Elevate Difference

Couture and Consensus: Fashion and Politics in Postcolonial Argentina

While I was intrigued by Regina Root’s assertion that fashion played a large role in the development of national identity in postcolonial Argentina, I was more than intimidated to jump into a book with such an impressive thesis without much background knowledge of Argentinean history. Thankfully, Root packs an incredible amount of information into a slim volume.

In Couture and Consensus Root cleverly divides her work into five distinct chapters, the first of which addresses the tension that existed in Argentina following the revolution in 1810. She deftly explains the divide between the Federalists (those who pledged loyalty to Juan Manuel de Rosas, the tyrannical leader from 1829-1852) and the Unitarians (the rebels) in two ways: through a straightforward explanation of the politics of each side, and by using the lens of material history. Here is where Root’s thesis begins to take hold. By discussing the critical role that color played in this political binary—Federalists wore red and Unitarians favored green—she illuminates the power that dress held in that society to both conform and subvert a political agenda.

Root swiftly moves through her historical discussion and begins to set her sights on discussing the role that women played during this tumultuous time. She oscillates between highlighting the few, largely undocumented women who dressed as men to fight during the British invasions and women who commanded a space of their own by wearing outlandish garb such as massive skirts and intimidating hairpieces. The peineton was a hair comb that Root states was “one yard in height and width” during its most popular time. As a result of its grandeur, Root explains that woman gained more physical presence than ever and also more ridicule for being frivolous (as the combs were quite expensive). The amount of detail that Root uses in her discussion of the peineton is remarkable—she has truly searched out every archive in an attempt to form a material history of Argentina.

Her final chapter is perhaps her most interesting, because she speaks to the new found voices that women gained in the political sphere through engaging in fashionable discourse. While revolutionary men gained political footing under the guise of writing articles about fashion, it was the women who felt empowered by their ability to finally speak their minds. Root calls on everything from storylines of novels to the history of the magazines to prove this point, and the reader is almost exhausted at the conclusion of this book as a result of the incredible amount of information they’ve received. While this is an academic text, the amount of interdisciplinary thought that Root embodies is laudable—this isn’t just a book about fashion, politics, or feminism. Couture and Consensus is a book that manages to weave all of those distinct philosophies into one cohesive narrative about a beautiful country that is still forming its national identity to this day.

Written by: Alyssa Vincent, September 5th 2010