On Teaching Fashion: Inspiring Reading, Part I

This week’s post on teaching fashion takes you behind the scenes, into what inspired me to become a professor, by way of looking at some of the books that I have found indispensable over the years and how they have encouraged and enhanced my work in the classroom.  There are, in fact, so many titles that you will have to wait until next week for the second half of my list. 

To select only one favourite from my library of fashion classics would be near impossible, as would be ranking them by quality or preference, hardly my aim in assembling this list today.  In the interest of fairness and objectivity, I will share them with you in the order in which I was introduced to them, creating a chronological account of how each entered my library. 

First was the now classic text, The Social Psychology of Clothing: Symbolic Appearances in Context, by Susan B. Kaiser.  This was the text used in a course I took in my undergraduate work and was the first college textbook ever to hold me rapt, in that I read it from cover to cover, well in advance of the suggested dates on the course schedule (I have yet to have a student of my own admit to doing this with any of the textbooks I have assigned over the years).  The Social Psychology of Clothing definitely guided my interest in fashion, in particular a social psychology approach to the field of dress studies. 


Second, another text from my undergrad days, and it almost seems pedestrian to mention a so-called humble guide to sewing, as these days dress scholars often prefer to distance themselves from our roots in the discipline of home economics (now known as consumer and family science, human ecology, and others, in various institutions), is the Complete Guide to Sewing : Step-By-Step Techniques for Making Clothes and Home Furnishings

At the time that I took my first college sewing course, I was admittedly frustrated by the $75 price tag (today, it can be had for only $38), and the fact that, in class meetings and assignments, my instructor referred to only a fraction of the techniques contained within its covers (which, now that I am an instructor, makes a little more sense to me), and initially I thought the book was over-detailed for an introductory clothing construction course, but it is one of very few books that I did not sell back to the university book store at the end of the term, and I have referred to this book countless times when sewing at home (which, I if I recall correctly, was the instructor’s stated purpose in assigning the text). 

There may be more up-to-date texts available these days, but regardless of the year of publication, I highly recommend keeping a visual dictionary of sewing techniques on your bookshelf.  You never know when you may need a refresher on mitered corners, casings, hems, or pockets, and flipping through the index to find what you need should be quicker than doing a google search.   

The next two, The Power of Glamour: The Women Who Defined the Magic of Stardom and Support and Seduction: The History of Corsets and Bras, were finds in my university book store, also in my undergrad years.  These were some of the first books to open my eyes to the fact that dress history was a field of study and may be best described as being like water for one unaware he was dying of thirst. 

Also in the fashion history vein is Survey of Historic Costume, by Tortora and Eubank, the standard tome for undergraduate courses covering the history of western dress (in the English language, at any rate; if you were assigned a different text in your studies, please leave a comment and let me know what it was!).  This is another one of those rare texts which I did not sell back to the school book store at the end of term.  More than one edition has been released since my school days and this text only improves with each successive revision.  I have had many students over the years tell me that they, too, will not be selling back their copies at the end of term, either, as it often becomes a well-loved addition to one’s library.

These are only half of my list of special books that have played a role in my own education, and in turn, in my work educating others.  Stay tuned for the second half of my list, coming next week. 

What are some of your favourites that you recall from your own early days as a fashion scholar or a fashionista?  What texts do you turn to again and again?  Please leave a comment and let me know.

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1 Comment

  • Alaina November 21, 2009 10.36 pm

    Seeing Through Clothes was the most important book I read in school. And I agree with you on the Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing, it’s a fantastic book! I recommend it to all of my sewing students.

    I do have to quibble with Support & Seduction. It may have been mesmerizing to you as an undergrad, but I think if you go back to it you’ll see that it is poorly written and even more poorly researched. I’m sorry that books like these are published and so widely available, when there are great books on the subject (e.g. Steele’s The Corset: A Cultural History)


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