You Should Be Reading: Kimonos

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts recently faced controversy over an event promoting La Japonaise, a 1876 Monet painting of his wife, Camille, wearing a kimono. The museum invited visitors to try on a kimono for a photo op in front of the painting. When snapshots from “Kimono Wednesdays” surfaced on social media, the MFA was swiftly accused of cultural insensitivity, appropriation, and racism. Of those protesting the event, several expressed disappointment in the lack of information provided to visitors, who wore the kimono without learning about the garment’s history or significance. While reactions to the event and the MFA’s attempts to deflect backlash have been the focus of media coverage, I want to take this opportunity to share several recent academic articles on kimonos. I also recommend the catalog for the Met’s recent kimono exhibition. I don’t think any fashion historians would argue that we always want to promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of costume. 

1. Francks, Penelope. (2015). Was Fashion a European Invention?: The Kimono and Economic Development in Japan. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 19(3), 331-62. 

It is still widely assumed that the emergence of fashion was a uniquely European phenomenon and that, conversely, non-Western clothing systems must have remained static and “traditional.” Hence, in the case of Japan, clothing modernity continues to be equated with the adoption of Western-style dress. This article presents evidence that, through the period of Japanese economic growth and industrialization from the eighteenth century to World War II, the kimono outfits that most women continued to wear were subject to a process of change that can only be understood as fashion. As a result, by the interwar period, kimono fashion had become a mass-market force that continued to influence the production and consumption of dress, even as, in the postwar period, most women switched to Western-style clothing. Fashion is thus not necessarily a European invention and can represent a significant economic force, even if it comes in distinctively non-European forms. – Full Article Abstract

2. Assmann, Stephanie. (2008). Between Tradition and Innovation: The Reinvention of the Kimono in Japanese Consumer Culture. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 12(3), 359-76.

The kimono plays a marginalized role in contemporary society, but continues to he worn on festive occasions. In this article I explore the role of the kimono from several angles. Based on participant observation and in-depth interviews with members of two organizations, I examine two diametrically opposed approaches towards the kimono in order to provide an insight on how differently it is being reinvented in Japanese society. I will identify four areas in which the kimono is being kept alive in Japan. First, I argue that the kimono is related to consumption. Not only does the purchase of the garment itself involve consumption, but the training of how to wear a kimono is also related to consumption of education and experience. Conventional approaches towards the kimono that emphasize manners and etiquette coexist with innovative approaches that experiment with age and gender boundaries. Secondly, mastering the art of the kimono can be interpreted as a form of cultural capital whereby the kimono fulfills a role in social distinction. Thirdly, I argue that wearing a kimono has become an expression of collective individualism that is often embedded in group activities. I conclude that the kimono has become a communicative symbol to convey an individual attitude towards societal conventions and national identity. – Full Article Abstract

3. Cliffe, Sheila. (2010). Revisioning the Kimono. Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty, 1(2), 217-31.

Whilst the kimonoed woman is an unchanging stereotype of Japanese beauty, this article suggests that due to the interaction of kimono with the processes of globalization (technological and in terms of communication), the kimono continues to metamorphose to meet the needs of its fashionable, urban, contemporary wearers. – Full Article Abstract

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Occupational dress: what to wear to work?

In The Social Psychology of Clothes (1996), Susan B. Kaiser frames occupational dress within a discussion about uniforms and various organisations related to work.  Kaiser suggests that our expectations of how someone should dress within an organization are based not just on their role but also on the type of organization they belong to.  In an organisation involving many people, where it is impossible to interact with everyone, uniforms help to discern roles and responsibilities quickly.

This year, I spent two months in hospital undergoing treatment for a serious heart infection.  It was my first experience of full-time medical care offered by our national health service (NHS).  According to the NHS website, it employs more than 1.6 million people, which puts it in the top five largest work organisations in the world. Others on that list include McDonalds, the Chinese Liberation Army and the US Department of Defence.

