EMMA TARLO /// Politics of Head Garments: Gandhi Caps and Hijabs


Conversation recorded with Emma Tarlo in London on May 19, 2015

This conversation is the third one about the formation of a public body through clothing. Although this discussion was not intended to mostly focus on head garments, most of it can be gathered under this…cap. Through the two examples of the creation of the Gandhi cap during the Indian movement for the independence, and the hijab, we explore the two books written by Emma Tarlo, Clothing Matters (1996) and Visibly Muslim (2010). We particularly insist on the political semiology of these garments, which dooms any definite interpretation to fail, but recognizes their capacity to construct a collective identity and the potential for solidarity that this implies.

Emma Tarlo is a Professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research takes intimate subjects such as dress, the body and hair and explores how these are entangled in complex global relationships. Her books include Clothing Matters which focuses on the dynamics of dress in colonial and post colonial India and Unsettling Memories: Narratives of the Emergency in Delhi which traces how the urban fabric of Delhi was restructured through the displacement and sterilisation of the poor in the 1970’s. Her more recent books: Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith (Berg 2010) and the co-edited volume Islamic Fashion and Anti-fashion: New Perspectives from Europe and North America ( co-edited with Annelies Moors, Bloomsbury 2013) enter the world of contemporary Muslim dress practices, exploring how concerns with global politics and faith are articulated through the development and critique of new forms of Islamic fashion. Drawing on research conducted in India, China, USA and Europe, she is currently writing a book about the global trade in human hair. See her Funambulist contributor page.

– “Podcast Transcripts: Clothing and the Indian Independence Struggle,” in The Funambulist 3 (Jan-Feb 2016) Clothing Politics.


– Susan Bean, “Gandhi and Khadi: The Fabric of Independence,” in Weiner and Schneider (eds.), Cloth and Human Experience, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, 1989.
– Bernard Cohn, “Cloth, Clothes and Colonialism,” in Weiner and Schneider (eds.), Cloth and Human Experience, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, 1989.
– Léopold Lambert, “The Clothing Semiotics of the Indian Independence Struggle,” on The Funambulist (March 28, 2014)


– Emma Tarlo, Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India, Hurst (London), Viking (Delhi) and University of Chicago Press, 1996.
– Emma Tarlo, Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith, Berg (Oxford), 2010.
– Emma Tarlo and Annelies Moors (eds), Islamic Fashion and Anti-fashion: New Perspectives from Europe and North America, Bloomsbury (London), 2013.
– Watt Gary, Dress, Law and Naked Truth, Bloomsbury (London), 2013.
– Leila Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence from the Middle East to America, Yale University Press (New Haven), 2011.
– Reina Lewis (ed), Modest Fashion: Styling Bodies, Mediating Faith, I. B. Taurud (London), 2013.
– Sandra Niessen, Ann Marie Leshkowich, Carla Jones (eds), Re-Orienting Fashion: The globalisation of Asian Dress, Berg (Oxford), 2003.
– Scott, J Wallach, The Politics of the Veil, Princeton University Press, (Princeton), 2007.


– “Epidermalization of the Public Body: Clothing and Politics” with Mimi Thi Nguyen (October 2013)
– “Design of a Public Body: Wearing Hijab in the West” with Hana Tajima (February 2014)