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Fashion Undercover
View the stories in Fashion Undercover where we have fun with fashion. Allow us to present some fashion do’s and don’ts:

Wear trash
Watch Katrina Drabkin’s film “Wrappings” where she wears a dress of recycled food packaging to as she calls attention to our increasingly “to-go” culture.

Wear your hair outside your hijab
See Waheeda Malullah’s playful images in “Cover” as she explores new ways to clear up misconceptions about the hijab.

Use self as dining table
In “The perfect housewife’s closet” Maria Ezcurra Lucotti sees clothes as an extension of ourselves. Her playful installations make a poignant point about women’s roles.

No room here for the fashion police! What is fashion today and how tied are we to our high-heels or hand-me-downs? Join us as we reclaim what fashion means to us!

Join the conversation!
Margaret Cho
United States
I have been on many worst dress lists and frankly I don’t really care.
Recently I went to a black tie function in jeans and a T-shirt. I’m not into sparkly spike heels; I’m very much about my clogs. I don’t really want to go to a make up artist or get my hair done: because that’s not who I am and not what my message is about. How much do you care what your clothes say about you?
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shaquora broadnax
United States
Posted on Wednesday, August 29, 2007 2:34 PM
Fashion plays a major role for woman, and I think that it always will. When you go to an interview, you don't wear something you would wear to a night club, you make sure you look presentable and sophisticated enough to accomplish the job they are hiring for.
Fashion is kind of like the saying "Don't judge a book by it's cover" it's nice to know that people know the saying but in reality everyone knows that if you walk into church with a mini shirt and bikini top you are going to be looked at with shame. And although it's not fair that guys are able to get away with a lot more than woman, woman have to be care of what they wear because they are "supposed to be" respectful of there bodies and more. Honestly I thought everyone was supposed to be; but this is why I came to the conclusion that fashion amongst woman will never change.
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Cynthia W
United States
Posted on Monday, August 27, 2007 5:57 AM
Danielle, do you think the way you dress affects the way you act? We use clothes to define our "personalities" and how others perceive us -- whether we intend/want to or not. Wearing a lovely dress that makes me feel confident, makes me flirtatious. This may be subconscious, but it certainly gives off the vibe that I'm a person who seeks or needs this type of attention.

Although many of us probably don't want to be a slave to fashion, I definitely think we subconsciously allow it to tell others who are as people.
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United States
Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2007 12:36 PM
I love reading the stories and the conversations on this website. It really brings together the experiences and voices of so many different kind of women that are all forced to grapple with their identity as defined/expressed through/constricted by their appearance. It also reveals a lot about the complexity of these issues and how our understanding of ourselves is impacted by how others (friends, strangers, the media) view us. No one here has raised the question of whether clothes say anything about you; the only question seems to be about the weight of what your clothes say about you.

Like most of the women responding, I've had a complex relationship with clothing. Growing up in NYC, I've had times when I was overtaken with fashion. Every other week I was convinced I absolutely needed some hip article of clothing or else...I'm not quite sure I knew the alternative, but it didn't seem like a happy one! And I've also had times when I wore the same ten articles of clothing for months at a time. In trying to find a way to be at peace with my external image, I found that the important thing to remember is that I can either wear my clothes or my clothes can wear me. Only when I mentally move beyond defined by my clothing or style (whether its been punk, grungy, hippy or proper and classy) do I stop trying to live up to pop culture's definitions of a beautiful woman. And that helps me realize that women are so multi-dimensional and entirely entitled to express all those facets of themselves (whether through clothing, written and spoken communication, their actions, etc.) The last thing we want to do is to reduce ourselves and each other to a single dimension that fails to appreciate the depth of our character and beauty.
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Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 3:13 AM
There is no harm in wanting to look good - that's perfectly normal. It's when it gets overboard that it becomes ludicrous. It all boils down to survival and the ego, I think. We generally judge a man's ability to attract a mate by his physique and strength. In the same vein, a woman is more attractive when she looks good according the standards of her time. In the past, it might have been a matter of survival - perhaps it still is today, and maybe some habits simply die hard. Since celebrities tend to lead the way in fashion, there's the pressure on those of us wishing to escape the monotony of routine grind to achieve similar, if not the same standards of beauty. For many of us who may be star-struck and find stardom literally quite unattainable, achieving a 14 inch waist and porcelain-complexion through dangerous diets and intrusive chemical skin peels may be the closest we can get to perfection. Perhaps, some believe that physical beauty is the first step to the success they hope to achieve. Some women may be under the impression that by looking good they now have what it takes to get what they want. Being the scruffy person that I am, I pose no threat to most women and tend to get away with observing, unnoticed, how some women size up their competition. I think it's an instinctive behaviour as well as oversized egos to soothe or miniscule self-esteem to boost. It's the same with some men who work out at the gym to build muscles I'd steer clear of - makes you wonder about the ego. Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating frumpy frocks, dull-skin and anything dowdy - it's all very subjective anyways. Beauty is best seen in its natural state. As for attaining the impossible - I think for some of us its encoded in our genes - the desire for conquest, achievement and pride. For some looking good regardless of the cost gives them that all time high.
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Margaret Cho
United States
Posted on Monday, July 30, 2007 9:42 AM
Waheeda, can you tell us some more about this project?

