[CHATTER] DENISE N. GREEN: All right. Hello, everyone, and good evening. So welcome to Women Empowered, Fashions From the Front Line.
RACHEL GETMAN: This exhibit started as a graduate course for Anthropology of the Fashion Body. And we worked together to create different teams. We have curation. We have research. We have budget, and logistics, and graphics. And we each took a different role in curating the exhibit.
JENNY LEIGH DU PUIS: From the start, we were tasked with developing the theme for the exhibit, thinking of the overarching kinds of materials that we would be looking for and how we wanted to organize the space. Each case has a theme. The themes that we've selected are the stage, the arena, the academy, the government, and the street.
DENISE N. GREEN: In thinking about the front line as a metaphor, it's hard not to think about the military. I mean, this is where the term, the front line, comes from. It's as close as you can get to your enemy is the front line. And so we interpret it in a lot of different ways. But really it's spaces where women are conveying their ideas, their hopes, their passion, the change that they want to see in the world, and how they're using fashion in those spaces to do that.
JESSICA GUADALUPE ESTRADA: My favorite part about this exhibit is the diversity of the items that I think belong to women, that empowered minorities, empowered women of color.
MARY LOUISE DUBOSE: Another one that I really enjoy is the Debbie Sundahl pieces. And she was a lesbian stripper. And I just think it was really nice to show her work because people often get uncomfortable with women's sexuality. But I think we're taking it, and spinning it, and showing that it can empower you. So that one I think is probably my all-time favorite in the exhibit, just because it shows that you can reclaim that sexuality, that femininity, and make it your strength and your empowerment.
RACHEL GETMAN: We also have paper hats, similar to the ones that Coretta Scott King wore for the 1199 Charleston strike for hospital workers.
AKUA KWAKWA: It's also something that even now is relevant, where there are a lot of women who are working really hard and aren't getting paid enough. The hat is important for me, because the people who wore them were, not just hospital workers, but were also mothers and were also just regular people. And you don't have to be a famous person, or have a lot of money, or know connected people to be able to stand up for what you want and to be able to get what you want.
RACHEL GETMAN: This exhibit is a testament to the ambiguity of the front line. It's not always clear when you're on it. It's rarely a choice or a decision. But it's a series of moments that together propel you into a new space.
DENISE N. GREEN: So when we think about fashion on the front line, we can think of women who have strategically used particular styles, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, and her judicial collars making a statement. And then on the other hand, we have examples of fashion in this exhibition that their politics come from their wear. So we have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaigning shoes, which she probably wasn't wearing as a fashion statement in and of themselves. But when she put those shoes on every day and hit the pavement every single day, those shoes were worn all the way through until there were holes in the bottom of them.
And so those are another type of fashion on the front line showing what the work on the front line actually does to your clothing.
LYNDA XEPOLEAS: Being a former collegiate athlete, it was very inspiring and empowering for me to get to tell some wonderful stories about athletes, particularly about the Cornell women's hockey team. And in particular, Reggie Baker and Penny Mapes. These were two extraordinary women who at the time didn't really think that they were even a part of women's empowerment or the liberation movement. But it was fascinating to really hear their stories about how they used fashion and their equipment as a way to empower themselves to play a sport that many didn't think women should be playing.
SIAN BROWN: Rachel Powell's white dress is very important in the exhibit. And the particular reason that we wanted to use it in the exhibit is because one of the key features of her dress is that it has the date that she was raped on the front of the bodice. And she has taken this experience, and she's using it as a means to bring attention to those issues of sexual assault and rape. And I think that that's really important to have that feature in our exhibit and have something that represents the untold stories of women.
TONI PIETSCH: The garment I've actually studied the most is this giant rainbow explosion outfit. And I had the opportunity to interview it's wearer. She finds that she can be more outgoing. And I thought that was really interesting, just to know that the clothes that she wear make her feel in such a way that she could find new pieces of herself through the clothing.
JENNY LEIGH DU PUIS: What I hope that the public is taking away from this exhibit is that there are many different forms of empowerment that can happen. It's not necessarily on a political stage, although I think that those voices contend to be the loudest and maybe the most often heard. But it could be from the everyday person as well.
MARY LOUISE DUBOSE: Hopefully the exhibit will remind people that you can be impactful in your community, no matter what that community is.
AKUA KWAKWA: I'm honored to have been part of an exhibition like this, because it's a way to show people what I feel like I've known all along, that clothes aren't just pieces of fabric that we own, and wear, and wake up and put on our bodies. Fashion can speak, and fashion can breathe, and fashion can hold the energies and memories of those around us and for us. I hope that when people see this exhibition they can take a closer look at their wardrobes and give more credit to the clothes that they love.
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The exhibition, WOMEN EMPOWERED: Fashions from the Frontline, features items worn by prominent activists, politicians, artists, athletes, academics, and everyday unsung heroes. As part of the 2018 Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial, the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection launched this groundbreaking showcase that chronicles how women strategically use fashion for empowerment and collective upliftment.