Fashioning the Church: A Study of Manifatture Bianchetti Tessitura Confezione e Abbigliamento per Religiosi
This article discusses some of the issues tackled by the sociology of fashion, namely the contradiction between standardisation and differentiation and the state-of-the-art concepts of anti-fashion, applied to the religious clothing market. It considers the way in which a traditional Italian clothing company, Manifatture Bianchetti Tessitura Confezione e Abbigliamento per Religiosi, that sells garments for priests and nuns became a case study and a success story in Europe and in the United States through the transformation of its offer into a proper fashion system. This transformation of textile firms into fashion enterprises is of course true of all Italian textile companies in the last 25 years; but the Bianchetti company provides the framework for a rethinking of major theoretical issues in fashion, particularly the ambivalences highlighted by F. Davis, in this case functionality vs luxury in the religious uniform and the search for aesthetic and novelty in contemporary fashion societies put forward by G. Lipovetsky, although evident also in the case of the Church, it is not so immediately recognised as such. It will argue that anti-fashion ideas and the bad reputation of fashion, i.e. the frivolity vs ethics debate, widespread until the 1980s in the common discourse on fashion, are still on the background as soon as we leave “safe territory”, although a large one, that fashion has conquered to touch new, unexpected fields of application. The social invisibility of priests and nuns in the media and fashion system has contributed to the wholesale acceptance of both the fixity of uniforms and the exclusion of the clergy from individual drives that characterise modern society.
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Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing. Fashion Theory
provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.
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