The zoot suit was an icon of its time, born from the bespoke draped silhouettes of London’s Savile Row in the mid-1930s then adopted and exaggerated by young jazz-obsessed men and women across America. Amid a period of social and political turbulence just before World War II, the style was not only a means of dandyism, but also a badge of cultural identity for many African American and first-generation immigrant youths.
Orientalism, and the related appellation orientalist, opens up to a wide debate on Western visions of the East, and has been used as an all-inclusive term to denote ‘the impact upon Western dress and fashions of the clothing and customs of oriental nations across many centuries; Turkish, Indian, Chinese and Japanese fabrics and forms of dress influenced Western ideas of design and construction’. When fashion’s orientalist interpretations are paired with risqué baring of flesh or distorting of the proportions of the body, it creates ambiguous and haunting images of otherness that trespass the loaded terrain between the shameful and the shameless.
Referring both to bodies and to dress, ‘plus-size’ lends a hefty weight to the hackneyed notion that ‘you are what you wear.’ It has only been within the past few years, however, that plus-size has become the lexical ground zero in the United States for debates within and outside the industry over everything from beauty ideals to consumer equity.
Is there a space between the construction of fashion and its otherness? Fashion photographer Mario Testino implicitly investigates these questions in his book Mario de Janeiro Testino (2009) by exploring the myth of the exotic, undressed bodies performed by contemporary Brazilian fashion icons.