Dressing for the Culture Wars


Dressing for the Culture Wars

Style and the Politics of Self-Presentation in the 1960s and 1970s

Betty Luther Hillman

278 pages
14 illustrations, index


October 2015


$40.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

October 2015


$40.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

October 2015


$40.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Style of dress has always been a way for Americans to signify their politics, but perhaps never so overtly as in the 1960s and 1970s. Whether participating in presidential campaigns or Vietnam protests, hair and dress provided a powerful cultural tool for social activists to display their politics to the world and became both the cause and a symbol of the rift in American culture. Some Americans saw stylistic freedom as part of their larger political protests, integral to the ideals of self-expression, sexual freedom, and equal rights for women and minorities. Others saw changes in style as the erosion of tradition and a threat to the established social and gender norms at the heart of family and nation.

Through the lens of fashion and style, Dressing for the Culture Wars guides us through the competing political and social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Although long hair on men, pants and miniskirts on women, and other hippie styles of self-fashioning could indeed be controversial, Betty Luther Hillman illustrates how self-presentation influenced the culture and politics of the era and carried connotations similarly linked to the broader political challenges of the time. Luther Hillman’s new line of inquiry demonstrates how fashion was both a reaction to and was influenced by the political climate and its implications for changing norms of gender, race, and sexuality.

Author Bio

Betty Luther Hillman teaches history at Phillips Exeter Academy. Her work has appeared in the Journal of the History of Sexuality and Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies.


"Given its impressive sweep, scholarly rigor, and utter originality, Hillman's monograph is all the more commendable for opening up fresh areas of investigation."—Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo, American Historical Review

"Dressing for the Culture Wars extends our understanding of the social impact of fashion by providing an extensive analysis of its role in recent political and social debates."—Diana Crane, Journal of American History

"A valuable addition to the reading list for any course on the history of the 1960s and 1970s. Given that so many of the issues and conflicts surrounding identity and self-presentation remain unresolved, Hillman's work is equally relevant to anyone teaching or researching contemporary political activists and organization."—Jo Paoletti, Pacific Historical Review

“In this engaging book, Luther Hillman shows that performative self-presentation played a critical part in the social change of the 1960s and 1970s. Activists debated the transgressive styles of hippies, Black Power militants, feminists, and drag queens. The visual politics of everyday dress shocked the mainstream, shaped the fashion industry, challenged the law, and triggered conservative backlash. Compelling, original, and smartly argued, this book rewrites the history of an era and reminds us that fashion is not frivolity.”—Joanne Meyerowitz, author of How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States 

“Betty Luther Hillman has written a wonderfully engaging and thoroughly researched study of the politics of style and self-presentation during the tumultuous decades of the 1960s and 1970s. . . . Luther Hillman carefully grounds her social and cultural analysis in the historical, political, and economic context of [that time]. Given the popular interest in the fashion and politics of that era, her book will no doubt attract the interest of students as well as the general public.”—Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, author of Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Introduction: The Significance of Style in American Culture and Politics    
1. “You Can’t Tell the Girls from the Boys”: Changing Styles among American Youths, 1964–1968    
2. “What to Wear to the Revolution”: Self-Presentation Politics in Social Movement Activism    
3. “No Woman Can Be Free . . . Until She Loses Her Femininity”: The Politics of Self-Presentation in Feminist Activism    
4. “Wearing a Dress Is a Revolutionary Act”: Political Drag and Self-Presentation in the Gay Liberation Movement    
5. “Everyone Should Be Accustomed to Seeing Long Hair on Men by Now”: Style and Popular Culture in the Late 1960s to 1970s    
6. “Ours Should Not Be an Effort to Achieve a Unisex Society”: Legal Regulations of Personal Presentation in the Workplace    
Epilogue: The Politics of Style in Retrospect    

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