Teaching Fashion With Films

As mentioned in two previous posts (seen here and here), I’m working a lot with films this semester as I’m teaching a course that is an overview of all things dress, culture & fashion industry as well as a university-wide ethics credit. I thought I’d update you on the films that are going well and which I’ve dropped off my list as I’ve been watching them.

The first week as part of the intro to class I showed 3 “Streetstyles” clips which are free on iTunes. It is a video podcast produced by Current TV. The students loved them, asked me to show more, and even emailed me asking for the link.

The second week I was introducing modern fashion. It was a quick history of the past 100 years as we’re using the textbook Dynamics of Fashion from Fairchild. I showed a ten minute clip from the documentary Lagerfeld Confidential from minutes 10-18 when he discusses that fashion isn’t about social justice. Fabulous! Plus it is a great scene with a beautiful runway show. Multiple students came up after class asking for info about the whole movie and they didn’t mind at all it was in French.

Continuing on with history of fashion the next day I showed the first 24 minutes of Beauty in a Jar which is a retrospective with commentary from A & E about the start of the cosmetics industry. It has some useful profiles of early industry leaders and introduces concepts about changing body image standards. The students seemed intrigued by the business advances of Madame CJ Walker in that era long before the civil rights movement, and in general they seemed ok with the movie, but perhaps a little bored at times. Although it is 8:30 am and showing 30 minute films is at my own risk. The whole movie is great though and very contemporary.

That day I also showed a brief clip from Fashion Television about plastic surgery. They seemed much more riveted by this fast paced clip. FTV has a HUGE video library on their website which downloads very fast and can be put to use in the classroom with ease. I plan on showing a lot more from their site.

This week we learned about how environment & culture effect fashion and things like social mobility, economics, and psychological motivators like opposition and acceptance. I took a gamble and showed a segment from the National Geographic series Taboo about the Padang women who “stretch” their necks to be part of their society. I thought the students would be sort of fascinated, and while they did talk about the women a little, they showed only moderate interest.

For that same lesson I also showed the first 4 minutes and then minutes 10-16 of the documentary The Legend of Leigh Bowery to discuss opposing tradition and societal expectations. As there are mostly freshmen and sophomores in the class I was hesitant to show too much though as parts of the documentary contain a lot of the f-word, Leigh’s semi-sexual nudity, and discussions of his sex life. While of course this doesn’t offend me in the slightest, I’m not sure a Graduate Student Instructor like myself should get involved with the politics of showing a movie with explicit sexual content even in the name of art. Nonetheless, the students LOVED him and were very chatty after the clips discussing all the people they have met who have pushed boundaries with dress. They even asked questions after class about him and many want to see the whole flick which I had to awkwardly warn had “explicit content to watch at their own risk” which made me feel like an old prude, and totally contrary to my style, but I’m just trying to CYA of course!

In other news, I thought I’d show the documentary Fat (I think it’s Discovery Channel?) but decided that even though it was interesting it wasn’t really about dress/fashion and was starting to move into a different realm about sociology, nutrition and other related but slightly off topic issues. So similarily, I dumped the (HBO?) doc Thin about anorexia.

So far the students have said watching all the clips keeps them really interested. The only complication has been those who are absent, and those for whom English is a second language. I do not really want to upload all of these films to my course website, so for now I’m trying the idea of making them rent them if they miss class or couldn’t understand the content. I did plan on showing them in my office, but decided since I share and office with three others, and, since I’d have to let them use my computer rendering that time useless for me, is really their problem if they need to see it again and therefore can just rent or download them. The only catch are films that are not available on DVD and I’ll have to decide what to do about that.

I’ll let you know how this film extravaganza of a class is working out as the semester continues.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions of films, clips, video podcasts and the like.

Related Articles


  • Alaina Zulli February 07, 2009 11.46 am

    I just wanted to let you know that I’m really enjoying your posts about your teaching methods, I’m saving all of them, maybe I’ll be teaching one day.

  • Monica Sklar February 07, 2009 01.32 pm

    Thanx Alaina!
    Let us at WT know if there’s anything we can help you with to get going with teaching. Also, whether you are currently teaching or not, please do suggest ideas for the classroom such as films, articles, activities, or events students can attend.

  • Worn Through » 2 Years of Worn Through-A Look Back
    June 19, 2009 - 5:05 am

Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive


Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at : Amazon.com, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.