A range of NHS England uniforms at a teaching hospital in Leeds

As a patient in an NHS hospital, the first thing you notice is the number of people involved in your day to day care.  On a daily basis, I encountered nurses, student nurses, healthcare assistants, phlebotomists , consultants, registrars, pharmacists, student doctors, microbiologists, domestic staff, administrative staff, volunteers and clergy.  I was able to identify the majority of these roles by dress association or, in other words, their specific uniform.  While nurses wore blue and white uniforms, healthcare assistants wore pink and white.  Domestic staff wore a bluey-purple colour. Senior nurses wore navy blue while a newly qualified nurse wore white.

The multitude of uniforms that passed by my bay each day certainly emphasised the bureaucracy of a large organisation like the NHS, where hierarchy, order and impersonality tend to govern the daily interactions of those within.  However, without the uniforms, it would have been impossible for me to tell who and why someone might be by my bedside at any particular moment.

A NHS junior doctor dressed for work

Even doctors, who are no longer obliged to wear a white lab coat and can wear their own clothes, adopted some degree of uniformed formality that distinguished them from patients or visitors.  Kaiser (1996:290) suggests that in a service organisation, which mainly subsidized by taxes and where the aim is to benefit clients, occupational dress avoids demonstrations of prosperity.  For the NHS doctors I observed, this tended to be in the form of shirts, trousers and skirts in muted colours or just plain black.  Their clothing rarely seemed to draw attention to itself, favouring an austere or conservative approach.

I wanted to share these observations on occupational dress because I am about to write a short literature review on the topic for an upcoming paper. I would be very grateful if you could recommend any key texts or research, in particular on occupational dress within social and educational organisations.  Please post them below in the comments section.


Final call for Interns 2015-16

We will be seeking two new interns for the 2015-16 academic year.

There is no pay, however, we can help you get college credit if needed and of course it’s great networking and experience. We need help with CFPs, some column research, a bit of behind the scenes blog details, and running our book giveaways (among other projects as they emerge). Also you’re instrumental in our social networking such as running Twitter.

Interns in the past have done an array of research and writing projects.

The work can be done spread out over time or in chunks as your time allows. It’s all remote. Preferable candidates are current college or graduate students or recent graduates in apparel studies with a focus on academia or museums or closely related.

Email Monica with your CV and a brief cover letter. Ideal due date July 15 however open until filled.


You Should Be Reading (and Watching): Fashion, Masculinity and the Dandy

I must apologize for last week’s absence of a You Should Be Watching column, as I found myself without internet access and unable to contribute a post. In return, this week I offer a super-sized column encompassing both film and text on fashion, masculinity and the well-dressed man. From Beau Brummel to the members of Roxy Music and today’s modern incarnations, the following videos and articles provide an introduction to the iconic persona of the Dandy.

1. Kate Irvin and Laurie Anne Brewer. ‘Fabricating a Dream: The Dandy’s Silhouette.’ The Bard Graduate Center, New York. May 21, 2015.

Drawing from their publication Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion (Yale University Press, 2013), Kate Irvin and Laurie Brewer will discuss the sometimes extreme physical transformations evident in the dandy’s silhouette. The fashion practices of this iconic character will be analyzed through caricatures dating to the age of Beau Brummel, the quintessential dandy, and an examination of the artful modification of the male body at the hand of the tailor. In laying bare the secrets of the dandy aesthetic, the authors will present a figure who employed profound imagination in his appearance as he forged a unique path to self-discovery and self-expression. – Full Video Summary

2. ‘A Suitable Wardrobe Visits Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion.‘ Rhode Island School of Design. May 30, 2013.

