From the Archive: Objektet och Museet: Fashion on the Radio

This is a post I wrote when I was living in and reporting on fashion and clothing in Sweden (posted July 12, 2012). I’d love to hear from people around the world whose countries have radio programs devoted to fashion. Or is Sweden the only one? Leave comments and questions below!


Radio in Sweden is truly a Thing. Programs are listed in the newspaper alongside the TV offerings and movie suggestions. Hosts (programledare) are well-known personages, and even appear in high-brow television game shows like On the Tracks (På Spåret) with actors and activists.

To be a guest host on the radio program Sommar i P1 is a privilege and an honor; famous people from all sectors of Swedish culture and society (this year includes a soccer star, a fashion/vintage blogger, a baker, and the IT and Communications Minister of Afghanistan, among others) talk about their lives and experiences for an hour and a half, with a soundtrack of their choosing. It marks the start of summer, and is playing in cars on the way to summer houses and as background to Midsommar supper preparations.

Guest presenters for this year’s season of “Sommar i P1”, gathered for the press conference. Photo: uncredited, SverigesRadio.

P1 is a basic station, essentially the equivalent of NPR, but I often find it has more engaging and a wider range of content. One of my favorites is Stil i P1 (Style on P1). Each episode is based around a style icon, a color, a material, and so on, hosted by fashion journalistSusanne Ljung and featuring contributions from journalists and researchers. They interviewfashion designers, scientists, bartenders, and doctoral candidates from the Fashion Studies program at Stockholm University to flesh out the red threads of each episode, some obvious, some tenuous. You might recognize the format: “Each week, we pick a theme, and put together a number of stories on that theme.”

“Joan of Arc at the coronation of King Charles VII” as painted by Ingrès in 1854. No one truly knows what she looked like. Louvre Museum, Paris.

For example, in the hour on Joan of Arc (“The world’s most trendsetting saint”), the conversations revolve not only around Joan herself as she has been translated into fashion (McQueen) and art (Rubens), but also instances of “short hair and men’s clothes” on women throughout fashion history, the power and danger of dressing against the norm, historical re-creations of clothing from the Middle Ages in Sweden, jewelry as armor, and super hero costumes.

The jewelry of Hanna Hedman. She was interviewed about her jewelry being a kind of armor for “Stil i P1” on Swedish Radio, March 2012. Photo: uncredited, copyright Hanna Hedman.

What I find so fascinating about this show is that with the exception of a few pictures provided on the program’s website, there is so little provided (or suggested, required) visual material, no Stil Flickr, Pinterest or Tumblr. To engage with this program, the listener doesn’t even follow a text; one must listen. As with any radio program, Ljung and her contributors must create and recite accurate and/or evocative descriptions of appearances, outfits, and colors to make Stil work, although here, the imperative is somewhat greater due to the focus on fashion and clothing.

I’ve often thought of writing to Terry Gross and Jim Fleming, suggesting some sort of fashion history (or fashion criticism, or fashion exhibition) programming. But so many of my favorite American radio shows rarely interview visual artists and others whose work cannot be excerpted with sound clips. Are fashion and clothing difficult to talk about?

I keep a little running tab of textual descriptions of dress and clothing I come across in my consumption of culture, but I have yet to make any big conclusions, and I will leave a discussion of semiotics to the professionals (see: Further Reading). But the practice of suspending the immediately visual and tactile and giving room to alternate experiences of fashion (verbal, aural) can be a positive force in personal scholarship and the field at large, and radio reportage a challenging thoroughfare.

Do you think radio is an appropriate and/or effective medium for discussions of fashion? Are there fashion-focused radio programs that you listen to in your country or area? What is the difference between reading textual descriptions and listening to them? Which non-visual interactions with fashion do you find valuable? Please leave your comments and suggestions below!


Further Reading on fashion/semiotics:

Roland Barthes, The Fashion System

Umberto Eco, The Open WorkA Theory of Semiotics; and On Beauty

Patrizia Calefato, The Clothed Body, as well as ”Seeing + hearing = dressing” and “Fashion and Worldliness” in Fashion Theory

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