Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ethical fashion in historical context

I am attending a regional meeting of the Costume Society of America, the organization for professional (and serious amateur) scholars of fashion. The theme is "The Many Layered Meanings of Costume" and we are meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, the epicenter of colonial American material culture studies. To my surprise, there have been three presentations on various aspects of ethical fashion. By far the most interesting has been Sarah Woodyard's "'Made in Clean and Healthful Conditions': The Study of a White Labeled Garment", which focused on the labeling efforts of the National Consumers League between 1898 and 1918. The "White Label" in a garment was the equivalent of today's Fair Trade label or the once-familiar ILGWU's "union label", guaranteeing that the item was made by fairly-paid workers under safe and humane conditions.

The short summary, we have been here before. The Progressive Era produced many of our modern consumer and worker protections, often in audacious movements that reveal great trust in the goodness of the American consumer, who only needed accurate and adequate information to do "the right thing".

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