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Fashionable erotic masquerades: Of brides, gods and vamps in India

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Based on narratives obtained during long-term fieldwork (2008, 2010–2011) among elite Indian women in South Delhi, this article examines their post-marital relationships through the lens of fashion. These narratives strikingly relate fashion to identity, desire and sexuality, as much as to their repression. Throughout these narratives a dynamic between the cultural concepts of pativrata (devoted wife) and vamp (sexually desirable female character in Indian cinema) emerges as a desire of these women to be sexually attractive to their husbands. This leads to attempts at masquerading as vamps, as much as to outright transformations, in which the wearer becomes one with her mask. These processes turn out to be significantly influenced by the repertoires of Hindi cinema, and manifest in post-marital masquerading thus unsettling the imagined clear-cut dichotomies of surface and substance, mask and essential identity. The transgressive acts of these women, enacted through fashion, also challenge the Indian patriarchy, and may serve as an entry point to a critique of the Indian social system at large that is built around the suppression and control of female sexuality.
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Keywords: India; elite; fashion; masquerade; sexuality; transformation; value

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Oslo

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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  • Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty is the first journal dedicated to the critical examination of the fashion and the beauty systems as symbolic spaces of production and reproduction, representation and communication of artifacts, meanings, social practices, and visual or textual renditions of cloth, clothing and appearance.

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