What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Explore : fashion

Identities

Why “Real Men” Wear Davy Crockett Caps

Even as White Frontiersmen Battled Native Americans, They Adopted Their Symbols of Masculinity

Theodore Roosevelt in deerskin hunting suit. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

By Jimmy L. Bryan Jr.
March 12, 2018

In recent years, fashion leaders have provoked criticism for incorporating Native American imagery in their designs. In 2011, Urban Outfitters introduced a line of Navajo-themed clothing and accessories that included the “Vintage Woolrich Navajo Jacket,” the “Ecote Navajo Wool Tote Bag,” and the “Navajo Hipster Panty.”

The Navajo Nation sued the company for copyright infringement of its name and, after a five-year court battle, the two sides settled. At a 2012 Victoria’s Secret fashion show in New York, model Karlie …

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Identities

When Burlap Underwear Was Fashionable

From the Mid-1800s Onward, an Ethic of Thrift and Ingenuity Was Woven Into American Clothing

Patterns were often classics that would not quickly be out of style and could accommodate different sizes. Image courtesy of the Commercial Pattern Archive.

By Joy Spanabel Emery
December 4, 2017

In 1928, when President Calvin Coolidge visited Chicago, the ladies of a Presbyterian church presented him with a set of pajamas made from flour sacks dyed lavender and finished with silk frogs and pearl buttons in appreciation of his program on economy and thrift.

It seems surprising now, but once the use of cloth feed bags for clothing and household items was a part of mainstream rural American culture—related to a long practice of utilizing all resources that is deeply …

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Ideas

How Fashion Overcame the Transatlantic Divide

Celebrities Erased National Differences in Women's Style, but American Men Still Refuse to Dress With British Sophistication

Crowe on fashion LEAD

By Lauren Goldstein Crowe
March 11, 2016

An American woman I know in London recently posted on Facebook about being grateful to be out of the country during the current presidential election. That prompted a feisty response about American exceptionalism from a friend of a friend in Texas: “Sorry, I refuse to buy into your anti American socialist/communist rhetoric. We ARE better than everybody else, by far… If you believe otherwise, you are delusional. The entire world DOES revolve around us, from our economy… to our culture, …

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Artifacts

When Human Hair Could Braid Two Hearts Together

Before Chocolates Reigned on Valentine’s Day, a Tuft of Your Beloved’s Tresses Was the Most Fashionable Sign of Affection

Digital image of original artifact.

By Helen Sheumaker
February 8, 2016

In 2016, Americans will spend more than $18 billion on Valentine’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation. We’ll show our love and affection by buying heart-shaped chocolate boxes, sparkling wine, flowers, cards, and jewelry. Nowhere on the list is hair.

Imagine getting a keepsake made of hair from someone’s head! It would seem morbid. But through the 1800s, Americans showed their feelings with hair. At home, hair was sewn into notebooks, put under glass in lockets, and sent through …

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Clemente Wisconsin girls WIMTBA

By Deirdre Clemente
August 7, 2015

I study one of the most profound cultural changes of the 20th century: the rise of casual dress. I study casual dress as it evolved on the beaches of Miami. I study casual dress as worn by the Black Panthers and by Princeton undergraduates. As a professor, I teach seminars on material culture and direct graduate students as they research and curate costume exhibitions, but my bread-and-butter as a scholar is the “why” and “when” our sartorial standards went from …

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