The Blog

The Blog is now retired.

My posts after May 2014 on issues of “dressing constitutionally” can be found over at Constitutional Law Professors Blog and at the CUNY Academic Commons.

The posts from May 2013 – May 2014 remain available and searchable.

Parting shot

Cover of Puck magazine, 6 April 1901. “Columbia’s Easter bonnet / Ehrhart after sketch by Dalrymple.” via


House Bill Seeks to Regulate Photoshopped Advertisements

Two House Representatives have introduced a bill to regulate the use of photoshop in advertising. Garnering applause from gender justice advocates, H.R. 4341: Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 would require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report to Congress a strategy reducing images in media and advertising that alter a person’s face or body’s physical characteristics.


Several groups set out on the Hill to raise support for the bill. One supporter told reporters that “if photoshopped ads told the same bold-faced lies that they do on images, there would be regulatory action.” But many are not concerned with the misleading nature of the ads — rather, as The Eating Disorders Coalition sees the bill, it is a way to prevent the “negative health outcomes that have been directly linked to these types of images.” Co-sponsoring the bill, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, told reporters “the link between false ads and eating disorders becomes increasingly clear every day.”

But the bill is not without opponents. The Association of National Advertisers told Time the bill is “too broad” and goes “too far,” noting that the FTC already has the power to regulate “unfair and deceptive ads.” Enforcement of any such photoshop regulation would raise 1st Amendment considerations, and there is question on how much photoshopping would be too much. One commentator opined that Justice Stewart’s well-known obscenity quote, “I know it when I see it,” would become apt precedent. But unfortunately, the challenges will likely never be made — the bill has a 1% chance of successful passage. Even with such a low likelihood of passage, the bill is seen by many as a success for raising the critique and amassing awareness of the issue.

[image via]

Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

March 25 marks the anniversary of the tragedy.

From Dressing Constitutionally:

273px-Paris_waist_from_CharvetShirtwaists – – – women’s blouses worn over plain long skirts in a “Gibson Girl” look – – – were extraordinarily popular, fashionable, and viewed as both democratic and a symbol of women’s increasing equality.   The system for manufacturing the blouses, as with other items of clothing, included tenement sweatshops in which workers were “sweated” by contractors, as well as loft factories in which long rows of sewing machines could be powered by a single motor.    There were eight such rows on the ninth floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building when the fire broke out on the floor below, igniting discarded material and quickly spreading through the three floors of the factory.  A combination of safety hazards contributed to the high death toll: crowded shop floor, lack of fire drill training, fire trucks in New York City that could only reach the seventh floor, rickety fire escapes, inoperable elevators, and doors locked from the outside.  One hundred forty-six people, mostly young women, died.   The Triangle Shirtwaist fire became emblematic not only because of the number of deaths, but because it was a very public event, with a number of women jumping from the flames to the street below during the fire, bodies lined up on the sidewalk for identification afterwards, and newspaper reports of skeletons bent over sewing machines.  It prompted a large commemoration, an unsuccessful prosecution of the shirtwaist “kings,” and a state investigative commission that spearheaded a number of legislative reforms aimed at safety including a fifty-four hour working week for children, minors, and women.

There are numerous events commemorating the tragedy and the continuing struggle for the rights of garment workers and other workers.

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Khmer-American Artist Sewing in Protest

An important performance piece by Kate Eng:



As Kate Eng explains:

“</3 is not a campaign for pity or charity.  It is an act of solidarity with the women who labor under the boot of multinational corporations and their collapsing industrial machines, women who literally create immense value with their own callused hands yet remain in poverty.

It is a message to consumer culture: behind every stitch is a hand, a face, a person. It is a critique of working class commodification and the brand industrial complex. I am not here to list the names of every corporation engaged in exploitation in Cambodia- though I will. I am here to meet you, the consumer, and to be consumed by you and to rest in the pit of your stomach. To be explicit, to haunt you while you shop.”

Where Is Your T-Shirt Made? And Who Makes It? Under What Conditions?

