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Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History

November 3, 2022 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Virtual Event Virtual Event

Richard T. Ford, author and Professor at Stanford Law School in conversation with Petra Slinkard, Fashion Curator at Peabody Essex Museum.



The Society is proud to present Richard T. Ford, author and Professor at Stanford Law School, in conversation with Petra Slinkard, Fashion Curator at Peabody Essex Museum in connection with the Mentor Program.

Dress codes are as old as clothing itself. For centuries, clothing has been a wearable status symbol; fashion, a weapon in struggles for social change; and dress codes, a way to maintain political control. Merchants dressing like princes and butchers’ wives wearing gem-encrusted crowns were public enemies in medieval societies structured by social hierarchy and defined by spectacle. In Tudor England, silk, velvet, and fur were reserved for the nobility, and ballooning pants called “trunk hose” could be considered a menace to good order. The Renaissance-era Florentine patriarch Cosimo de Medici captured the power of fashion and dress codes when he remarked, “One can make a gentleman from two yards of red cloth.” Dress codes evolved along with the social and political ideals of the day, but they always reflected struggles for power and status. In the 1700s, South Carolina’s “Negro Act” made it illegal for Black people to dress “above their condition.” In the 1920s, the bobbed hair and form-fitting dresses worn by free-spirited flappers were banned in workplaces throughout the United States, and in the 1940s, the baggy zoot suits favored by Black and Latino men caused riots in cities from coast to coast.

Even in today’s more informal world, dress codes still determine what we wear, when we wear it—and what our clothing means. People lose their jobs for wearing braided hair, long fingernails, large earrings, beards, and tattoos or refusing to wear a suit and tie or make-up and high heels. In some cities, wearing sagging pants is a crime. And even when there are no written rules, implicit dress codes still influence opportunities and social mobility. Silicon Valley CEOs wear t-shirts and flip-flops, setting the tone for an entire industry: women wearing fashionable dresses or high heels face ridicule in the tech world, and some venture capitalists refuse to invest in any company run by someone wearing a suit.

In Dress Codes, law professor and cultural critic Richard Thompson Ford presents a “deeply informative and entertaining” (The New York Times Book Review) history of the laws of fashion from the middle ages to the present day, a walk down history’s red carpet to uncover and examine the canons, mores, and customs of clothing—rules that we often take for granted. After listening to this presentation, you’ll never think of fashion as superficial again—and getting dressed will never be the same.

Professor Ford will be joined in conversation by Petra Slinkard, Director of Curatorial Affairs, The Nancy B. Putnam Curator of Fashion and Textiles at the Peabody Essex Museum.

We look forward to a fashionably lively discussion!

Richard Thompson Ford is the George E. Osborne Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. He has practiced law with the firm of Morrison & Foerster, served as a Commissioner of the San Francisco Housing Authority and worked as a policy consultant for the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the City and County of San Francisco, California and the County of San Mateo, California.

He writes for both scholarly and popular audiences in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, Esquire.com and Slate, where has been a regular contributor on legal affairs, as well in the Harvard Law Review, the Stanford Law Review and the Yale Law Journal.

He has written several books, including two selected as Notable Books of the year by the New York Times: The Race Card: how bluffing about bias makes race relations worse which The New York Times Sunday Book Review selected as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2008 and Rights Gone Wrong: how law corrupts the struggle for equality, which The New York Times selected as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2011. In 2012 ON BEING A BLACK LAWYER selected him as one of the 100 Most Influential Black Lawyers in the OBABL Power 100: On Being a Black Lawyer Salutes the 100 Most Influential Black Lawyers in the Nation.

He has appeared on several television and radio programs including The Colbert Report, the Rachel Maddow Show and the Dylan Rattigan Show.

Visit his website at: http://richardtford.law.stanford.edu

Petra Slinkard joined PEM in 2018, following her role as Curator of Costume at the Chicago History Museum, where she worked with a collection of more than 50,000 examples of fashion and textiles used in exhibitions, research, and community outreach. At PEM, Slinkard fosters the growth and inclusive spirit of the museum’s celebrated fashion initiative to develop a vibrant array of exhibitions, installations and programming that celebrate the global impact and reach of fashion and textiles. Slinkard oversees the museum’s newly opened Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery of Fashion and Design and was the co-curator of Made It: The Women who Revolutionized Fashion which was organized in association with the Kunstmuseum Den Haag. She served as the coordinating curator for Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love, which opened June 25, 2022. In her role as Director of Curatorial Affairs, Slinkard oversees the integration of PEM’s exhibition research and curatorial teams and develops departmental priorities and the strategies to deliver them.

Petra conceived and curated the exhibitions, Chicago Styled: Fashioning The Magnificent Mile®, and Making Mainbocher | The First American Couturier, for which she authored catalogues of the same titles. Prior to CHM she worked at Newfields (Indianapolis Museum of Art), where she helped expand the museum’s fashion and textile exhibition program and collection, as well as supported key events and the Museum’s Fashion Arts Society. At Newfields (IMA) she helped to shape a number of exhibitions such as An American Legacy: Norell, Blass, Halston and Sprouse, Body Unbound: Contemporary Couture from the IMA’s Collection, and co-curated Ball-Nogues Studio: Gravity’s Loom. Slinkard is an active member of the Costume Society of America (CSA) and the American Association of Museum Curators (AAMC). She serves on the National Board of CSA, and previously served as a juror for the Milla Davenport Publication Award and the chair for the Richard Martin Exhibition Award Committee. She regularly presents programming on fashion and design history, as well as museum studies. Petra is a graduate of Indiana University, Bloomington, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Fashion Merchandising, a Bachelor of Arts in Art History with a concentration in Modern and Contemporary Art and a Master of Science in Fashion/Textile History. In 2017 she was recognized as one of the University’s ’20 under 40′ most distinguished alumni in the College of Arts and Sciences and joined the advisory board for I.U.’s newly established School of Art, Architecture and Design.

Follow @pslinks on Instagram and @pslinksp on Twitter.

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November 3, 2022
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:




Society of Arts + Crafts
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