Sartorial Code-Switching: Vestiary Identity Performance and Female Celebrity in Paris, 1832-1939
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This dissertation is a case study of dress and appearance as a power technique in the lives of four women—George Sand, Sarah Bernhardt, Colette, and Josephine Baker—who rose to prominence in Paris between the July Monarchy and World War II. Each chapter focuses on one of these individuals to show their place in the wider socio-historical contexts that shaped them, while also tracing a chain of similarities that stretches from each to the next. At first glance their social identities may seem worlds apart from each other: an aristocratic cross-dressing author, a world-famous Jewish actress, an innovative bourgeois writer, and the first black international superstar. Indeed, while there are occasional connections made in scholarly literature between one or two of these women, this study is unique in creating a specific grouping out of all four. This project constitutes a new historical intervention by positing that, despite their undeniable differences, Sand, Bernhardt, Colette, and Baker exhibited remarkably similar levels of attention to the way class, race, gender, and hybridity interacted with appearance. Such (re)presentations of the self could, when properly leveraged, result in increased autonomy and even wealth and fame, as it did for these four women who began their lives from varied positions of social marginality. Yet each one managed to achieve celebrity and a measure of control over her attendant public image by the end of her lifetime. In Sartorial Code-Switching I will argue that this was due largely to the way they manipulated images of identity within and across cultural norms. This power technique, which I term sartorial code-switching, is more dynamic and significant than it may at first appear. It is connected to questions of gender, race, class, and ethno-religious marginalization as well as to the media phenomenon of fame itself.