Trappings: Stories of Women, Power and Clothing
by Two Girls Working: Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki

These Two Girls are Working across the boundaries of art and activism to provoke fresh thinking about women, clothes, and power. Other people's stories, seen through the medium of a feminist collaboration, are fascinating... and mysteriously different from one's own. Reading this book is like going to a great party where all the women are beautiful and powerful.
--- Lucy R. Lippard, author of
                      The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Feminist Essays on Art
.

OVERVIEW

What do you wear that makes you feel powerful? How about the woman next to you at the bank? In line with you at the store? Think about your mother. What would she put on to reveal her power source to the world? These are the questions that inspired Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki to embark on an interview journey across the United States. Over a period of six years, they talked with more than 500 women and girls, ages four through ninety-two, who ranged from office workers to drag-kings, stay-at-home moms to attorneys, fashion industry executives to elected officials, students to cowgirls.

It is these women’s sensitive, funny, and always revealing thoughts that are at the heart of Trappings—a book that although begins with a question about clothing is not about fashion at all. Here, clothing is simply a vehicle to access a larger dialogue about a diverse range of issues women face related to power and identity, including what expecta-tions and limitations are placed upon them by their affiliation with a specific gender, culture, race, class, or profession. A complex spectrum of responses include discussions about the importance of clothing’s comfort and practicality, how clothing can facilitate women’s movement through class and social strata, how sex is used strategically in business and social settings, and how clothing can be used to empower women by connecting them with cultural or personal history.

Complimented by 149 color and black-and-white photographs, the visual and written portraits in this book reveal much more than the contents of women’s closets. Through the intimate lens of clothing, Ludwig and Piechocki expose the very personal ways that power is sought, experienced, and projected by women.

256 pages • 149 photographs • 7 x 10 • ISBN 978-0-8135-4184-6

Available in November 2007


INTRODUCTION

If you received an invitation from your mother, a colleague, your best friend, or a neighbor to come to a party where you would be interviewed, on camera, in a group of ten other women, and asked to respond to the question: what do you wear that makes you feel powerful?, how would you respond? Would you respond at all or would you shy away, claiming other obligations? Would you agree to attend, knowing there is safety in numbers? Would you try on a dozen outfits and bring six of them with you to illustrate the complicated nature of power in your life? Or do you know immediately what your single power source is?

Before you delve into the images and stories contained in this book, you might want to consider the clothes hanging in your closet. If there is an article of clothing that makes you feel powerful, go ahead and put it on, wear it while you read this book. If your power is not revealed through clothing, have an idea of what power means to you and how you express it; this will put you in the same position as the sixty-one women presented in the pages ahead.

Trappings would not exist if no one came to the party. Luckily, everywhere we visited, women were ready to claim the stage and really ready to listen to stories that other women had to share. There is no script. There is only one question. Women choose what they want to reveal or what her friends or colleagues coax them into discussing.

This project is not about fashion and to a large extent not even about clothing. From the start, we knew that we wanted to speak with a diverse range of women about topics they may not have considered before. We wanted to speak with them about feminism. We wanted to speak with them about the cultural constraints of female identity. We wanted to speak with them about the role of power in their lives and what made them powerful. But we knew that if we only focused on power and the f-word, that either no one would come to our party or that we might not get beyond black and white answers and into real stories of women's lives. The women we met have given us answers we did not know existed. Clothing is the common denominator; clothing is something everyone has a relationship with. You can manipulate it as a vehicle for self expression or you can avoid it all together. Everyone gets dressed. Our identification of clothing as an outward projection of personality, class, occupation and lifestyle, as well as personal history, memory, and identity lead to our project question. By asking women what do you wear that makes you feel powerful? we ask them to consider what power means to them and how it is they turn it on.

From the beginning, we have been determined not present a right answer or develop a thesis. We do not want to create a Super Power Girl, a composite of the women we have met. A hockey playing English teacher with a law degree who wears one flat shoe and one stiletto despite the fact that she feels most powerful when she's in her comfortable jeans doing community service with her best friends after her morning twenty mile run for a good cause. Super Power Girl would represent the most common answers at the cost of the layered stories of individuals.

There is no right answer. That is not a side-step to difficult question. After the first interview sessions, and after developing exhibitions about the work, we became aware that our project also provides the viewer with the opportunity to examine judgments or assumptions they make based on appearance. We have been the project creators, but also project viewers. After meeting over five hundred women, across the United States, in all sorts of situations, we have developed a wider lens of understanding. We want the women in this book give you the same opportunity. We hope the person who you think you will love makes you crazy, and that you see parts of your own story in someone whose friendship you have not yet sought.

Through this book, we have created an opportunity for people beyond our interview sessions to consider the question what do you wear that makes you feel powerful? and to flush to consciousness their preconceived judgments made based on appearance.

Not just a project where two nice girls set up lunch and get together to chit chat with girlfriends and take some photos, this is an artwork that causes people to think, a project with a social framework. At a time when women's rights are being challenged in the United States and the status of women around the world is still second class at best, we want to inspire women to become empowered in their own lives.