Visual design. Social good.

I view the world as a rhetorician. As someone who observes how modes of communication produce meaning. At TEDWomen I, with many others, reveled in the ways that material and visual modes of communication were performed. What some call a material rhetorical performance, others call fashion.


Hair, clothing, jewelry constantly communicate meaning on a variety of levels. We all read and interpret these “texts” regularly.  In this post I’ll read into a few select material performances from TEDWomen.

Let’s start with Beverly Joubert’s boots. As a National Geographic Explorer in Residence she has documented wildlife in Africa for the last 25 years.  At TEDWomen she spoke with her husband Dereck about the Big Cats Initiative – dedicated to halting the decline of big cats in the wild. Her tall, two-toned, calfskin riding boots performed her safari chic lifestyle from the stage. Like Beverly, her boots communicated a compelling juxtaposition of elegance and adventure – not an easy combination to achieve. 

Yet, the boots are not inherently elegant and adventurous in and of themselves. We bestow material objects (in this case, boots) with all kinds of meanings and associations. We may associate the boots with the expensive elegance of Ralph Lauren. Or with Karen Blixen from Out of Africa.

They may conjure images of Serengeti sunsets or British fox hunts. These associations, some personal, some collectively shared, travel with material objects. These associations give objects an aesthetic identity.

Here’s my definition of aesthetic identity – associations (both personal and shared) that travel with material objects.

At TEDWomen, we witnessed these aesthetic identities everywhere. They were evident in Toshi Reagon’s gorgeous indigo batik tunic. And Shirin Neshat’s exquisite handcrafted, silver-studded blouse.

Nigerian-American poet-singer-songwriter Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo’s shining braids and colorful ensemble worked to illustrate her border-crossing poetry. It was an important arrangement that demonstrates her place as a global citizen. Welcome everywhere. Elizabeth Lindsey, National Geographic Fellow and Polynesian explorer stunned the audience with the ancient art of storytelling. Her dress, like her story, was transportive, sensual, ancestral, vibrant.


Jessica Green, engineer, ecologist, biologist roller-derbiest, and TEDFellow, wore a sporty, edgy, eco vest.


Glacioligist and TEDIndia Fellow Michele Koppes traveled to TEDWomen by way of Lake Titicaca and was resplendent in her colorful and hand-knit textiles from Peru. 


Women at the conference creatively communicated aesthetic identities through their ensembles. Fashion at TEDWomen did important communicative work, shaping  and reshaping new identities. It reminded me of this quote:

As we voyage we are creating new stories within the tradition of the old stories, we are literally creating a new culture out of the old.
– Nainoa Thompson

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One Response to “Fashion at TEDWomen: exploring aesthetic identities”

  1. Idit

    Aimee, this is an original, fun coverage of an important aspect of TEDwomen (and women who are not TED). Appropriate and insighful. Obviously, Pat’s shiny red skirt-suit did not make it into this post 🙂

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