Volume 1, Issue 1, Article 8 - 2018
Veiling, Orientalism, and Unknowing Women in US Vogue, 1917–25
BY ILYA PARKINS
In the years of the veil’s declining popularity as a fashion accessory, the New York edition of Vogue devoted sustained attention to the garment. A series of textual meditations on its significance amounted to a minor philosophical discourse on concealment, revelation, and femininity itself. This preliminary investigation of these treatments of veiling considers its positioning vis-à-vis both the white women who were the normative subjects and imagined readers of the magazine, and orientalized women who were only spectrally present in the pages of Vogue. This paper compares the ways that veiled unknowability was figured for white women and orientalized women in the pages of the magazine, and considers the veil-as-fashion-accessory (distinct from but obliquely related to the imagined “veil-as-cultural-signifier”) as a material technology of opacity that was seen to enable a strategic positioning of white femininity in relation to power. Veiling presents a significant instance of a power-saturated relational encounter, highlighting asymmetrical points of contact between two feminine imaginaries, which hinged on questions of opacity as a conceptual analogue to feminine mystery. This reading shows that invocations of the veil frequently defaulted to translucency while remaining steeped in the language of opacity, and thus obliquely established translucency as a privileged category that allowed white bourgeois women some conceptual mobility while tying orientalized women to pure opacity.