The politics of fashion in American consumer culture

Heidi Khaled, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines how fashion becomes politicized—not just as a communicative medium, but also as an arena for political struggles taking place in global structural processes, sites of popular culture, and the going-ons of everyday life. The analysis of popular and interpersonal discourses explores how the hipster became a powerful trope through which much of these challenges against corporate culture were lodged. I argue we may understand the press' calls for the death of the hipster as a reflection of the intense disdain felt for an identity built on an uneasy relationship between class, consumerism, and cultural production. The most publicized political battles of recent years are often centered in specific apparel brands, media events and controversies that reflect an ongoing struggle between independent producers and corporations representing rebellious lifestyle brands. I explore how consumers interpret these events and consider the political, economic, social and cultural implications of their own identities as both consumers and producers. Popular ideas about dress, and in particular the hipster, diffuse into local discourses, influencing individual beliefs and behaviors and coloring interpersonal interactions. These discourses illustrate how subcultures use dress as a means to evaluate others' levels of creativity and genuine commitment to the subculture. Dress also comes to symbolize the massive structural transformations taking place in neighborhoods and cities, in particular processes of gentrification and commercialization. The local politics of Philadelphia's Northern Liberties places global apparel retailer Urban Outfitters in conversation with local cultural, commercial and political developments. Additionally, media coverage of the fashion industry affects apathy and non-involvement in the politics of fashion, as many consumers see themselves as relatively powerless in a massive system and often challenge or abstain from it in small but personally meaningful ways. The role of media and media ownership are crucial in the struggles taking place against and through the fashion industry. Ultimately at stake in much of fashion's politics are issues of cultural production and innovation, for both consumers as well as the brands themselves.

Subject Area

American studies|Cultural anthropology|Communication

Recommended Citation

Khaled, Heidi, "The politics of fashion in American consumer culture" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3542820.