F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

Colonial Louisiana, White Heteropatriarchal Spaces, & Fashion as Material Culture ---A Project Proposal

I want to focus on 18th-century fashion and materiality culture and Black codes for this project. I am thinking about how all of these concepts can come together for a research project. Material culture is at the center of capitalism and the black Atlantic slave trade. It is then essential to look at fashion and material culture historically in terms of Western wealth, the aesthetics of white femininity, and the black female body as the other. Mei’s “Fashion Translations Matter” compels readers to view fashion as material culture through gender constructs (162). Mei also wants readers to think about the “relationships between the racialized, gendered body and its modes of representations” (162). I want to focus on fashion as a mode of representation through material culture.

In Mei’s historical reading of fashion as material culture, fashion represents one’s closeness to material wealth. Then, fashion as material culture benefited from free labor from the slave trade and expanding global capitalism. Fashion as material culture creates oppressive white heteropatriarchal spaces. Historically both heterosexual white men and women benefit from this oppressive space: “accessing material wealth and manipulating standards of beauty and taste as they are constructed through white racial supremacy” (163). In white heteropatriarchal spaces, White women’s means of obtaining material helps them meet beauty expectations and helps further oppress and other black womanhood.

This can also be connected to the Black Codes (1685) because I think that these laws were essential to colonialism; they helped create white heteropatriarchal spaces. Though passed a hundred years later, these laws remind me of the tignon laws, which forced black women in colonial Louisiana to wear headwraps. Here, fashion as material culture is a main idea. We know that material wealth helps white women benefit in white heteropatriarchal spaces. Therefore, white men created laws to prevent “"Excessive attention to dress" would be considered evidence of misconduct” (Everett 34). Therefore, free women of color could not be the center and adorn their hair with “plumes and jewelry” in white heteropatriarchal spaces. Importantly, tignon laws were meant to other black women from white women. From this source, “Free Persons of Color in Colonial Louisiana” brings special attention to ideas about black womanhood, miscegenation, and morality. I want to do more research on how fashion has historically been represented through material culture in Colonial Louisiana’s white heteropatriarchal spaces.

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