Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

MA English

Department

English

Advisor

Dr. Mary Balkun

Committee Member

Dr. John Wargacki

Keywords

Kate Chopin, Fashion, Vogue, "A Pair of Silk Stockings", "A Respectable Woman", "La Belle Zoirade"

Abstract

Since its debut in 1892, Vogue magazine has been a temple for fashion and consumerism amongst the elite. It provided instructions on mannerisms, tastes, marriages, and the latest styles. In 1900, the average family income was $769 with $108 allocated to clothing costs; the average elite consumer was spending more than $556 on clothing per year. Today, that would be a clothing budget of more than $12,000. With the ever-increasing interest in cultural studies of objects, particularly clothing and fashion, it is startling that more has not been done with the nineteen short stories Kate Chopin published in the magazine between 1893-1900. Vogue was not known for literary acclaim and did not pay very much to its fiction authors. Considering that Chopin was writing for a living, this paper aims to explain why she so persistently published through this magazine. Josephine Redding, editor of Vogue in these years allowed Chopin a certain freedom with her stories that others tried to stifle. Thus, the freedom to explore themes of moral ambiguity, slavery, the plight of women in consumer culture far outweighs the financial insufficiencies of publishing in Vogue . The selection of short fiction published in Vogue deserves further investigation as Chopin was writing specifically to an audience of wealthy, possibly powerful, women. By focusing on the role of fashion in “La Belle Zoraide”, “A Respectable Woman”, and “A Pair of Silk Stockings”, Chopin’s ambitions to explore social issues more openly and in depth will become clear. In all of these stories we may use the theorizing of Roland Barthes and Malcolm Barnard to see how the systems of fashion mirror the struggles of the independent female in Chopin’s society. Chopin recognized the commodification of women in her time and uses a commodity, clothes, to undermine the oppression. In “La Belle Zoraide” Chopin challenges not only the female role in society, but also racial tensions through the dark Mezor. His naked chest, through an absence of clothing, further works against the established oppressive society. Both “A Respectable Woman” and “A Pair of Silk Stockings” unravel the traditional role of “wife” through a series of self-indulgences. In all three of the short stories Chopin reaches the core of serious social issues that affect her audience, such as the consumer driven culture of the time.

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