Clothing and Fashion in Southern History

February 22 – 23, 2016

Federal Art Project, WPA. 1937
Federal Art Project, WPA. 1937

The Center will host a symposium on Clothing and Fashion in Southern History on February 22 – 23. The symposium will convene scholars from the fields of history and cultural studies who will contribute essays to a forthcoming book on the subject. The scholars include Laura Edwards (Duke University), Grace Elizabeth Hale (University of Virginia), Jessamyn Hatcher (New York University), Katie Knowles (Smithsonian), Pableaux Johnson (New Orleans), Thuy Linh Tu (New York University), Lawrence McDonnell (Iowa State University), Jonathan Prude (Emory University), Blain Roberts (California State University, Fresno), William Sturkey (University of North Carolina), Susannah Walker (Buckingham Brown & Nichols School), and Sarah Weicksel (Smithsonian). The Center’s Ted Ownby and Becca Walton are organizers of the symposium, which is part of the Future of the South series.

Topics will include, among others, slavery and dress, issues of clothing in secession and Civil War, clothing and textile mill labor, cloth and clothing and who sold them, sewing programs run by state and federal agencies, Mardi Gras Indians, and second hand clothing as part of philanthropy and counterculture. Some scholars will present papers, others will present short discussions to encourage discussion. Jonathan Prude of Emory University will make closing remarks.

“Part of why this is so exciting,” said Ownby, “is that it brings together people who have written a great deal about clothing and fashion with others who are just getting into the subject. In southern history, there’s not a standard scholarly work to praise or critique, and as far as I know there’s no conventional wisdom to respond to. We look forward to hearing what questions people will ask and to seeing where the discussions lead.”

The symposium will provide an opportunity for scholars to discuss clothing and fashion studies as a means to explore issues of identity, labor, social justice, and class in southern history. Walton and Ownby set out the goals of the conference in a broadside for Shindig Six, a Florence, Alabama gathering in 2015:

“Situated at the intersection of necessity and creativity, southern fashion lets us ask questions about place and historical context, power and identity. Every gar­ment has a designer, maker, wearer, and viewer, and we can study all of them.

We can tell local stories about designers and seamstresses, farmers and factory workers. At the same time, we can see the South’s centuries-long engagement with a global economy through one garment, with cotton harvested by enslaved laborers in Mississippi, milled in Massachusetts or Manchester, designed with influence from Parisian tastemakers, and sold in the South by Jewish immigrant merchants.”

Designed for discussion workshops for participating scholars and students, the symposium is free and open to the public. Contact Becca Walton at with any questions.

Monday, February 22

All sessions held at the University of Mississippi Depot

9:00 am    Introduction by Ted Ownby

9:10 am    Session 1: Katie Knowles

10:00 am  Session 2: Laura Edwards

10:50 am  Session 3: Lawrence McDonnell

11:40 am  Session 4: Thuy Linh Tu and Jessamyn Hatcher

12:40 pm  Break for lunch

1:40 pm    Session 5: Sarah Weicksel

2:30 pm    Session 6: Susannah Walker

3:20 pm    Session 7: Blain Roberts

4:10 pm    Session 8: William Sturkey

4:50 pm    Break

Tuesday, February 23

All sessions held at the University of Mississippi Depot

9:00 am    Session 9: Pableaux Johnson

9:50 am    Session 10: Grace Hale

10:30 am  Closing Remarks: Jonathan Prude

Noon        Symposium concludes