I find that while there are different beauty standards around the world, they are starting to conform to Westernized ideals. And I think that Westernized ideal is really poisonous because it’s a kind of beauty that is almost impossible to attain. It’s an emphasis on youth and that we only have that time in our life and it’s brief. As women, we know how intense the pressure to conform can be, so why do we accept this standard of beauty and try to mold ourselves into it? Why do we, who the standard affects most, tolerate it?
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Waheeda Malullah
Posted on Sunday, July 29, 2007 1:01 AM
Project: Shatana, International Artist Workshop in Jordan
Place: Shatana village – Irbid - Jordan
Title of Work: With all due respect
Type: Video
Artist name: Waheeda Malullah

With all due respect

Comb, Faces and an Eastern girl

To my body, to injustice, and to those who do not come close,
A movement to liberate my hair strands from the chain of the (Islamic or eastern) cover/veil; with the participation of 12 volunteers both men and women, to comb their hair for a moment on exhibition, and to remove a burden off me that the (other) does not understand. This is placed together with the appearance of the back side of (Waheeda) without (cover/veil). This comes after difficult attempts to remove what my body refuses.

To my family, this is my life, with all due respect.
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Nana K. Twumasi
United States
Posted on Thursday, July 26, 2007 5:17 PM
once, i got off a plane wearing an admittedly dirty head scarf, some shitty ripped jeans and a sweatshirt. my mother was incensed---she said, "you have to dress better, you never know who you'll run into..." as though the queen mother would've been on a commercial flight from ohio to philadelphia. i shrugged her off at the time, but it stuck with i'm finding it hard to answer the question: "do i dress to please others?" do i? don't we all, in a way? i know my boss always gives me the eye if i wear an article of clothing more than once in a week (which i often have no problem doing). i wouldn't show up on a date wearing my ripped jeans and a sweatshirt--even though i'd hope whomever i'm out with wouldn't be so concerned w/ my appearance. i frequently wonder what it is that makes me, who prefers flip-flops and jeans to anything, so concerned with my outward appearance. nature vs. nurture? my mother's insistence on lace socks and patent leather shoes with i was a toddler? cheaply priced but cute clothes at H&M? the massive amounts of seventeen magazine i absorbed as a teenager? it's an interesting question. who's to blame for our obsession?
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Posted on Thursday, July 26, 2007 1:32 AM
I'm not much into fashion either. I love jeans because they are comfortable and I keep wearing them till they tear - sometimes in the worst places imaginable as I have thunder thighs. Then some men start getting the wrong idea. In fact, I was harrassed by a pimp in London in 2005. When I took photographs of him to give to the police I was trailed by three men in the the tube station in Leicester Square. That was probably a close shave with traffickers. I still wear my jeans and my clunky shoes everywhere I go. People sometimes look at me disapprovingly but I've had worst than dour faces.
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Geraldine Baker
Posted on Wednesday, July 25, 2007 5:15 PM
Niyati has the point there, I also came from a country where my people classify your skin color into the social group you belong. Say for instance, if you have a dark skin color they look at you as "nothing", you will alwasys be a centre of redicule being a "charcoal". If you have fair complexion, more often than not, people will admire you because of that, they sometimes think you are from high family class. It happend to me when I return from my country a couple of months ago and one parson asked me why I'm still brown/tan after all those years of living in Australia. If you're a Medical practioner and you have dark skin you would know what their impression on you rahter than thinking about how you treat them, how rediculous! More and more women in my country are intoinvesting bleaching galore. Do you think it's right?
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Victor Zaud
United States
Posted on Tuesday, July 24, 2007 10:48 PM
I love how everyone is speaking so deeply about how clothes can affect and have an effect. I certainly form opinions when I watch people in the subway walking by or just sitting on a train nearby where I am. I think one point that people don't tend to verbalize is the idea of context. We all look at people and then step back and see them in the space you're sharing with them - understanding "appropriateness" and what you think not only about what they are wearing, but if it "fits." As Margaret pointed out in two situations - she chose something simple to wear, but the context was dramatic - Jeans at the black-tie, and the "tom-boy" appearance perhaps in another situation where people might have expected something more dressed up? I think the way we think about our appearance in different contexts adds a whole new dimension to the perception.

