Fashion, Women and Power (Book)

The Politics of Dress

As never before, women are rightfully in positions of political power, and into the maelstrom of mass media challenges to their fashions and their right to govern. An examination of the fraught narratives surrounding the clothing of women in leadership in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India and Indonesia. 7 b/w, 24 colour illus. 


This book addresses the relationships between fashion, women and power. One of the constants within the book is to question the enduring relationship between women and dress and how these inform and articulate the ways in which women remain represented as either suitable or not for public office and their behaviour is informed through dress when they are in power. The book critiques the interplays between politics, power, class, race and expectation in relation to the everyday practice of getting dress and the more performative and symbolic function of dress as embodiment. 

As never before, women are in positions of political power, and find themselves facing the maelstroms of mass media regarding their fashion, their deportment, and their right to govern. The contributors offer a wide set of perspectives on women and their roles, and their fashions when taking up powerful positions in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.

From the United Kingdom, the historical issues surrounding the movement towards ‘rational dress’ for women seeking their rights to vote and exercise are interrogated. The volume also explores viewpoints from East Asia, such as the constricting role for ‘common’ women upon entering the Imperial family in Japan. From the United States come the troublesome media stories engulfing two significant American Democratic First Ladies, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michelle Obama.

From New Zealand, the media reports on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern upon her motherhood while serving in the office and on her clothing during the 2019 Christchurch massacre comprise a much-needed contribution to the literature on women, politics and dress.

Further, the role of dress in politics broadly as a form of resistance, will be examined in Australia from recent skirmishes over ‘appropriate dress’ with ex-prime minister Julia Gillard and other Australian female politicians. The role of women and what their fashion selections mean continues via considerable debate during worldwide events. Finally, the theme of resistance and social media continues with an examination of protest dressing in the recent street battles in Hong Kong to how young Asian women have been influenced by the social media campaigns to encourage wearing the veil in Indonesia, to Asian women negotiating femininity in political dress.

Primary readership will be among researchers, scholars, educators and students in the fields of fashion, dress studies, women and gender studies and media and history. It will be of particular value as at graduate level and as a supplementary resource. There may be some general appeal to those with an interest in the women or cultures at the centre of the discussions.

Dr Denise N. Rall is an adjunct research fellow in the School of Arts & Social Sciences at Southern Cross University, Australia. Her research over the last ten years has explored the meanings of dress during global conflicts and in politics.


Denise N. Rall

Section I: Theoretical Approaches to Women in Leadership and Political Fashion
Denise N. Rall with Jo Turney

Case Studies I: Gender, Politics & Identity: Lessons from Past and Present

Chapter 1. Rational Dress ‘As an Expression of the Fin-de-Siecle Aspiration Towards Equality of the Sexes’

Madeleine Seys


Chapter 2. Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Premier: Fashion and performing gender

Sarah Baker


 Chapter 3. An Empress’s Wardrobe Unlock’d: Empress Masako and Japan’s Princess Fashions

Emerald L. King and Megan Rose


Case Studies II. Making Politics through Fashion


Chapter 4. Women Politicians, Fashion, and the Media in Australia from Enid Lyons to Julia Gillard

Amanda Laugesen


Chapter 5. Dressing up two Democratic First Ladies: Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama

Denise N. Rall, Jo Coghlan, Lisa J. Hackett and Annita Boyd


Chapter 6. Codes of Power: Transforming the Dress and Appearance of female Asian politicians
Jennifer Craik and Anne Peirson-Smith


Case Studies III. Women and Power: Social Media, Politics and Resistance

 Chapter 7. Leopard in Kitten Heels: The politics of Theresa May’s sartorial choices
Rachel Evans


Chapter 8. Felix Siauw: Storyteller, Preacher and Profiteer: Fashioning a New Brand of Islam in Indonesia

Rheinhard Sirait


Chapter 9. All Dressed in Black: decoding the gendered liminal appearance of protest in Hong Kong

Anne Peirson-Smith and Jennifer Craik

'The anthology grew out of a 2018 seminar on the politics of dress held at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, and almost all of the contributors are Australian. The ‘down under’ perspective, which looks to Asia as well as to the West, is refreshing. [...] This anthology contains many compelling glimpses of the ways the media has treated female politicians and the way individual women have found to negotiate their fashion choices. [...] A valuable work. Theoretical perspectives are offered, the case studies are informative and several of the essays offer frameworks for looking at fashion in political context. While readers will have to do their own synthesis, the composite look at the impact of the media is both important and instructive. Similarly, the composite bibliography – found in the introduction and the separate essays – is extensive and will prove helpful to future scholars.'

Beverly Gordon, Fashion, Style & Popular Culture
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