Passing as Fashionable, Feminine and Sane: “Therapy of Fashion” and the Normalization of Psychiatric Patients in 1960s US
(2020) Fashion Theory – Journal of Dress Body and Culture, 24 (4), pp. 601-637.
This article introduces the little-known therapeutic approach of “Therapy of Fashion.” Piloted with a group of female psychiatric patients at Napa State Hospital in California in 1959 and initially carried out as a volunteer project by The Fashion Group of San Francisco, it was practiced in several US-American cities throughout the 1960s. By drawing on a Foucauldian analytical framework, this article analyses how dress and fashion, in the context of “Therapy of Fashion,” were constructed as a normalizing “technology of the self,” as a way of transforming, improving and, effectively, normalizing the bodies and minds of patients. It argues that this therapeutic approach in its official aim of “recreating healthy feminine characteristics” intended to make female patients pass as women, and pass as normative with regards to their gender roles, social behavior and appearance. Moreover, this article maintains that the contemporary relevance of “Therapy of Fashion” lies in the fact that it was developed at a time, at the turn of the 1960s, when in North America and Western Europe both therapy and fashion initially became key coordinates said to define our experience and understanding of ourselves. In its analysis, this article draws on a wide variety of sources: medical journals, local newspapers, contemporary publications about gender and mental hospitals, advertisements for psychotropic drugs and institutional garments, an author interview with one of the participating volunteers, and photographic documentation of different sessions. © 2020, © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
fashion; Foucault; normalization; passing; technology of the self; therapy; “Therapy of Fashion”