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Over the twentieth century, multi-disciplinary academic studies addressed dress practice and bodily adornment from a variety of perspectives, assessing the question of fashion, though few communities outside the West were awarded this term until the past generation. Anthropologists took an ethnographic stance, with works that from the late 1980s became more attentive to the lived significance of clothing that reflected ‘agency, practice and performance’ with local and global impact.
The early modern era (c. 1500–1800) is characterized by the movement of goods and movement of people at an unprecedented scale, interactions described as ‘codependent’.1 The use of ‘early modern’ is argued to be a useful term by James Grehan, reflecting a shared material transformation that defined this age, with goods like tobacco, once known only in the Americas, sweeping the globe by 1600.2 Material innovations of many sorts took hold, manifested in the multiplication of old and new commodities and their wider social manipulation in world communities – shifts in fashion by another name. Diffusion of new material culture did not mean the simple transplanting of goods or the standardization of meanings attached to objects and object systems. Neither colonial nor imperial authorities could wholly impose such values. Indeed, Indigenous scholar Sherry Farrell Racette emphasizes that goods offered by European fur traders to Indigenous North Americans had to conform to existing priorities, with colour and ‘improved function’ equally vital. In this context, ‘[Indigenous] Women literally stitched new goods into daily and ceremonial life.’3 Translation and incorporation are terms applied to the growing complex of materials, a mixing facilitated by new and expanded exchange systems.4