A short video exploring the Artist/Rebel/Dandy exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design, produced by Andrew Yamato for A Suitable Wardrobe. Artist/Rebel/Dandy documents the enduring, global impact of the dandy—that distinctively dressed figure who has pervaded Western culture for more than two centuries. From Beau Brummell in the late 18th century to the international style-makers of today, this character epitomizes the powerful bond between clothing, identity, and creativity. Garbed with great intention and at least a hint of provocation, the dandy is forward-thinking, conscientious, and thoroughly artistic. – Excerpt from Exhibition Summary

3. ‘Am I Dandy?’ The Doc Challenge. April 14, 2014.

Nathaniel Adams, co-author of the book I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman, discusses the cultural history of dandyism, gives a tour of his personal wardrobe, and examines the way the theatrics of fashion relate to a person’s inner character. – Full Video Summary

4. Robyne Erica Calvert. ‘Manly Modes: Artistic Dress and the Styling of Masculine Identity.’ Visual Culture in Britain (16:2, 2015) 223-242.

From roughly the mid-nineteenth century, Artistic Dress was an alternative sartorial style adopted by both men and women who wished to communicate their identification with artistic practices and philosophies that often ran counter to the status quo. For women, this style was expressed through a less structured look and cut of garment, resulting in a radical departure from the mainstream Victorian silhouette. For men, however, Artistic Dress usually took a subtler form. Looking at specific examples, this article examines the ways in which male artists managed to walk the margins of masculine sartorial conformity by wearing mainstream clothing with styling techniques that suggested hints of ‘artisticness’. – Full Article Abstract

5. Erin Mackie. ‘Libertine Fiction, Forensic Fashion, and the Dandy’s Development in Edward Bulwer’s Pelham. Eighteenth Century Fiction (27:2, 2014).

Edward Bulwer’s Pelham (1828) is best known as a “silver fork” or “fashionable novel” and as the source of the Dandy’s Maxims, which Thomas Carlyle addresses in Sartor Resartus(1833–34; 1836). As such, Bulwer’s novel is understood as a specimen of elitist, formula fiction centred on a vapid, if amusing, dandy hero. Opening with an epigraph from George Etherege’s The Man of Mode (1676), Pelham orients itself through allusion and intertextuality to the satiric libertine past of the Restoration and eighteenth century even as it develops, through the established Regency form of silver fork fiction, the emerging forms of the Bildungsroman and the detective story. Approaching Pelham as a “libertine fiction,” we acknowledge its relation to the eighteenth century and develop a fuller appreciation of its generic identity. Pelham’s licentiousness, its freedom from rules, defines what is most novelistic in this truly experimental fiction. – Full Article Abstract

6. Jon Hackett. ‘Art, Artifice and Androgyny: Roxy Music’s Dandy Modernsim.’ Clothing Cultures (2:2, 2015) 167-178.

This article considers glam rock’s rejection of the humdrum, spontaneity and the ‘natural’, and its embrace of costuming, camp and artificiality. With particular reference to Roxy Music, it will examine the band’s iconography, fashion and contexts during glam’s golden years – 1972 to 1974 – as well as the implications of glam style for gender and sexuality in popular music. Though some of glam’s exponents were undoubtedly much more traditional in their performance of gender identities, we can read bands like Roxy Music, within certain limits, as ‘queering’ their more meat-and-potatoes predecessors and providing an important source of identification for later pop music gender and style dissidents. The fashion and music scenes in which Roxy Music emerged are inseparable from the milieux of experimentation and innovation associated with British art and fashion schools in the 1960s onwards. To this extent, the band exemplifies the vital pathway of art school students into popular music outlined by Simon Frith and Howard Horne in Art into Pop. Through Keir Keightley’s conception of romantic and modernist authenticity in popular music and Joanne Entwhistle’s genealogy of the romantic and the dandy in fashion, we will explore how glam traces a line from the dandy via New Edwardian fashion, in which questions of gender and artifice are in a process of perpetual renegotiation. – Full Article Abstract


Punk Style in your Library or Classroom?