In her terrific new article for Mother Jones, Dana Liebelson discusses the links between India’s “sumangali” girls who work to save for their dowries and the clothes for sale in the West:

You won’t find a Western clothing manufacturer that openly approves of sumangali labor, but cracking down on it is a different matter. That’s because textile supply chains are vast and mind-numbingly complex. The average Indian T-shirt begins in a cotton field in western states like Gujarat and Maharashtra, where fluffy, plum-size balls are harvested by workers who generally come from the lower castes. From there, the balls are shipped in trucks to warehouses and sold to spinning mills, where machines (like the kind that cut Aruna’s hand) process raw cotton bales into thread. Then workers weave the thread into strips, dye them, and send them to factories that do final processing.

As Liebelson writes, it isn’t simply that the supply chains are “complex,” it’s also that manufacturers including retailers have great resistance to transparency.  As I’ve suggested elsewhere, one possibility is to demand labeling on our clothes that would reveal not only its source but the conditions under which it is made – – – there could be a  label “sweat free” analogous to the label “organic.”   And there’s more on the relationship between work (including labor under chattel slavery) and the clothes we wear in the chapter “dressing economically.”

800px-Men's_graphic_T-shirts_at_Old_Navy,_Tanforanimage via

ACLU Accuses Retailer of Racial Profiling in Anti-Shoplifting Policy

As the holiday season begins, retail stores vamp up to sell merchandise to crowds of shoppers, but also to stop shoplifting. Retailer, Hot Mama, is in hot water for its particularly aggressive anti-theft policy, which has employees racially profiling customers according to the ACLU of Colorado.

Hot Mama is a large nationwide retailer, selling women’s clothing in over 40 stores and online. Their anti-theft policy tells employees to identify a potential shoplifter if “a customer that doesn’t look like the typical Hot Mama shopper.” Once identified, the employee should “stick to potential thieves by following them everywhere in the store. Make them feel uncomfortable. Ask questions.” The policy warns that,hot-mama-inside

“Shoplifters will try to make YOU feel uncomfortable. They may say: ‘Are you following me because of my race?’ Please respond: ‘We like to give each customer one-on-one service.’ Don’t worry about making them uncomfortable. That is your goal in this situation. The more uncomfortable they become, the quicker they leave…forever.”

The ACLU of Colorado finds the language of the policy laden with “subtle and not-so-subtle” references to racial profiling of customers —

“The curious phrasing of this description of a ‘potential thief’ suggests that it is a subtle coded encouragement of racial targeting. Who is and who is not a ‘typical Hot Mama shopper’? A review of Hot Mama’s website, which features an overwhelming proportion of white women modeling the clothing, suggests the answer. The price point of the clothing, along with the dearth of models of color on the website, suggests that Hot Mama regards its ‘typical Hot Mama shopper’ as an upper-middle-class white female, and that it is persons of color who are more likely to be identified as ‘potential thieves’ on the ground that they don’t ‘look like the typical Hot Mama shopper.’”

Moreover, the ACLU notes that the policy’s acknowledgement that customers will ask if employees are racial profiling creates a suggestion for employees to do so. The ACLU also references a Hot Mama manager who questioned the racialized policy and was told that some stores had “problems with black gangs.” Saying the policy is in violation of federal and state law, the ACLU adds that the policy “creates an environment in which people of color will be followed, intimidated, and have their rights violated when attempting to shop at Hot Mama.”


The ACLU’s action against Hot Mama is not isolated — just in October, both Barneys and Macy’s made news and faced lawsuits for alleged racial profiling to mitigate shoplifting. The Macy’s suit includes allegations against the NYPD for their role in the shoplifting prevention operation, creating clear state action for a possible Equal Protection challenge.

As the holiday shopping season begins, hopefully stores will learn from these mistakes and make sure to prevent theft with a non-racialized means, implementing policies that do not disproportionately impact shoppers of color. It may be wise for businesses to avoid policies that give an employee the goal of making a customer so uncomfortable that she will “leave … forever,” when the customer asks whether she is profiled for her race. Indeed, such strong language leads one to wonder whether the policy is meant to prevent theft, or to prevent certain groups from shopping at their stores and from wearing their clothing.

