Kaori O’Connor ’68

Lycra: How a Fiber Shaped America

By Mary O’Hara ’12
Lycra: How a Fiber Shaped America

If you happen to be wearing clothes right now, chances are you’re wearing Lycra. At least a small amount, perhaps woven into the laces of your shoes or the elastic band of your underwear. And if you’re not wearing any clothes as you read this, well . . . odds are the Dupont corporation is somehow involved in whatever it is you are doing.

From the bristles of your toothbrush to the folds of your shower curtain, the overlooked materials of the daily American existence are infused with textile technology largely developed by a single corporate entity. And if that doesn’t sufficiently raise your hackles, anthropologist Kaori O’Connor ’68 wants to take you on a trip to the mall to search for a pair of size 18 Lycra leggings.

Kaori, a University College London research fellow who investigates fashion as sociological phenomenon, looks at the lack of tight-fitting exercise gear for ample women and discovers a conspiracy of sorts in which manufacturers use product placement to shape the culture at large. Simultaneously, she presents multiple views of histories of the Dupont company and of Lycra, all the while explaining basic anthropological concepts with embedded terminology such as “cohort analysis” and “multi-sited ethnography.”

Reedies will find this approach refreshing, familiar, and distinctively Reed. By taking a “studying up” approach to decoding the wealthy networks of production and marketing, the author delivers a fun and fascinating account—on a subject that oddly affects us all—to the new mass-culture anthropology. Plus, there are pictures of Jane Fonda in legwarmers