It’s early July but of course my brain is already thinking toward Fall (typical of an academic person, can’t just chill over the summer!)

punk style

I’m starting to research the reach of my book Punk Style (2014, Bloomsbury), and try to expand its readership. So far it is in quite a few libraries and has been used in classes as well. Contributors to Worn Through have written posts on the challenges of academic publishing, and one of those is distribution/PR. Basically, the author needs to be quite active in getting things done yourself.

So, I am asking you, Worn Through readers, to help me out a bit. If you are a part of an institution such as a university or museum with a library/research collection, can you please check the catalog and see if Punk Style is included? If not, consider ordering it for your collection, or drop me a line and I can arrange things. It comes in hardcover, softcover, and e-book.

Also, if you are teaching a course that is related to cultural aspects of apparel, including popular culture, production and consumption, identity and nonverbal communication, authenticity, the fashion cycle, and 20th-21stc history, it may be a good fit! I can send you information on getting examination copies for your classroom.

Here is Bloomsbury’s blurb on the book to give you an idea of its content:

    Punk Style examines the dress of this incredibly diverse, long-lasting and hugely influential subculture and its impact on mainstream fashion. Taking a comprehensive approach, the book includes a historical overview, a discussion of motivations behind dress practices, and a review of fashion cycles and merchandising methods.

    Punk is frequently positioned as a forerunner of trends that later become commonplace, as demonstrated in the proliferation and acceptance of body modification, the repeated use of deconstruction as a design aesthetic, and the recent boom in fashion that reflects DIY style through handmade crafts. The book explores how this dominant subcultural style continues to expand via the internet, youth buying-power, and the constant re-appropriation of its distinctive styles.

    This accessible text brings the discussion of punk fashion up-to-date and provides a concise overview for students and scholars and general readers interested in the punk subculture.

Thank you!!!


New Interns Needed 2015-16

We will be seeking two new interns for the 2015-16 academic year.

There is no pay, however, we can help you get college credit if needed and of course it’s great networking and experience. We need help with CFPs, some column research, a bit of behind the scenes blog details, and running our book giveaways (among other projects as they emerge). Also you’re instrumental in our social networking such as running Twitter.

Interns in the past have done an array of research and writing projects.

The work can be done spread out over time or in chunks as your time allows. It’s all remote. Preferable candidates are current college or graduate students or recent graduates in apparel studies with a focus on academia or museums or closely related.

Email Monica with your CV and a brief cover letter. Ideal due date July 15 however open until filled.


Interview with Monica by The Seams


I’ve been getting to know the crew over at The Seams, which is a new podcast developed by NPR contributor Jacki Lyden.

As you may remember, we encouraged Worn Through readers to donate to their Kickstarter since the topic of their shows, storytelling about apparel, are certainly something we’d love to hear about more regularly.

Recently I did a phone interview with Jacki that was initially supposed to air on the show. It was decided that instead I’d speak about a different subject for a future airing, but the interview dives into the history of our field, some academic and social aspects of what we study, and a tad into subcultural waters.

Although it’s not going to air on the Seams/NPR, Jacki and I thought Worn Through readers would be the perfect audience and have brought it you here! Listen for me to appear in future episodes.

You can find the Seams podcast at iTunes

and on this website


Costume Society Election

If you’re in the Costume Society of America you’ll see that the regional elections for the new boards are taking place. They close tomorrow July 1. Please do participate in your regional and national elections of the societies you are a part of to help move them in the directions you’d like to see.

**UPDATE: I was elected to the board. Thank you.**

I have been nominated for the CSA Midwest Regional Board for the first time. If you are in my region, consider voting for me as I’d very much like this enriching opportunity to help with CSA activities and share ideas.

Only CSA Midwest (USA) members can vote, but look for your local link if you’re not in this region. Links are via email to members.

Thank you for taking the time!!