[image via 1 and 2]

Isis Brantley and Her Ongoing Battle for Hair Braiding Justice in Texas

In 1997, natural hair stylist and hairbraider activist, Isis Brantley was arrested for braiding hair without a barber license, a crime under Texas law. She challenged her arrest, and the Texas legislature eventually created a separate licensing scheme for hairbraiders.

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Isis Brantley

16 years later, Brantley is back in court — this time, filing federal suit against the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. According to Brantley’s complaint, Texas law would require her to “spend 2,250 hours in barber school, pass four licensing exams, and spend thousands of dollars … all to teach a 35-hour hairbraiding curriculum” to her students. She alleges that the law violates her 14th Amendment Due Process, Equal Protection, and Privileges or Immunities rights, as the 14th Amendment was designed to “protect economic liberty” and prevent unreasonable government interference “with the right to earn an honest living in one’s chosen occupation.”

In filing the suit, Brantley joined forces with the Institute of Justice, a well-known libertarian law firm, producing the video below. She also published a piece in Huffington Post, “Hairbraiding is the Latest Civil Rights Struggle.”  Like other civil rights struggles, litigation in the court of public opinion may be just as necessary as in traditional legal forums.


[image via]

Garment Workers USA

800px-Spinner's_WeaselWhat is today’s garment industry like in the USA?  Terrific read from NYT in the article, “American Made: A Wave of Sewing Jobs as Orders Pile Up at U.S. Factories,” by Stephanie Clifford:

The American textile and apparel industries, like manufacturing as a whole, are experiencing a nascent turnaround as apparel and textile companies demand higher quality, more reliable scheduling and fewer safety problems than they encounter overseas. Accidents like the factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year, which killed more than 1,000 workers, have reinforced the push for domestic production.

But because the industries were decimated over the last two decades — 77 percent of the American work force has been lost since 1990 as companies moved jobs abroad — manufacturers are now scrambling to find workers to fill the specialized jobs that have not been taken over by machines.

 In Clifford’s previous article, she discussed the mechanization – – – and technologization – – – of textile plants, including  “the absence of high-paid American workers in the new factories” that “has made the revival possible.”  

Excellent reporting by Clifford that is pertinent to anyone interested in “dressing constitutionally.”

Fascist Fashion: Hugo Boss and the Nazis

The presentation by comedian Russell Brand at the GQ Awards in London (at which he was receiving the “Oracle Award”) has been making waves for his statements about designer Hugo Boss: “if any of you know a little bit about history and fashion, you’ll know Hugo Boss made the uniforms for the Nazis.”  Adding that the Nazis “did look f*’ing fantastic, lets face it, while they were killing people on the basis of their religion and sexuality.”

Video below:

Brand’s comments are supported by the historical record, largely based on a study and resultant book (available only in German) which the company funded.  An abridged version in English of the study of the history of Hugo Boss is available through the company itself, including its use of “forced labor,” a practice for which it apologized.  A 2011 BBC article has an especially good discussion of the apology,  book, and controversies.

Forced labor in garment factories did not end with World War II, however, and perhaps Brand could have made links to current conditions such as the 2013 Bangladesh factory fire and the possibility of requiring labels to certify clothes are “sweat-free.”

But Brand has made other links, arguing in a column in The Guardian that:

The jokes about Hugo Boss were not intended to herald a campaign to destroy them, they’re not Monsanto or Halliburton, the contemporary corporate allies of modern-day fascism; they are, I thought, an irrelevant menswear supplier with a double-dodgy history. The evening though provided an interesting opportunity to see how power structures preserve their agenda, even in a chintzy microcosm.

He then goes on to ask questions about politicians, political influence of corporations, surveillance, fracking, and the meaning of “glamour and glitz.”