Thoroughly Modern: African American Women’s Dress and Culture of Consumption in Cleveland, Ohio 1890-1940

African American women have been absent from much of the writing on consumption and the making of modernity. This dissertation responds to these absences, using dress, a highly visible form of consumption, to examine how African American women in Cleveland, Ohio experienced modernity through the culture of consumption from 1890-1940, in the context of urbanization, migration, and the Great Depression.; In looking at African American women’s dress during this period, this dissertation will explore the clothed body not simply as a theoretical abstraction, but part of a lived experience in which production and consumption are not mutually exclusive. This will help illuminate the ability of African American women to find a sense of affirmation within oppressive systems.; African American women in Cleveland seized on the opportunities provided by dress and its related consumption to construct a modern black female identity that simultaneously accepted and contested dominant culture’s notions of femininity. However, African American women were not a monolithic group, so these constructions differed across geographic origins, class, and religious lines. African American’s women’s consumption also provided them with avenues for developing a sese of community that led to the creation of autonomous black spaces centered around dress and consumption. These spaces were essential to the self-definition and self-sufficiency that defied the New Negro.