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Research one person’s dress practices in an ethnographic way, becoming as intimately acquainted with their clothing and style as possible in order to tell the story of their identity.

This assignment allows you to research one person’s dress practices in an ethnographic way, becoming as intimately acquainted with their clothing and style as possible in order to tell the story of their identity.


Choose one individual to be the subject of your sartorial biography. This person can be anyone from a stranger to a close friend or family member. Importantly, they must differ from you in at least one significant way (i.e. age, gender identity, size, ethnicity, etc.). Your task is to use their wardrobe as the key to the narrative of their life, or a portion of it.

You should, as much as possible, keep in mind themes from the course in connecting the dress practices of this individual with their life story. Please use course readings and outside research to do so.


In choosing your subject, think about what this research entails: spending a fair amount of time with them, preferably including some time where they live, and discussing their clothes. Ideally you would be able to interview them in their bedroom or closet.

You are an ethnographer, a sartorial detective, and it is your job to allow your subject to speak truthfully about their relationship to clothes without trying to guide their answers to suit your hypothesis. Still, be sure to approach any interview session with a list of thoughtful questions before seeing where the interview takes you.

Ask your subject to show you their clothes, photos of themselves, etc. to support their answers to your questions. Include these photos, and any you take of their clothes during interviews, to the degree that your subject is comfortable with you doing so. At least one photo of the subject is mandatory, so be sure to clear that with them before you begin.

Here are some possible lines of questioning that could relate their stories back to course content:

Do you consider yourself belonging to any particular subculture? If yes, what role does dress play in this community? Have you adapted your style to feel more at home in this group?

Do you dress differently in New York than other places you may visit frequently or have lived before? Can you describe your style prior to coming here? Do you dress differently for different neighborhoods of the city?

How much do you think about money when you buy clothing? Do you feel that your economic status has an effect upon how you dress?

Do you keep clothing for a long time before discarding it? Do you have particular memories associated with any of your clothing? Do you have things sitting in the back of the closet that you can’t bear to throw out, although you never wear them? Are there particular people you think of when you wear certain things?

Do you like to dress in a gender-normative way, or do you prefer to play with gender in your dress? Do you see a connection between this gender expression and your gender identity?

Further Reading on Methodology:

Tarlo, Emma. “Islamic Cosmopolitanism: The Sartorial Biographies of Three Muslim Women in London.” Fashion Theory, v. 11, no. 2/3 (2007): 143-172. Available on Canvas under Files -> Assignments

Women in Clothes (a book of dress surveys – has some useful examples of questions and the website has the survey available in full)

5 sources and maximum 3 online.

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