Sociological Style: Hannah Fuller on Identity and Fashion

Erin Davenport – Hannah Fuller is a dear friend, so when the time came for a member of the staff to interview her about fashion and art, I jumped at the opportunity. Entering her room in her apartment at B is a feast for the eyes. Her bed is perfectly made. Christmas lights surround her desk, giving a soft lighting to the pale blue walls. Postcards from friends’ time abroad are carefully arranged on the wall above her bed, and on her desk is a mixture of fashion magazines, French books, and photos of friends and family. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of my interview with Hannah:

Erin Davenport: You are writing your thesis on couture. Why is couture relevant?

Hannah Fuller: Well I’ll start by specifying that I’m doing French haute couture… and what I’m exploring most in my thesis is using a lens of sociological theory on class and social structures and their distribution within a society like the French society and how the haute couture industry becomes a reflection of that. So that’s my general basis.

Today we see this huge shift all of a sudden: a decrease in the number of Parisian designers, a globalization of fashion, it seems to be coming at the cost of the sort of artisanal. People are beginning to make claims that it’s becoming obsolete, that it’s becoming no longer valuable because it’s this dated, privileged, indulgent practice which is absolutely what it stands for in so many ways- but it owns that and that’s important. So what I’m arguing is that rather than being obsolete you need to treat it as an art form just like you would a painting in a museum, and a very telling art form because it’s worn, and we’re a very corporal society and so you’re taking something, and you’re taking its meaning, and you’re putting it on bodies, even if those bodies only exist in a very elite sphere…And for France it’s still very much woven into the way people present and manifest their class positioning. Far more than economic, this is how people signal their status. And so it doesn’t mean it’s an admirable–I’m not making those claims in all of these spaces–but they’re certainly just part of the way- one of the ways- in the French society in which those get expressed. So, to me that’s why haute couture is not… to say it’s obsolete is to overlook the ways it is very much still a part of French society.

ED: Obviously you’re talking about clothing as art and fashion as art but we don’t have a lot of representation of that within the art classes at Davidson. How have you managed to study what you’ve wanted to study and has that been a barrier for you at Davidson?

HF: You know it’s certainly something I always wish I could get more of, but I also knew coming to a liberal arts institution it’s not going to be fashion-focused, although I do think it’s often overlooked by professors who are interested in looking at identity, class, race, and gender, you know fashion is a really cool space to be exploring because people can relate [to it], even when you talk about haute couture they may not get what’s going down a runway but we can understand that I am wearing a piece of clothing right now, so there’s that sort of relatability even in understanding the very basics of it, of this industry. So I think that it often gets overlooked.

In terms of finding other ways to educate myself it’s been through reading …going abroad and seeking out internship opportunities and seeking out these spaces for myself and then pushing for them and sort of forcing my way in sometimes was really the number one way for me to learn and probably learning the most in the times when I felt most uncomfortable.

How I’m making Davidson work, is okay so no one is teaching fashion, but I can take my thesis and say “wow, fashion is such an intersectional industry and Davidson has all these other spaces and departments that can speak to fashion so I’ll find a way to make that apply here and not seem like I’m just entirely missing out or this school isn’t serving me in some way that I’m going to find a way to make the liberal arts education and this idea of being intersectional in terms of interdepartmental apply for myself, and hopefully that’ll inspire other departments to really think about that more, within the arts”.

ED: Speaking to the sociological element of your thesis and our context here, how would you contextualize what you think of the fashion culture at Davidson and the ways that campus values might be represented in that?

HF: Well, fashion being a manifestation of class, that certainly comes into play here. I think it can do multiple things, one is that it just serves as a way of self-expression, you know of people coming from different countries, different states, different regions, and I think sometimes you just see that manifested in the clothing culture at Davidson. I also think you see very clearly play out different class and economic positioning that a lot of individuals, we naturally do as part of forming our identity.

So I think part of it is kind of owning the different spaces we come from, you know I always joke about my Birkenstocks and plaid but you know that’s real, but I think there’s also deeper things there, you know like when I think back to like my freshman year when I wasn’t consciously dressing, that I was enacting a lot of sort of labels and messages about what my socio-economic status was and what my sense of gender was you know and I think those things are interesting for analysis on this campus and certainly I think you see it.

ED: You referred to the time before you became an intentional dresser, now as you’ve become an intentional dresser and thought more deeply about things, when have you most recently used clothing to make a message and what was that message?

HF: Oh! My clogs. To me that felt big. Because the context I know them in is in Seattle, the older women in my life wore them, my mother wore them throughout all of my childhood, and I was horrified by her I was like “Mom you cannot wear clogs.” But what I think is fun about them is they provide elevation they actually give me this really cool height dynamic without changing sort of the structure of my foot, so I get to feel tall like a high heel but I don’t have to feel like I’m warping my body in order to do that. I love that. I love that they’re chic and black and leather, and so I sort of have this chic thing going on but also this comfort thing, and that’s a statement for me. And I like how when you pair them with a yoga pant but when it’s a flared yoga pant people think you’re dressing up for a presentation when really you’re just wearing a yoga pant and a clog.

And I love also playing with colors like one day being totally floral and looking like I just stepped off a New York subway in black, especially since I’m not a New Yorker, so what does that identity look like? Do I get to enact it? Do I get to play with it at Davidson? Like how do I experience that? So I think that’s where some of my intentional dressing cialis dysphagia comes like sometimes dressing in ways that I know I would’ve cringed at earlier in my career that aren’t traditional…they’re still very feminine to me and they still make me feel like I’m expressing my sexuality in a specific way that I want to be expressing and I’m still expressing things but it doesn’t feel quite as evident or as tangible, I think, for other people, which is nice.