Ask students if they have ever worn special clothing for
specific occasions. What examples have they encountered? What kinds of special occasions involve special
dress? Have they ever worn specially decorated cloth-
“You know, we had hard times.
We worked in the fields, we picked
cotton, and sometimes we had it and
sometimes we didn’t. And so you
look at your quilt and you say, ‘This
is some of the old clothes that I wore
in the fields. I wore them out, but
they’re still doing good.’ ”
—Lucy Mingo, Gee’s Bend Quilter
ing for such occasions? What messages are conveyed by
Show students the young boy’s “Gunken” haregi from
Japan. Explain to them that like their own examples,
this special textile was worn on special occasions. The
“Gunken” haregi, made in 1930s Japan, is a formal dress
kimono for a young boy, and the images featured on
it send messages about hopes and wishes that parents
might have had for a child growing up during that time.
Considering the “Gunken” haregi, what might battleships, tanks, airplanes, and dogs mean for its wearer or
the wearer’s family?
Explain that, like the “Gunken” haregi, The Lady and
the Unicorn tapestry also had a practical purpose. Tapestries such as this were often hung on cold, stone walls
to help warm rooms. The tapestry also sent a message
about the wealth and status of its owner.
Kimono textile showing Japanese and Manchurian children at play. Japan, 1930s.
Printed silk, 14 x 25" ( 35 x 63 cm). Private collection, New York. Courtesy of Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, New York. Photographer: Bruce White.
Have students ask questions that are specifically
directed toward each featured artwork. Then, as a
group, have them try to answer those questions. As they
inquire, ask them to consider function and audience.
What purpose did each artwork serve? For whom was
each artwork made?
Using the same questioning strategy, have students
engage their own clothing in inquiry. Ask them to consider the patterns and symbols they notice. Ask them
what is communicated by the styles and modes of dress
we adopt? What stories and cultural histories can be told
through our clothing choices?