The "Education" section is fairly brief. It lists three post-secondary degrees, all received from Michigan State University: a B.A. in 1952 with a minor in Textiles, Clothing, and Related Arts; a master's in 1956; and a Ph.D. in 1959, awarded for Joanne's research on the lack of out-migration among Finnish communities in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The "Honors" section, on the other hand, stretches for pages, with plaudits including:
The Leadership Award from the Arts Council of African Studies Association,
Fellowships from the Costume Society of America and International Textile and Apparel Association, respectively,
The Distinguished Alumni Award from MSU,
An honorary doctorate from Iowa State,
Elite recognition as Regents Professor from the University of Minnesota, and
The Dartmouth Medal from the American Library Association, awarded for Joanne's work as editor-in-chief of the "Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion," which debuted as a 10-volume print work in 2010 before going online, where it continues to expand.
I've pulled these selections from more than 30 career citations listed on Joanne's CV. Much of the acclaim came towards the end of her career or even during retirement, by which point she had published 20 books as editor and author, contributed 40-plus chapters in academic anthologies, and placed more than 50 articles with scholarly journals. Her credits for editing will only increase as she continues to oversee two book series from Bloomsbury Publishing, both of which Joanne helped launched: "Dress, Body, Culture" and "Dress and Fashion Research." As for the "Encyclopedia," which Joanne considers a fitting capstone to her career, she continues to commission 100,000 words per year for online entries.
Joanne's achievements set precedents. She co-edited the first anthology on the socio-cultural and aesthetic significance of dress ("Dress, Adornment, and the Social Order") in 1965. She co-authored the first academic text on cross-cultural dress ("The Visible Self") in 1973. Currently, an academic named Gloria Williams is writing an intellectual biography on Joanne. Dr. Williams contends that Joanne was not only the first person in the United States to teach a course on African dress―which Joanne indeed was, in 1967―but that Joanne is also the first American to discuss African dress as a form of art. As Dr. Williams continues her research, it's altogether possible that Joanne will continue to break new ground for work she did decades ago.
One precendent stands out for me: Joanne literally changed the meaning of dress. The "classification system of dress" that she and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins debuted in the second edition of "The Visible Self" offered a new conception of how we dress our bodies. Ultimately, Joanne moved discussions about clothing and style from What (talking about clothing as clothing) to Why (talking about clothing as identification systems that create and contextualize meaning for societies, groups, and individuals).
Selvedge Denim and Selvedge Wrappers
From 1963 to 1966, Joanne lived in Africa, where she was a research associate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. While studying the importance of dress and textiles to the Nigerian people, she began collecting African textiles. As Joanne wrote in her paper "Reflecting on Collecting: My Romance with African Textiles," she wrote, "I visited markets, asked questions, watched weavers and dyers, and collected and collected. By the end of my stay, my purchases had grown far beyond any immediate use." Joanne's fabric collection eventually surpassed 500 pieces―collected during eight African trips over the course of 11 years. In 2012 she began giving pieces away to museums and special collections.
In high school it can be the tiniest difference that people recognize as being very fashionable. You're either in or out. You violate the norms sometimes, and high school kids can really be quite mean. If they're mean enough, they're bullies. Otherwise it can just be some nasty comment. Until you really get it, you're just out.
Lodi Township, Ohio
There had been some trouble on the way back to Mrs. Theiss' classroom following our morning milk-break in the cafeteria. My sixth-grade classmates and I stood without moving in a single-file line that curled around the main stairwell inside Shade Elementary. Mrs. Theiss had ordered us to freeze when she spotted a couple of boys engaging in shenanigans up on the second floor. While Mrs. Theiss sorted out the infractions, I milled around in front of the bottom flight of stairs, inside a little cubby of space. To my right was Mrs. Bilski's music room. To my left, the boy's bathroom. Directly behind me was the basketball gym, home of the Shade Panthers. A few male classmates formed a huddle near me and started whispering among themselves. I stood around on my own, slightly bored, not expecting my life to change.
The whispering in the huddle stopped, but I didn't notice. I did notice, however, the single, raised voice that replaced it.
"Hey, you wore those same clothes yesterday!"
The boy's voice was jubilant. It jingled like keys on a janitor's hip. I turned to see that the huddle had broken up, and one of the boys now stepped towards me. He stretched his arm out in the air between us, one rigid forefinger indicating the direction in which his friends should cast their laughter like stones. They hit my t-shirt, which given the time period quite likely featured several G.I. Joe characters piled onto a skimobile that was equipped, however improbably, with laser canons. They hit my K-Mart jeans. And living as we were in the first generations of Air Jordans and Air Force 1s, they definitely hit my Stadia sneakers.
My socks and underwear were always clean. Otherwise, I typically wore the same t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers until they were dirty or, in the case of the Stadias, my toes poked through. But I had no idea that such repetition was a violation of the norm. Hell, I hadn't even know that there was a norm, not until that exact moment. As the laughs landed, one thought crystallized in my young mind: What you wear (and how often you wear it) matters.
Clothing immediately preoccupied me. Every day I studied my classmates, building a mental chronicle of who wore what when. I judged myself accordingly.
The Textile Thread
Some people can play music by ear. Joanne's mother could sew by sight. "She could see something and sew it," Joanne remembers. Even with very technical things like attaching a sleeve to the armscye, or armhole space, Joanne says her mother "somehow just knew it." Joanne grew up wearing clothes that her mother made, and this continued even into Joanne's college years. "That was the period of time when formals were really popular," Joanne says. "So, the J Hop, the senior dance, military balls―my mother made most of those dresses for me."
With textiles running in her blood, Joanne minored in Textiles, Clothing, and Related Arts. Her mother had mastered the What of clothing, and Joanne began to explore the Why of textiles after receiving her doctorate.
In 1963, Joanne moved to Nigeria, where she saw textiles informing how Nigerians danced, mourned, created different gender-based aesthetics, and otherwise built and expressed ethnic and individual identities―to the extent that fabric helped Nigerians authenticate their culture. Later focusing on the Kalabari people, Joanne witnessed a unique relationship between people and cloth. The Kalabari (1) acquired madras cloth from India, (2) characterized the cloth by giving it a new name, (3) incorporated the fabric into their ceremonies, rituals, and daily lives in meaningful ways, and (4) transformed the fabric, specifically via pelete bite, a painstaking method of design-by-subtraction in which Kalabari women remove the threads of madras fabric with a needle and knife or razor blade. This technique creates new designs in the madras, thereby transforming an Indian fabric into something uniquely Kalabari, a four-step process described as "cultural authentication.” Throughout Joanne's career she investigated other instances of cultural authentication, such as Seminole Native Americans creating their own style of shirts based on those worn by European settlers.
The scope of Joanne's research on African textiles gave her a fresh vantage point for dress in general. She would go on to write about the concept of "elegance" in African-American dress. She wrote about Marilyn Monroe's covert feminism in a paper titled "Dumb Like a Fox." She wrote about Hmong Americans and how they strengthened generational bonds through dress. All the while, she never stopped writing about the Kalabari and their cloth. However, while Joanne spent decades getting papers published and books printed, university-level Home Economics departments continued to treat clothing as clothing, with a focus on construction. In the 1973 first edition of "The Visible Self," Joanne and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins expanded the concept of dress beyond clothing, to view the topic, as the authors said, "cross-culturally and objectively." Then, with the second edition of the textbook, published in 2000, the authors went even further. Whereas previously they had expanded the definition of dress, they now changed it altogether.