Accepted paper:

Uses of denim to rethink social stratification in Brazil


Leticia Veloso (Universidade Federal Fluminense)
Livia Barbosa (ESPM - SP)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines meanings of denim and stratification in Brazil through quantitative and qualitative data. We investigate impoverished persons’ strategies (credit, counterfeit) to seasonally buy the newest models and styles, and denim as an item of fashion and beautification, to understand how denim is used to produce a sense of egalitariannes.

Paper long abstract:

Engaging with Miller's 2010 "anthropology in blue jeans" and Miller's and Woodward's 2007 "manifesto for a study of denim," this paper adds to the theorizing of denim as a global commodity by examining meanings ascribed to both denim and stratification in Brazil. Based on qualitative and quantitative data, we argue that, for the impoverished, though the "blindingly obvious" ubiquity of denim and its use in resolving anxieties are similar, denim here is not used primarily to produce "ordinariness," but to rethink stratification through a sense of egalitariannes. We make four points: (a) while denim is marked by class and distinguishes consumers by income, all classes incorporate each seasons' models, styles, and brands - albeit through credit strategies or purchase of fake items - and use them differently according to occasion, climate, body weight, etc.; (b) "being in fashion" is a feature of the Brazilian everyday for all classes and denim is a fashion item, not a commonplace garment one unthinkingly resorts to; (c) "beauty" is a central concept used to describe people's relationship to denim; it is used to make the body beautiful and to stand out, not to blend in; and (d) through access to middle-class ideals of fashion and beauty materialized in denim, the working classes aim at a sense of egalitarianness and belonging. We thus argue that Brazilian denim cannot be subsumed into a notion of a "post-semiotic garment" as an antithesis to identity, since it both replicates and adds new meaning to processes described in the above articles.

panel W038
Materiality and poverty