Bondage in Time: Footbinding and Fashion Theory
Author: Ko, Dorothy
Source: Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, Volume 1, Number 1, February 1997 , pp. 3-28(26)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Journals (formerly Berg Journals)
Abstract:Cultural critics have sought to wrestle fashion away from its exclusive European heritage by redefining it as a dynamic between body and social habitus in which all people at all times partook. Ko states that this theory should not obscure the historical fact that the equation of fashion with Western modernity is centuries-old, and remains the dominant view among the majority of Chinese today. The article explores the terms with which European travellers perceived Chinese dress and bodies from the sixteenth to nineteenth century. Ko shows how the Chinese lack of fashion provided the occasion for Europeans to reflect on, criticize, or celebrate their own devotion to progress. But evidence that the Chinese found European fashion laughable is a reminder that China had its own agenda. A paradox is presented: beauty is more than skin-deep, for it informs treatises on bureaucracy and kinship; yet the meaning of beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. This paradox is poignant in the case of footbinding, which frustrated the foreigner because if could not be reduced to a core of absolute meanings. The foreigner has failed to learn that the meaning of footbinding is always constructed, hence a function of the values of the beholder.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 1997-02-01
- Launched in 1997, Fashion Theory is well established as the leading peer-reviewed, international, and interdisciplinary journal for the analysis of all aspects of the cultural significance of dress and fashion worldwide - from Vogue to Versace, from kimonos to kilts, and from footbinding to body piercing.