Cut, layer, break, fold: Fashioning gendered difference, 1970s to the present
Suterwalla was invited to write this article for a special issue in a leading US peer-reviewed feminist journal. It explores how British women from subcultural groups have used style to resist mainstream ideals of femininity. ‘Style’ is explored as anti-fashion, as a rebuke to the fashion system.
Suterwalla’s research (conducted for her PhD, completed 2013) takes the form of interviews and is presented as four case studies: women who were punks in the late 1970s; women who lived at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in the 1980s; black women in hip-hop in the 1980s/1990s; and British Muslim women who have adopted the hijab since 2001. Working with these testimonies, Suterwalla theorises a central agentive style motif in each of her cases: the punk ‘cut’; the Greenham Common ‘layer’; the hip-hop ‘break’; and the ‘fold’ of the hijab. The article is a theoretical account of how style techniques fashion gender within different sets of identity politics that incorporate issues of ethnicity, class and nation.
The article’s originality lies in the fact that it moves beyond analysis of postmodern techniques of style rooted in subcultural theories to present a ‘post-postmodern’ investigation based on women’s embodied and lived experience. In this way, Suterwalla joins recent scholarship, not only in fashion theory but also in disciplines such as anthropology, which emphasises materiality.
Suterwalla also presents significant new ways of thinking about gendered identity as shifting and mutating performative expressions of Britishness. She concludes that British women from different groups have been connected through their relationship with popular culture, commodification, urbanisation, and global realities. Since completing the article, Suterwalla has focused on the manipulation of the hijab in the self-fashioning of contemporary postcolonial British Muslim identities. She presented a paper on this theme at the Design History Society Annual Conference in Ahmedabad (2013).