Conference Report: American Everyday

It’s been a little bit since I’ve written and I’m excited to get back to blogging!  In the interim, I’ve moved from Michigan to the NW suburbs of Chicago.  While that has definitely interrupted my workflow, it has also brought me back near to one of my favorite cities.

One of the things I love about being near Chicago is being able to pop into the city on an as-needed basis for inspiration.  I was definitely inspired this weekend when I attended the American Everyday: Resistance, Revolution, & Transformation conference, held in the beautiful Columbia College student center.  As an alumn of Columbia, it was great to finally get to see inside of that building, which was erected long after I graduated.

The conference was only one day, but there were so many concurrent sessions that I was only able to see a fraction of the papers presented.  However, I really liked the one-day format.  I was able to be fully present the entire time because I knew I could spend all of the next day in my pajamas catching up on Sanditon and cuddling with my cats.

Choosing which session to attend was hard, but I really enjoyed the three I ended up attending.  The first round of papers, Everyday Bodies, looked at clothing in relation to childbirth and body size.  Taken together, this group of papers highlighted for me how much of the experience of being a human is often left out of fashion studies when the focus is only on the fashionable.

The second session, Designing the American Woman, focused primarily on mid-20th-century sportswear, though also included was a paper on 19th-century hairwork.  I was most interested in Rebecca Jumper Matheson’s presentation on designer Elizabeth Phelps.  This 1950s designer created clothing that was meant for everyday activities and one of her staples was a skirt shaped apron over trousers, a silhouette not too far removed from the 19th-century bloomer costume.

In The Everyday in the Archive, my last session, four different perspectives on fashion in the museum were presented.  They ranged from a look at the current state of the relatively traditional Chicago History Museum (the slides made me want to go and organize things so, so badly!) to a look at the Women’s History Museum.  The later turned out not to be a museum at all, but rather a fashion brand/artistic duo.  The paper that made me think the most was Rocio Sanchez’s look at the Leather Archives and Museum.  It highlighted that the everyday includes not just the day-to-day clothing of the dominant culture, but also the everyday experiences of marginalized and minority groups.

In between the sessions, there was plenty of time to socialize and network.  There were a lot more mid to early-career people than at other conferences I’ve been too, so I spent a lot of time asking people about their career paths.  It was reassuring to hear that no two were the same.  The one pattern I did notice was that as long as you are flexible, committing to a location and networking can work.  Since I fully intend to stay in the greater Chicago area, that was nice to hear.

I stayed through half of the ending reception, but with a long train ride ahead of me, I ended up ducking out a little early.  However, I’m so glad I made the time to go!