The Changing Role of Clothes in the Everyday Life of Italian American Immigrant Women
The chapter investigates the impact of dress-code changes upon early Southern Italian immigrant women in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. Its aim is to point out the twists and turns that marked the lives of these women during their passage from an artisanal mode of production, revolving around the family unit, into an industrial consumerist environment set in an urban culture. The “change of clothes” terrain was heavily contested, sparking class, gender, and generation struggles within families and communities, locally and transnationally, but the change itself was largely understood as a necessary prerequisite to participate in the host society’s competitive labor market and larger public culture, without necessarily relinquishing or masking one’s own ethno-racial affiliation. In fact, the chapter questions the stereotypical dichotomy between tradition and fashion and proposes, instead, an interpretation that blurs the boundary between these two semantic poles of clothing and offers a deeper understanding of migration phenomena as a theoretical issue, also relevant to the contemporary debate on these topics.
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