Personally, I'm WAY-intrigued by the contrasts. The unexpected combination of situation and dress tells me that the woman (or man) is choosing to be aware of their surroundings and make a conscious message... vs. just wearing the expected. I certainly have my likes and dislikes, but when I see people thinking further beyond just their 1' space that they occupy in space, I think that is sexy, exciting, deep, and more. In that context, I would care.
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Madeline Ritter
United States
Posted on Tuesday, July 24, 2007 9:19 PM
Great idea: interesting stories and wonderful photos!

I'm struck by the different uses of the term fashion: is it created from outside the system? is it conducive to or run counter to individual expression?
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Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti
United States
Posted on Tuesday, July 24, 2007 2:05 PM
I wonder how the internet--as it provides global access to information and influence--will influence the identity and fashion of the next generation?
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Sarah Ansari
United States
Posted on Tuesday, July 24, 2007 11:48 AM
I loved all the stories, especially Nana Twumasi's "A Rumination on Heels". Heartfelt and poignant, beautifully written...I loved the way she connects her love for her mother with her need for those heels.

I must confess, like most women, I am driven to have an attractive appearance...I am attracted to clothes, jewelry, makeup. I am compelled to beautify myself, doing ridiculous and even painful things like torturing my feet with stilettos and plucking hair from my eyebrows.

I don't know how it happened, but I guess it had something to do with being raised to believe that "you wouldn't find a man if you weren't beautiful". And of course, "finding a man" was the main goal of a woman's life wasn't it? Isn't it?


Is "finding a woman" the main goal of a man's life?

I am still vain...

but having turned forty, I have slowly become convinced that at a broader level, us women are devalued because our worth as human brings is so tied up to how we look. Our looks are paramount, our intellect is secondary.

Why do we do what we do? Why are we valued how we are valued? Who are we and whose ideals of beauty are we trying so hard so achieve?

I am still trying to sort it out...
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Dina Deen
Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 10:13 PM
Niyata, first and fore most, thank you for your kind words! To answer your question though, yes I had issues with the production of my work with some members of my family/friends who are more conservative than myself and later a controversy with the showing of my work in public- and you are right, alot of my work is bold and provacative where only a certain majority of the people (here) could look at it without thinking that I have completely lost it! Whether it is because they expect the photographer to be A - Not a hijabi/Arab B - Rebellious or C - Both! I was aware beforehand however of the way people would react, but I felt that because I have been raised in schools where I had the freedom of expressing how I felt towards specific issues I didnt consider it to be a barrier for myself and the public, so I thought why not! Alot of people (i.e my mother) have not seen my work until today because I expect that sort of raised eyebrow look of "oh my God, what have I raised my daughter into?". I admit, its unexpected from a completely covered up, quiet girl like myself, but theres a time to step up, and the time is now!
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Niyati Sharma
Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 11:56 AM
Dina, I love your work! For those who haven't seen her story, here it is:

I wanted to ask if you ran into any trouble showing your work? It seems to be a little well, provacative. Or was that the point?