You Should Be Reading: Designer Memoirs

Some of the most vivid primary sources for historic fashion research are autobiographies and memoirs of great designers. Several of the books listed below were required reading for a fashion history course in my M.A. program. They can be entertaining and intimate, and help historians make a stronger connection with these figures whom we associate primarily with their work and their legacies, but not their voices. Poiret amuses with self-congratualtion and Dior leaves you desperate for content beyond the last page (Christian Dior died suddenly the year before it was published). Three of the four titles were out of print until recently, when the V&A began to reprint them. Early editions can be found used online, or in libraries.

1. King of Fashion: The Autobiography of Paul Poiret, 1931

Paul Poiret’s autobiography tells the extraordinary story of the meteoric rise of a draper’s son to the ‘King of Fashion’. From his humble Parisian childhood to his debut as a couturier, to his experiences during the First World War, Poiret reveals all in this captivating tale. His artistic flair, coupled with his remarkable and highly original cutting skills, enabled him to translate the spirit of Art Deco into revolutionary garments and his memoirs bring this astonishing period to life.  – From the Publisher

2. Dior by Dior, 1958

Christian Dior rocketed to fame with his first collection in 1947 when the ‘New Look’ took the world by storm. This charming and modest autobiography gives a fascinating and detailed insight into the workings of a great fashion house, while revealing the private man behind the high-profile establishment. It is also a unique portrait of the classic Paris haute couture of the 1950s and offers a rare glimpse behind the scenes. Dior details his childhood in Granville, the family and friends closest to him, his most difficult years and sudden success, as well as his sources of inspiration and creative processes.  – From the Publisher

3. Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, 1954

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was one of the leading fashion designers of the 1920s and 1930s with a flair for the unusual. The first to use shoulder pads, animal prints and the inventor of shocking pink, Schiaparelli collaborated with artists including Jean Cocteau, Alberto Giacometti and Salvador Dalí, to create extraordinary garments such as the infamous Dalí Lobster Dress and the bizarre Skeleton Dress. Schiaparelli had an affluent clientele, from Katherine Hepburn to Marlene Dietrich, who embraced her outrageous but elegant designs. She designed aviator Amy Johnson’s wardrobe for her solo flight to Cape Town in 1936, the culottes for tennis champion Lily d’Alvarez that outraged the lawn tennis establishment, and her clothes appeared in more than 30 films including Every Day’s a Holiday and Moulin Rouge. Schiaparelli’s fascinating autobiography charts her rise from resident of a rat-infested apartment to designer to the stars. – From the Publisher

4. The Allure of Chanel, 1976

Though not strictly an autobiography, this book is based on a series of conversations between Mademoiselle Chanel and the author, Paul Morand. Morand’s last book, one of the most appealing of his oeuvre, brings together around the figure of Chanel, portraits of Misia Sert, Erik Satie, Serge Lifar, Georges Auric, Raymond Radiguet, Jean Cocteau, Picasso and Churchill, among others. Written in the great storyteller’s marvelous prose, this book artfully sketches the character of the elusive, mysterious and charming creature who inspired Malraux to say: “Chanel, De Gaulle and Picasso are the greatest figures of our times.” Hailed on its publication in 1976 as ” a great celebration of a book, a finely cut, sparkling gem”, The Allure of Chanel attracted the attention of Karl Lagerfeld, who embellished it with seventy-three drawings. – From the Publisher

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Father’s Day and Ties


Last weekend I was quoted in the Washington Post on why ties are a persistent gift for Father’s Day.

Quite a bit of my research has been on workplace dress, and you can check it out in the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal (Punk workplace dress) and Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management (young men’s workplace dress).

Overall, some of the findings have discussed that workplace dress is highly symbolic and somewhat related to productivity, or at least to perceptions of such. Father’s Day presents may then be a tangible item to acknowledge or promote effectiveness in the workplace, which is strongly linked to a man’s overall perceptions of personal success. The catch in all of it is whether everything is legit productivity, or just perceptions, or a cycle of the two perpetuating one another, and that is a big grey area. Nonetheless, while not much of this is mentioned in the article, I’m very pleased to have a line or two.

Image pulled from here Thank you.