Spear's Space

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Spears’ Space: The Play of Innocence and Experience in the Bare-Midriff Fashion DENNIS HALL

where in evidence: on the street; in restaurants and theaters; at tourist attractions in the classroom, on the floor of dance clubs; at parties big and small, public and private; possibly even at work; as a run of Cathy Guisewite comic strips suggest. Indeed, this fashion motif is so common as to have become almost unremarkable. Only the truly cloistered have yet to see young women—or pictures of them in fashion articles or clothing advertisements—clad in an abbreviated T-shirt or blouse or other top worn with low-rise1 jeans or pants or shorts or hiphugging skirts that, in tandem, bare the midriff in varying degrees, from a mere slip of skin occasionally revealed in walking or sitting to wider expanses, commonly revealing the navel and occasionally exposing what is called ‘‘butt cleavage.’’ Some find here a canvas for the body arts, most commonly naval rings and tattoos,2 while others adopt a minimalist approach, exhibiting only what nature, tanning, and exercise hath wrought. The evidence of informal observation suggests that this fashion is pitched to, and has been adopted principally by very young women, in their early teens through the early to mid twenties. Some evidence, more seen in advertising than on the street or in the salon, suggests that youth culture once again has been looted by high fashion. While the bare-midriff motif, as did the Grunge Look, has become a fashion option for some older and high-maintenance buyers, it remains the fashion coinage primarily of young women of the working and middle classes—if these designations mean anything any more.3 The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 39, No. 6, 2006 r 2006, Copyright the Authors Journal compilation r 2006, Blackwell Publishing, Inc.

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HE CURRENT POPULARITY OF THE BARE-MIDRIFF FASHION IS EVERY-

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Dennis Hall

The practice of women baring their midriffs, of course, has a fairly long and generally well-known history. Bare midriffs in theatrical costume became frequent in the 1920s and in the 1930s became an ordinary swimming costume option. In the 1940s the two-piece bathing suit was said to be part of a war effort to reduce the domestic consumption of fabric.4 Introduced in the 1950s, the bikini became increasingly common in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1960s, the Gidget movies brought a sufficiently revealing but not too daring two-piece bathing suit and bare midriff to younger teenage girls. Also in the 1960s, Barbara Eden’s costume in TV’s Genie brought the bare midriff indoors, domesticating it without ever once exposing her navel; this violent yoking together of the exoticism of the Middle-Eastern ‘‘harem’’ and the propriety of the American ‘‘suburb’’ is a discordia concors that only television of that era could effect. Later in the 1960s and early 1970s the habit of wearing ‘‘hip hugger’’ pants with loose Tshirts or ‘‘tube tops’’ (‘‘Midriff Tops’’) was a great deal less demure, and this sartorial practice played in the borderlands between mainline and hippie culture, invoking the ambiguous codes of a fashionable pursuit of novelty and of a more radical exercise of transgression. In like manner, the current bare-midriff fashion—it is important to keep in mind—is not dress for the specialized venues of the beach or exercise room or the boudoir, but, rather, it is dress for more or less ordinary public wear: on the street, at a party, in a night spot, at a concert— wherever that mix of casual and calculation define a young woman’s dress in the early years of the twenty-first century. The popularity of the bare midriff is, as is so common in postmodern fashion, less an instance of a genuine novelty than a matter of sartorial survival. In its roots and in the mainstream of current practice, I want to argue, however, the bare midriff does not have the retro feel of age and experience; this is not a return to a vestimentary code that invokes...
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