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Fashioning Character: Style, Performance, and Identity in Contemporary American Literature

It’s often said that we are what we wear. Tracing an American trajectory in fashion, Lauren Cardon shows how we become what we wear. The works Cardon examines—by Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Toni Morrison, Sherman Alexie, and Aleshia Brevard, among others—illustrate how American fashion, with its array of possibilities, has offered a vehicle for curating public personas. Characters explore a host of identities as fashion allows them to deepen their relationships with ethnic or cultural identity, to reject the social codes associated with economic privilege, or to forge connections with family and community. These temporary transformations, or performances, show that identity is a process constantly negotiated and questioned, never completely fixed.


University of Virginia Press, 2021

Cover art: Eagle in Flight Protective Mood, Patricia Michaels. Hand-painted silk organza cape. (Photo by Zoë Urness)

Image 2: Patricia Michaels, "Herd Passing Through Aspen Breeze," 2019.

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Fashion and Fiction: Self-Transformation in Twentieth-Century American Literature

The rhetoric fueling the American fashion industry has informed narratives of self-transformation in canonical works of American literature, from The House of Mirth to The Great Gatsby. As the American fashion industry diverged from an old world, Parisian haute couture system to become more commercial and democratic, fashion designers and journalists began appropriating the same nationalist rhetoric found in texts by Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, Nella Larsen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Anzia Yezierska, among others.



University of Virginia Press, 2016

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The White Other in American Intermarriage Stories, 1945-2008

Fictional depictions of intermarriage can illuminate perceptions of both 'ethnicity' and 'whiteness' at any given historical moment. Popular examples such as Lucy and Ricky in I Love Lucy (1951-1957), Joanna and John in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), Toula and Ian in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) helped raise questions about national identity: does 'American' mean 'white' or a blending of ethnicities?


This study is an ambitious endeavor to discern the ways in which literature and films from the 1960s through 2000s rework nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century intermarriage tropes. Unlike earlier stories, these narratives position the white partner as the 'other' and serve as useful frameworks for assessing ethnic and American identity. 


Palgrave MacMillan, 2012, Signs of Race Series

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