A Prosperous Way Down

  2. Múhammad Nuhu Babswuro says:

    Good site keepit update.

  3. It seems like u truly understand a great deal pertaining to
    this issue and it all exhibits via this amazing blog post,
    named “The World in Dress: Anthropological Perspectives on Clothing,
    Fashion and Culture | Of Foxes and Hedgehogs”.
    Many thanks -Guy

Comments are closed.