The Austin Chronicle

At the Intersection of Fashion and Justice

By Mikaila Rushing, February 2, 2018, 12:10pm, Qmmunity

Fashion’s importance to any individual varies. Some folks are meticulous in their dress, others content to grab a semi-clean shirt off the floor and call it a morning. Regardless of how much time one spends thinking about it, fashion is an important part of how we present and represent ourselves in the world.

“Fashion matters,” says Jonathan Square, a professor at Harvard University. “It’s very political. You know, we wake up every morning, and we choose something to wear, and that’s a political decision.”

Square and his collaborator Kimberly M. Jenkins, a visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute and Lecturer at Parsons School of Design, will be diving deep into this topic on Saturday, Feb. 3, at their Fashion and Justice Workshop. The pair was invited to Austin by IMMEDIATE Fashion School, which is co-presenting the daylong event with the Contemporary Austin.

The workshop aims to deconstruct and analyze how fashion can be used to either reinforce or fight inequality in our everyday lives. Jenkins tells "Gay Place," "It all comes down to how politics, psychology, race, gender – all of those intersections shape the way we fashion our identity.”

Of course, the LGBTQ community as a whole is no stranger to this theory. For decades, queers have used fashion to express their subversiveness – or sometimes to blend in. In both scenarios, however, clothing is used as a kind of modern armor. Square agrees, concluding “fashion is a disruption as well as protection for many queer people, especially queer people of color.” In his opinion, queer clothing tactics have become so effective he believes it’s helped the LGBTQ community “seep” into mainstream culture. He offers the success of RuPaul's Drag Race as an example. “People across the U.S. and the world have been able to witness the transformative power of drag and they, in turn, have been empowered by the queer aesthetics of the show."

Square has always had an interest in fashion. While working on his doctorate in history from New York University, he decided to combine interests and research the intersection of fashion and slavery in the African Diaspora. Jenkins, meanwhile, has been pursuing fashion theory since undergrad. It wasn’t until she studied at Parsons for her master’s degree that Jenkins not only found the scholarly work around fashion she had been looking for, but also a hole in research around the intersection of race and fashion. Ever since, Jenkins has been working to fill that gap herself.

As frequent collaborators that complement each other’s approach to the topic of inequality, marginalized identities, and fashion, Square and Jenkins decided to start the Fashion and Justice workshop. The first was held last July at Parsons in New York.

Square will be opening Saturday's workshop with a three-part series facilitating discussion and analysis of fashion and its history in marginalized communities. He says the day will be "hands-on." Attendees can expect some lecturing, but it’s mainly comprised of activities and discussions. "We really wanted it to be solution based," says Square. "We want participants to walk away with ideas [and] tools to fight inequality.”

Lyndon K. Gill, the assistant professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at UT-Austin, will be giving a guest lecture on the late fashion designer Patrick Kelley, bridging the two sections of the workshop, before Jenkins closes the day with discussions of fashion theory and fashion’s importance within marginalized communities. In her eyes, it's all about representation. "That’s the big word for me, the big idea,” says Jenkins. “Representation matters.”

“We want people to understand fashion as a tool and analytic for understanding the world, inequality, representation, and discrimination,” explains Square. "The workshop is about fashion, but fashion is just a stepping stone to talk about larger, more political issues.”

Fashion & Justice will take place Saturday, Feb. 3., at the Contemporary Austin, 10am-5:30pm. $30. Tickets are available online.

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