The Wisconsin Union Directorate hosted Muslim-Iranian researcher Hoda Katebi Tuesday evening.
From fashion faux pas to political statements, fashion has been used to define genders and defy political regimes, Katebi said. She looks to fashion to express the complex state of Iran.
Katebi is the author of Tehran Streetstyle, a print documentation of illegal fashion in Iran.
“Everybody partakes in this form of art and expression and it’s important to remember that everyone participates in some way,” Katebi said.
Fashion is very powerful — not just in a political sense but also in a historical sense, Katebi said. Since fashion is a female dominated industry, it is consistently looked at as shallow and silly, when in reality it is a way to express political and intellectual views.
The use of sweatshops for the production of many clothing lines and the complicated pasts of clothing items — like the wearing of t-shirts and jeans by civil rights activists as a way to protest the custom of men wearing suits in public spaces —give historical context to the pieces themselves, Katebi said.
“We don’t have many documents about women’s place in history, so fashion is a way look back and see how women have been involved politically,” Katebi said.
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For years, Americans have seen the hijab as a symbol of something that needs to be saved, and has become the key single factor that is related to Islam, Katebi said.
The hijab itself has been used as a tool to de-feminize women and also as a way to push back against political regimes.
“No fashion can ever be apolitical,” Katebi said. “Where your fashion comes from, questioning how they were made, and being more conscious on how we present our bodies in public spaces have a political context.”