American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Queer Sensibility as an Aesthetic of Inclusion: How Non-demographic Designers are Challenging Fashion Norms

Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Jolie A. Sheffer (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Clare L. Barratt (Other)

Third Advisor

Angela K. Ahlgren (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Sara Khorshidifard (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Timothy Messer-Kruse (Committee Member)

Abstract

This study examines non-demographic design as a contemporary alternative to traditional demographically designed clothes, as well as a socially oriented movement in fashion that claims to make fashion more inclusive and equitable. I investigate the possibility of non-demographic design to intervene in the cultural politics of identity by creating clothes that allow the wearer to adjust the garments to their body and self; and as such, to reduce or eliminate sexism, racism, and ableism in fashion. By conducting a visual analysis of designs and runway shows of the Los Angeles-based brands 69 and No Sesso, this dissertation investigates specific design characteristics and clothing production principles that L.A.-based non-demographic designers promote as a tool to challenge the marginalization of minoritized social identities within the mainstream fashion industry.

The analysis reveals how these designs expand and modify borders of cultural normativity in gender expression, allowing for greater subjectivity and changeability. I argue that the non-demographic designs’ method of creating gender-neutral clothing and promoting an aesthetic of queer sensibility for identity-construction when wearing such clothes releases the wearer from “disciplinary” constraints that society and fashion impose on them by identity-coded clothes (Foucault, 1979). Therefore, the study reveals that non-demographic designers strongly rely on gender in order to challenge gender norms and eventually eliminate the relevance of a gender category in fashion. Furthermore, by reducing gender markers in designs, these designers share an authority to define clothing’s demographic meaning with consumers, and by this, they delegate to consumers taste- and fashion-making tasks that are usually under the fashion industry’s regulation. Non-demographic designers make taste-making a cross-class, individually-based, and shared practice outside of the industry’s control. Accordingly, non-demographic design transforms fashion from being a vertical organizing system to becoming a shared space of designers and consumers’ collaboration, and acts as a liberating force from exclusionary standards of the fashion industry.

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