Also about the comments on Indians and lighter skin, we deal with it constantly. "Fair and lovely" the leading skin bleaching cream even launched a new product for men! And the ads for these products just promote the stereotype that unless you are fair you will never get a good job, or a husband...
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Dina Deen
Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 11:25 AM
I was reading some of the posts, and I just wanted to point out the fact I understand where Tracy is coming from when she speaks of lighter skin and the Indian community. Its the same here in Egypt, men for some reason are more attracted to whiter (fairer), full figured women. It leaves most of the community here who are women spending most of their money on bleaching their skin to gain that paler/lighter/fairer tone - let alone not to even mention the focus on cream products that would lighten the skin tones. Unfortunately that is the case here, men do not look at girls with my colour (which is strange because Egyptians are not considered caucasians (Europeans) they too have a tan, even though different than myself.
Ps - I am Dina Adam, I go by Dina Deen because I am married. Thank you for those who have supported our work! The artwork is exquisitely placed, and beautifully presented. Good Job everyone! :)
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Margaret Cho
United States
Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 11:09 AM
As Susannah and others mentioned, there is a certain standard way people are supposed to look. I find that kind of beauty very boring and plain.

I don’t want to conform to one kind of body type or one kind of an image. I’m just like a sloppy tomboy in a lot of ways. Sometimes I like to be glamorous, but on my terms. My beauty is about tattoos, blue jeans, and dirty hair and that to me, is beautiful. Often times, people don’t agree, but I don’t dress to please others do you?
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Connie Fucius
Isle of Man
Posted on Saturday, July 21, 2007 2:27 PM
I was totally seduced by Amani Fairak's "Seductiveness of Modesty" story. Her description of modern women living in traditional Arabian culture is fascinating and the accompanying photograph is so beautiful!
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deborah nadler broomfield
United States
Posted on Saturday, July 21, 2007 7:39 AM
These stories were not only thought-provoking, but also provided me with vivid images of the subjects' lives. I was most stuck by The Real Stories of Superheroes, specificially their hard work, family ties, and devotion to those they care for here and those they have left behind (and still manage to support). There is far too much media coverage about immigrants "taking away our jobs" and "undermining our economy." This topic is ripe to remind us that everyone is truly a neighbor. We all work to support families and hope for a happy and better life for our children; the "superheroes" must do this in the face of adversity. This is a time for political thought about how we can help support them in their struggle. Certainly this cannot be by building fences across borders as those who seek to exclude different people suggest.
Thank you Susannah for bringing this website to my attention. I will forward it to others.
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Diane Sharon
United States
Posted on Saturday, July 21, 2007 5:04 AM
I love the idea of this site and this exhibit. The women whose stories and photos are on site are amazingly creative and resilient and make me so proud to be a woman. I think there must be a way or many ways to expose a wide audience to this material, which is so worthwhile.
My only critique is the design of gray type on black background or black type on gray background, which is very difficult to read and is also a small size on my computer. This design is not very inviting. Once I do click on something, though, it is quite readable.
Thank you for curating and maintaining these exhibits. More people should be aware of them!
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Featured Stories
"The Real Story of Superheroes"
Dulce Pinzón, Mexico
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"Love for Makeup"
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"Bellacini "
Amanda Barrett, United States
"Wearable Art: Going Back to the Origins"
Katya Boltanova, Russia
"All Tattooed Up"
Margaret Cho, United States
"Life Portrait"
Sarah El Sawi, Egypt
"On Faith, Fashion and Finding Common Ground"
Sarah Ansari, United States
"Defying Diana: A Guide to Fashion by the Hand-Me-Down Kid"
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"The Seductiveness of Modesty"
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Waheeda Malullah, Bahrain
Dina Adam, United States
"Living Doll"
Evelin Stermitz, Austria
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