On Teaching Fashion: When students tell you ‘I don’t know.’

I have recently met a new group of students, and asked them to discuss with me what inspires them about, art, design, fashion or creative practices. Many, articulated themselves very well, pin pointing their skills, what they enjoy and where they wish to pursue their career too achieve. However, some could not tell me what inspires them, or what they enjoyed and simply answered ‘I don’t know’ to every attempt I had to phrase simple questions to them such as ‘So what are you good at?’ ‘So what do you enjoy?’ ‘What would you like to try?’ and ‘What inspires you?’. I find the notion of the ‘I don’t know’ response a strange one, particularly with post compulsory education when students have chosen and selected the course subject themselves. Also, I worry that this is not a good first impression for them to make- and is it not that the old rule states you have 7 seconds to make a good first impression?

I feel this example is a very superficial element of individuals thinking abilities, and how, we are educators training them to think, critically, deeply and reflectively on their own practice. Perhaps this is a phase-shift between compulsory schooling and non- compulsory education? Or could this be a reflection on the lack of spoken literacy abilities and opportunities given for public verbal engagement? I have seen in a previous job that the English department ran a scheme called ‘No pens day Wednesday’ aiming to improve spoken abilities through this one day a week set aside for discussion and verbal learning.


The importance of Critical Competencies

Again, I reflect also back to a post I wrote in February last year about teaching fashion outside of the studio, which was a reflection upon students’ engagement with exhibition displays. Since that post I have had discussions with many colleagues about student engagement with contextual sources but also the level of critical thinking individuals have and how they gain these core abilities. Also, I think this ties into my last post I wrote about the parameters of grading criteria for creative courses, to ‘pass’ words are used such as identify, for a ‘merit’ grade students need to be able to explain and for the highest grade being a ‘distinction’ students would need to be able to critically comment and show analytical skills on refection of a topic.

However, I do not think there is an age limit when individuals suddenly click into the development of critical thinking, especially in reflection of the arts. Many years ago I was at Althorp House, where Diana, Princess of Wales’ wedding dress was on display. The lady standing in front of me viewing this dress, suddenly said, to my astonishment- ‘isn’t it unfashionable!’ Yes, today, perhaps this dress would not be the choice of brides, but what this woman did not contemplate in her snap judgement was this couture dress was made for a wedding in 1981 and is a beautiful example of skill, craftsmanship and style of the period.

So I conclude by asking, how do you teach and develop critical thinking skills within your creative courses? How do you ensure your students, what ever age reflect on their creative work? Consider and analyse the work of others? And finally how do they reach a point of understanding the extreme importance that contextual and historical sources enrich their own creativity?

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1 Comment

  • StinaP January 23, 2016 02.03 am

    Regarding “Isn’t it unfashionable!” – perhaps she actually did take in the craftmanship and the impact it made in fashion when she said this, beacuse I can agree with her; despite everything that went into Princess Diana’s dress, it hasn’t survived through the times. It looks so dated. (While the wedding dress of Grace Kelly still is the inspiration for many brides and won’t be regarded unfashionable for many years to come)


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