Projects In progress

"In Questionable Taste": Dressing for Success and Defining Deviance, 1880-1930


My new book project tackles parties, dancing, and gambling--and of course, what people wore. 

"Dress for success” has long been a key instruction for young and aspiring adults, particularly for those venturing into business and finance. Such codes usually included stricter specifications for women and people of color, for whom a clearly respectable image was paramount.  

How were those standards created? Who came up with them? 

Much as the cultural notion of whiteness was forged alongside the idea of blackness, the modern sartorial markers of  disrepute and criminality were described at the same critical moments as were the much-staider styles of success and respectability.


This project will look at dress practices  such as the scripted outfits of Wild West gamblers at the close of the frontier, the privately held but publically hailed fancy-dress balls hosted by the newly rich during the Gilded Age, changes in the commonly accepted attire of Wall Street stock brokers at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the performative dress of Harlem drag balls at the eve of the Great Depression. I argue that as part of or in response to such masquerades, proscriptive details of “dressing for success” evolved as exclusionary devices in efforts to re-establish wavering social boundaries.

Object Project: A Podcast About the History and Meaning of Things


Coming Soon!

Researched and Produced by Jennifer Le Zotte and University of North Carolina Wilmington Public History graduate students