Julia Kwon "Number of Anti-LGBTQ Bills Introduced in State Legislatures in 2018–2022 (Record number of anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 2022, as of July 2022: most of them target transgender and nonbinary people with a particular emphasis on trans youth, including restrictions on youth athletics, curriculum restrictions, adolescent healthcare restrictions, religious or First Amendment exemptions, among others)" (detail)

SDA Book Club: “Dressing with Purpose” reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer

Dressing With Purpose: Belonging and Resistance in Scandinavia edited by Carrie Hertz

The full cover of Dressing With Purpose is a photo of what appears to be a celebratory procession, prominently featuring flags of Norway and Sápmi, the Sámi people’s land. All the participants appear to be wearing culturally significant clothing. This image begs questions: Who are they? When are they? Where are they? The conversations in this book center around issues of sartorial choices and expressions, which can “alter social and conceptual spaces… (by) influencing the world around us- aligning with or distancing ourselves from others, proclaiming allegiance or opposition to particular cultural norm” (page 4) (of dress).

This book is firmly rooted in material culture studies. Woven throughout are questions regarding how we think of traditions, people who practice them, authenticity, our expectations around that concept, access to traditional expression—in this case it’s clothing—and a challenge to the “modernist presumption that the folk belong to place while the rest of us live in time” (page 7). (Dorothy Noyes is quoted here from Humble Theory: Folklore’s Grasp on Social Life-Bloomington : Indiana University Press 2016). 

Carrie Hertz, Curator of Textiles and Dress at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is both editor and significant contributor to this collection of case studies that situate, compare and contrast the clothing traditions of Sweden (folkdräkt), Norway (bunad) and Sápmi (gákti). The authors have interviewed many people in order to get a full picture of this long moment. The plentitude of photographs both illustrate and are illustrated by discerning examinations of the ways these peoples have regarded their dress traditions both over time and in a range of places. The images of embroidery and full regalia are gorgeous, made all the richer as they are poignant to discussions of “historical disparities between Swedish and Norwegian nationalism and social class structure” (page 112), nineteenth and twentieth century politics in Scandinavia, which include various shifts to independence for Norway, ongoing struggles and activism for the indigenous Sámi, contested land uses, and modern grappling with large numbers of immigrants, mostly arriving to the urban centers. 

These shifts bring, and often leave open, questions about national identity and either the individual or group agency to express it. Hertz writes that “all three traditions materialize notions of cultural and spatial continuity (but) have been shaped by vastly different histories in the context of colonialism and romantic nationalism” (page 160). While much of the traditional clothing that is examined is recognized as expressions of family ties, it is also closely tied to place, often small, specific and rural. And yet, it is commonly expressed by interviewees in lots of different ways that “When I wear it (folkdräkt, bunad or gákti) I feel most like myself” (page 19). Many have articulated that in some way their choice of clothing symbolizes democracy, freedom and rebellion – values that can be held as traditional, illustrating ongoing dynamics of cultures.

As I read through Dressing With Purpose I reflected on parallels to the United States, where one can find examples of cultural misappropriation (pow-wow headdresses at rave concerts), wearing for belonging (both MAGA and Pussy hats), countless message-filled and geolocating T-shirts, and historical reenactor’s costuming that are both appropriate and inappropriate, to name a few. Could it be that blue jeans are the closest we come to a form of national dress?

–Faith Hagenhofer 

  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (buy it here)
  • Date: December 2021
  • ISBN: 978-0253058577

If you’ve read this book, leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Do you have a recommendation for a recent fiber-related book you think should be included in SDA’s Book Club? Email SDA’s Managing Editor, Lauren Sinner, to let her know!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *