On Teaching: How Education Can Respond to Change

Recently I have been bombarded with dooms-day predictions regarding the American economy. I cannot blame my friends for their fears and precautions, after all our country has struggled for many years to pull itself out of a recession. Despite these harsh realities, I believe America has the ability to respond to change. How can education respond to this change? First, we must identify the challenges facing us.


Photo courtesy of The Independent Report

Participation in the labor force is at an all time low. In fact, the United States ranked 20th in the world in 2014, a dramatic drop from number one in 1980. Maybe this is caused by the reduction of national production of resources.   We no longer produce what we need to sustain our country and thereby rely upon international allies for support (Chafuen, 2015). But are these international associations truly allies? Predatory trade policies are costing Americans millions of jobs (Heffner, 2015).

The retail industry has also been affected by these challenges. Within the last twelve months several retailers have laid off workers, cancelled orders, closed branches and minimized brick-and-mortar locations (Phelps, 2015). Band of Outsiders, Kate Spade, J. Crew, and Abercrombie and Fitch are just a few American companies facing these economic decisions. Sales have been unstable and consumer demand unpredictable. Women’s Wear Daily will announce the rise in stock prices for one company and immediately the decline of a competitor (Edelson, 2015).


Photo courtesy of style.com

All of these facts create the cynics surrounding me. I can understand why! However, I refuse to believe there is only one result: catastrophe. I believe we will survive this “reinvention” of the American economy. As educators, we must be ready to respond to this change. Knowing what we do about the challenges facing the economy and the retail industry, how can we respond? I have a theory:

  1. Focus on going global. Teach students how to research and adapt business strategies for international markets. Not only will this open more doors but it will also provide students the tools to adapt to changes in the American market.
  2. Make room for technology. Allow flexibility within the curriculum and budget for new technology. Technology is advancing quickly. Planning for this will help with the transition.
  3. Collaborate with other fields of study. With the integration happening across industries, it is important to mirror this in the classroom. By partnering with courses outside of the fashion program, students learn how to work with people who have other interests.
  4. Return to design fundamentals. The elemental design processisproblem solving. Education needs to return to a focus on how to diagnosis issues and develop solutions. Encouraging creativity and promoting “makers” will allow students to approach the change as a problem to be solved and be equipped to do so (N. Pidgeon, personal communication, June 25, 2015).

design process

Photo courtesy of Your Happy Camper

We may not be able to avoid this change my friends stress about, but we can prepare. As educators we must see these challenges as fortuitous and equip our students to take advantage of the climate change. If we do a good job in preparing them, these students will be the trailblazers turning these troubles into opportunity. Creating strategies now to prepare them is what we, as educators, are supposed to do and it is what we must do now to help them navigate the changes to come.

What do you think? Are there other methods we can use to prepare our students for this “reinvention” of the American economy?



Chafuen, A. (January 1, 2015). The U.S. Economy In 2015: Challenges And Opportunities, Forbes World Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrochafuen/2015/01/01/the-u-s-economy-in-2015-challenges-and-opportunities/.

Edelson, S. (June 19, 2015). Retailers Cut Jobs as Pressures Mount, Women’s Wear Daily. Retrieved from http://wwd.com/retail-news/financial/layoffs-job-cuts-retail-10159174/.

Heffner, T. (March 15, 2015). Economic Problems Facing the U.S., Economy in Crisis: America’s Economic Report- Daily. Retrieved from http://economyincrisis.org/content/major-economic-problems-facing-united-states.

Phelps, N. (June 1, 2015). The CFDA Awards Celebrate American Fashion, but It’s Been a Hard Year for the Business, Style.com. Retrieved from http://www.style.com/trends/industry/2015/hard-year-for-american-fashion-business-cfda-awards-essay.



Interview with Monica by The Seams


I’ve been getting to know the crew over at The Seams, which is a new podcast developed by NPR contributor Jacki Lyden.

As you may remember, we encouraged Worn Through readers to donate to their Kickstarter since the topic of their shows, storytelling about apparel, are certainly something we’d love to hear about more regularly.

Recently I did a phone interview with Jacki that was initially supposed to air on the show. It was decided that instead I’d speak about a different subject for a future airing, but the interview dives into the history of our field, some academic and social aspects of what we study, and a tad into subcultural waters.

Although it’s not going to air on the Seams/NPR, Jacki and I thought Worn Through readers would be the perfect audience and have brought it you here! Listen for me to appear in future episodes.

You can find the Seams podcast at iTunes

and on this website


Costume Society Election

If you’re in the Costume Society of America you’ll see that the regional elections for the new boards are taking place. They close tomorrow July 1. Please do participate in your regional and national elections of the societies you are a part of to help move them in the directions you’d like to see.

I have been nominated for the CSA Midwest Regional Board for the first time. If you are in my region, consider voting for me as I’d very much like this enriching opportunity to help with CSA activities and share ideas.

Only CSA Midwest (USA) members can vote, but look for your local link if you’re not in this region. Links are via email to members.

Thank you for taking the time!!


Upcoming Symposium: Fashion, Sex and Power

The Joanne B. Eicher Symposium II


September 11-12, 2015

McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Avenue, St. Paul MN 55108 

Attend the Fashion Sex and Power Symposium and meet colleagues from four continents presenting papers. Take advantage of the early bird registration and review the preliminary program.

READY NOW–Early Bird Registration and Preliminary Program at: http://design.umn.edu/fashionand/FashionSexPower.html

The symposium topics explore and discuss the relationships of power, sex and fashion in dress. Papers will begin at 1pm on Friday followed by a public (free) keynote address at 5:30pm by Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator, Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City.

Bonus Lecture (free) at 7:30 pm on “Alexey Brodovitch, Art Director,” related to Goldstein Museum of Design current exhibit in McNeal Hall.

Saturday panels will begin at 9 am and continue through late afternoon, and a celebratory dinner in the evening.

The deadline for early bird registration is July 31.

*NOTE FROM MONICA: This is happening in my area, so I can help people figure out travel logistics, and, if enough people come I’d be happy to organize a Worn Through meet up


You Should Be Reading: Designer Memoirs

Some of the most vivid primary sources for historic fashion research are autobiographies and memoirs of great designers. Several of the books listed below were required reading for a fashion history course in my M.A. program. They can be entertaining and intimate, and help historians make a stronger connection with these figures whom we associate primarily with their work and their legacies, but not their voices. Poiret amuses with self-congratualtion and Dior leaves you desperate for content beyond the last page (Christian Dior died suddenly the year before it was published). Three of the four titles were out of print until recently, when the V&A began to reprint them. Early editions can be found used online, or in libraries.

1. King of Fashion: The Autobiography of Paul Poiret, 1931

Paul Poiret’s autobiography tells the extraordinary story of the meteoric rise of a draper’s son to the ‘King of Fashion’. From his humble Parisian childhood to his debut as a couturier, to his experiences during the First World War, Poiret reveals all in this captivating tale. His artistic flair, coupled with his remarkable and highly original cutting skills, enabled him to translate the spirit of Art Deco into revolutionary garments and his memoirs bring this astonishing period to life.  – From the Publisher

2. Dior by Dior, 1958

Christian Dior rocketed to fame with his first collection in 1947 when the ‘New Look’ took the world by storm. This charming and modest autobiography gives a fascinating and detailed insight into the workings of a great fashion house, while revealing the private man behind the high-profile establishment. It is also a unique portrait of the classic Paris haute couture of the 1950s and offers a rare glimpse behind the scenes. Dior details his childhood in Granville, the family and friends closest to him, his most difficult years and sudden success, as well as his sources of inspiration and creative processes.  – From the Publisher

3. Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, 1954

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was one of the leading fashion designers of the 1920s and 1930s with a flair for the unusual. The first to use shoulder pads, animal prints and the inventor of shocking pink, Schiaparelli collaborated with artists including Jean Cocteau, Alberto Giacometti and Salvador Dalí, to create extraordinary garments such as the infamous Dalí Lobster Dress and the bizarre Skeleton Dress. Schiaparelli had an affluent clientele, from Katherine Hepburn to Marlene Dietrich, who embraced her outrageous but elegant designs. She designed aviator Amy Johnson’s wardrobe for her solo flight to Cape Town in 1936, the culottes for tennis champion Lily d’Alvarez that outraged the lawn tennis establishment, and her clothes appeared in more than 30 films including Every Day’s a Holiday and Moulin Rouge. Schiaparelli’s fascinating autobiography charts her rise from resident of a rat-infested apartment to designer to the stars. – From the Publisher

4. The Allure of Chanel, 1976

Though not strictly an autobiography, this book is based on a series of conversations between Mademoiselle Chanel and the author, Paul Morand. Morand’s last book, one of the most appealing of his oeuvre, brings together around the figure of Chanel, portraits of Misia Sert, Erik Satie, Serge Lifar, Georges Auric, Raymond Radiguet, Jean Cocteau, Picasso and Churchill, among others. Written in the great storyteller’s marvelous prose, this book artfully sketches the character of the elusive, mysterious and charming creature who inspired Malraux to say: “Chanel, De Gaulle and Picasso are the greatest figures of our times.” Hailed on its publication in 1976 as ” a great celebration of a book, a finely cut, sparkling gem”, The Allure of Chanel attracted the attention of Karl Lagerfeld, who embellished it with seventy-three drawings. – From the Publisher

Image credit: 1stdibs.com

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Fashion and Cars – exploring common grounds in class

Have you ever proposed to your students to explore an uncommon topic? Or combine two topics that seem to have nothing in common at all? What did the students think about the approach?

I am asking you this because in June, I brought up a slightly unusual topic in class: Fashion and cars. At first, it seemed that the two subjects are hardly connected to each other so we set out to explore them. The results were quite fascinating and I would like to share a brief summary of them with you today, because whether you look at design, marketing strategy or the environmental impact, cars and fashion actually do have many parallels.


Image source here.

First of all there is a phenomenon called “car culture” which – to sum it up in a sentence – is the cultural impact cars had on society once they became mass marketed. This influence permeated the way we shop (i.e. big malls), where we work (i.e. commuting to and from suburbs) and how a car became a status and power symbol, at first mostly for men. This car culture triggered a myriad of advertising showing sexy and fashionable women and created fashion outfits to be used when driving such as the original Car Shoe and its many clones.

Car shoe for Lamborghini's 50th anniversary

Car shoe for Lamborghini’s 50th anniversary

Image source here.

When the Mini became Britain’s flagship car, it simultaneously became synonymous with cultural movements powered by Twiggy, the Beatles and the swinging sixties.

The first Mini rolled off the production line in the late fifites but became as synonymous with the "Swinging Sixties as the other, head-turning mini."

The first Mini rolled off the production line in the late fifites but became as synonymous with the “Swinging Sixties as the other, head-turning mini.”

Image source here.


Secondly, todays marketing strategy for cars includes being fashionable. Car-makers want to be associated with glamour which is why they sponsor many fashion weeks (Mercedes hosts several around the world) and even delve into bridal wear (BMW sponsors the BMW India bridal fashion week).

3 Image source here.


Futhermore, there have been dozens of collaborations of designers and car manufacturers, where an unusual and fashionable exterior and/or interior has been created. One reason that car makers want to infiltrate the fashion market is perhaps the fact that car sales are declining in the saturated markets of the USA and Europe, whilst equally growing in China, India and other Asian countries. Incidentally, for many (high-) fashion brands these are equally important emerging markets.

Chanel Fiole Concept Car 2014

Chanel Fiole Concept Car 2014

Image source here.

A third area where cars meet fashion is on the subject of sustainability. Years and years have passed where the global topic of sustainability and environmental impacts of industrialized nations have been discussed. People around the world increasingly care more about where their products came from and whether they harm the environment. The new trend in cars is to create hybrids or electric cars which consume less energy which feature new and light composite materials. Smart technology is integrated to help the driver have a more personalised experience and navigate more easily to service points (i.e. to charge the battery). Does this sound familiar? I believe it does, because fashion technology thinks along very similar lines nowadays. And the foundation for both – cars and clothes – is the textile industry, which creates smart textiles to be used for the automotive and apparel sectors.

Want-a-Green-Machine-Ten-2014-Hybrid-Cars-with-Pros-and-Cons-MainPhoto Image source here.

My students found it a bit difficult at first to delve into a topic so far away from fashion, but once the research was complete and they presented it in class, they were excited about their findings.

Should you be interested in exploring this topic some more, I can highly recommend a new marketing-savvy book entitled “Auto Brand: Building Successful Car Brands for the Future” by Dr. Anders Parment. There is a chapter on car culture, fashion, and lots of research about the strategies of car brands. A second interesting book is called “Autopia: Cars and Culture” by Peter Wollen and Joe Kerr and takes a more artistic approach of the subject.


Father’s Day and Ties


Last weekend I was quoted in the Washington Post on why ties are a persistent gift for Father’s Day.

Quite a bit of my research has been on workplace dress, and you can check it out in the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal (Punk workplace dress) and Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management (young men’s workplace dress).

Overall, some of the findings have discussed that workplace dress is highly symbolic and somewhat related to productivity, or at least to perceptions of such. Father’s Day presents may then be a tangible item to acknowledge or promote effectiveness in the workplace, which is strongly linked to a man’s overall perceptions of personal success. The catch in all of it is whether everything is legit productivity, or just perceptions, or a cycle of the two perpetuating one another, and that is a big grey area. Nonetheless, while not much of this is mentioned in the article, I’m very pleased to have a line or two.

Image pulled from here Thank you.


Book Review teaser: London Society Fashion

Detail from my ancestor's dress

Detail from my ancestor’s dress

Book Reviews is on break this month, but here is a preview of sorts for next month’s review, London Society Fashion, 1905-1920: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, also mentioned in Michelle’s summer reading post earlier this month.

The introduction to London Society Fashion states one reason why Firbank’s clothing is so noteworthy: “Clothing from this period is often fragile and is as ephemeral as the passing fashions themselves, making this an exceptionally large collection of historic dress to survive from one person’s wardrobe” (p. 7).  Alexandra Palmer has called clothing from this era “lively ticking time bombs of self-destructing materials” (Palmer 2006: 42), and has written on the challenges of displaying and advocating for the retention of these garments in decline. The exceptional fragility and beauty of gowns from this period was highlighted earlier this year through a stunning set of photographs of Hortense Mitchell Acton’s astonishing cache of Callot Soeurs garments recently discovered in Florence.

Whether a woman was purchasing couture across the Channel or the work of a neighborhood seamstress or ready-to-wear shop down the street, the passing of time is harsh on just about all garments from this era.  Fabrics were delicate, and often imbued with “inherent vice” in the form of weighted, now-deteriorating silks or the pull of masses of beads and dense embroideries.

Pictured above and below are a few items not from Firbank’s wardrobe but from a far less well-known early 20th century family–my own.  My aunt sent me this lighter-than-air net, lace, and silk dress, likely worn by my great-great-great aunt or 4th or 5th cousin.  She expressed in an accompanying letter her mixed feelings about sending the dress to me–not for sentimental reasons of a difficult parting, but because of its deterioration and her doubts on whether or not it should be saved at all.

A cotton petticoat has faired a little better, and may see a summer afternoon or two this year.

This hat is not from my family, but is a purchase that has traveled with me for many years. Its wingspan has shortened a bit from several moves, a few brushes with narrow doorways, and the fluctuating Texas weather.


While clothing and accessories can be remarkably resilient and can outlast human bodies for generations, they are also mortal like their makers. Collection managers, curators, conservators, and private collectors can do what they can to help halt the deterioration, or can redo significant portions of garments–a practice that has become less controversial in recent years–or, in certain cases, can come to accept the end of a garment’s life.  Luckily for Ms. Firbank, her wardrobe has a chance at a second life at the V&A.  More on this next month.

Sources cited:

Palmer, Alexandra (2006). ‘A Bomb in the Collection’: Researching and Exhibiting Early 20th-Century Fashion. The Future of the 20th Century: Collecting, Interpreting, and Conserving Modern Materials. (London: Archetype Publications): 41-47.


New interns 2015-16

We will be seeking two new interns for the 2015-16 academic year.

There is no pay, however, we can help you get college credit if needed and of course it’s great networking and experience. We need help with CFPs, some column research, a bit of behind the scenes blog details, and running our book giveaways (among other projects as they emerge).

Interns in the past have done an array of research and writing projects.

The work can be done spread out over time or in chunks as your time allows. It’s all remote. Preferable candidates are current college or graduate students or recent graduates in apparel studies with a focus on academia or museums or closely related.

Email Monica with your CV and a brief cover letter. Due date July 15.


Domestic Affairs: Vicariously Through the Looking Glass

After my last column rather exhausted the fashion exhibitions up this summer (though if I missed anything, don’t hesitate to tell me what I missed by emailing me or leaving a comment!!), this week I am visiting the Met’s China: Through the Looking Glass from my own home. Like many of you I cannot possible visit all of the exhibitions I would like to, and being in California it is unlikely I will get to see this year’s Costume Institute exhibition.

Thankfully, we live in the digital age and the Met has provided the video below through which people like me can still experience the exhibition!

What do you think of the video? For those of you who have been, how does it compare to actually being in the exhibition? What other exhibitions are you visiting vicariously through interactive, online, or other resources? What do you think of technology and exhibitions? Great? Need improvement? Please share your thoughts!

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