Email Response: A Must-Read/Know List



Last week I wrote about how I get a bunch of emails asking questions about apparel studies.

Many are inquiries stemming from WT posts, and many others are friends, friends of friends, and lots of strangers (which I think is cool). I write everyone back the best I can, with my attempts at thoughtful and helpful answers (which is sometimes why it takes a few days or weeks-yikes! Sorry, I know, I’m a bit swamped at times-but I do write EVERYONE back).

So as with last week’s post regarding the emails I’ve received about the best grad schools, this week I’d like to talk about emails I’ve received on what are the must-read books and journal articles, and who are the must know authors and scholars in our field. This was a tough question, that I’ve gotten a few times, and generally comes from people who are studying dress/costume history/fashion in some manner from a discipline other than specifically apparel studies. 

I’ve rattled off the major profs and curators over the years, the sociology, anthropology, material culture, visual culture, and cultural studies scholars whose work has been widely circulated through apparel research. The PhD programs generating lots of research, the journals that are tried and true, and the books that seemingly everyone I know has on their shelf and regularly goes to for definitions, dates, and theories. I’ve been lucky to have had some professors who pass out good old-fashioned reading lists, which I store protected like gold, as they are vastly helpful in those go-to times.

Also, since this PhD is my third go ’round with apparel programs (BS, MS, and PhD), and I’ve taught at and worked at a few other institutions, my personal library is something I have a little glow of pride about. I’ve also had the benefit of attending different types of programs, as my BS is from a fine arts program, my MS was from a Human Ecology program that switched to a Technology program while I was there, and my PhD is from a former Human Ecology program that switched to a Design college right before I came. 

But, I still always feel a little funny answering emails about who someone else should read to really “know” the field. I’ve got my list of favs, my list of go-to’s, and my list of “I don’t like them but I understand why they are important” authors, books and journals. 

I’d like to know your thoughts on this topic. Regarding dress studies: Who do you think should always be on a reading list? What book or article changed your world? What do you always put on a syllabus or always reference or cite? Basically, when someone emails asking “what do a I need to know?” what would be your response?

Please comment on this topic and let us know what you think!

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  • Alaina Zulli July 24, 2009 09.08 am

    Always always Seeing Through Clothes by Hollander.

    As a costume historian with an American Social History bent, I find all of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s work helpful, but especially A Midwife’s Tale. There is a chapter on early American textile and clothing production, and it explains the subject better than any other work I’ve read.

  • Heather Vaughan July 24, 2009 11.25 am

    Absolutely yes – Hollander titles are gems.

    The Fashion System by Roland Barthes (more than a bit difficult, but that’s as it should be)

  • Kat July 24, 2009 06.47 pm

    Fred Davis’ Fashion, Culture and Identity is a wonderful introduction for any fashion culturist/theorist. Linda M. Scott’s Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism is also quite insightful regarding the title’s topic. Of course anything by Valerie Steele is awesome as well.

  • Mellissa July 25, 2009 03.50 pm

    Joane Eicher, Andrew Bolton, or Harold Koda for more contemporary ideas.
    For Theory Fred Davis, Ferdinand Toennies, Thornstein Veblen, Herbert Spencer, Herber Blumer…

  • Kendra July 28, 2009 04.16 pm

    Second the vote for Valerie Steele. I’d also add Janet Arnold and Aileen Ribeiro to the list… but then I think any answer to this is going to be through the lens of one’s particular area(s) of interest!

  • Monica Sklar July 28, 2009 05.01 pm

    One blatant thing I’ve noted from these comments is the affinity for books, and book authors, rather than journals and journal authors. I share that affinity (and documentaries too as they are my passion), but in the US in academia it is dominated by journal publishing as the route to tenure. Not to mention a lot of poeple like writing for journals, and feel it is a solid vehicle for their projects (I’ve got three manuscripts myself about to head out the door to journals). I’ve been told time and time again about the risk of my desire to mostly write books rather than focus on tons of journal articles…yet when I asked you guys what you always put on reading lists, and who are your go-to authors, it seems to be books and long-form authors….hmmmmm

    There is (at least in this forum) a big discrepancy between what the system accepts as viable scholarship and what people actually find to be useful scholarship.

  • Heather Vaughan July 29, 2009 12.15 pm

    I think our bias may be for ‘major’ reading that we were (or are) required to do for courses, and then become our ‘go-to’ authors/books. Journal articles are rarely assigned in class – because often the ideas in journals are more experimental than in books. Journal articles also tend to be more specific, in terms of topic.

    But that said, Journals that I find most stimulating are Fashion Theory by Valerie Steele; Dress by CSA (though its irregular publishing schedule is frustrating); California History (because of my particular slant); and the Journal of Design History. I’m also fond of articles by Joane Eicher, Christina Johnson, and Rachel Morris Tu (to name some newer scholars).

    Fashion in Practice is another new journal from Berg that for my particular slant, is not very useful – but may be to other people

  • Monica Sklar July 29, 2009 12.33 pm

    In my BS and MS work we were required to cite journal articles for papers, but rarely read them as part of our class materials. But for my PhD, journal articles are the dominant type of material we’re using. I still read a lot of books for classes, but it is much more about journal articles.

    We read Clothing and Textile Research Journal, Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, some of the Berg Journals, lots of social science journals, business, and anthro journals.


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