Book Review: I Love Those Earrings

cover i love those earrings

A pop history of collectables so often blends nostalgia and personal experience with historic research. The author falls in love with Legos, buttons, LPs, etc in his or her youth, saves up for the first or the elusive, and the rest is publishable material. I Love Those Earrings, by Jane Merrill and Chris Filstrup, is a love story to the earring. The typical pop history approach reminded me a bit of On the Button by Nina Edwards, a book I recently reviewed for DressBut where that book is as scattered as an overturned notions jar, I Love Those Earrings is structured in its historical content and perfectly balanced in its evident admiration for the subject matter. With some dramatic exceptions, I wear the same pearl studs every day. But while reading this book I started to reconsider the costume earrings I’ve carried with me through many moves, reserving for special occasions. Maybe they would work for every day, playing queen or noblewoman on the streets of Stockholm?

From "I Love Those Earrings" by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

From “I Love Those Earrings” by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

As the authors, skillful and familiar storytellers, introduce us to Earring History, we learn that fashionable styles reflect available materials, advancing technology, sumptuary laws. We meet the women who made the jewels famous (and vice versa), find inferences in social mores and are reminded of the earrings worn in Pretty Woman–would you be able to conjure up the shape and size of the earrings, or just the snapping of the jewelry box on her fingers?

Paraphrasing ancient history, myths as painted by Titian, royal marriages, French revolution, and Josephine Baker’s influence, this book flows. It has a charming way of relating these stories of lust and war to their subject: “The initial object of [Henry VIII's] ambition was Eleanora of Austria (1498-1558) who would have brought to England an extravagant collection of earrings.” (27) I enjoyed the juxtaposition that unintentionally created: Henry weighing Eleanora’s earring collection against the Spanish alliance he would gain from marriage with Catherine of Aragon–whom he eventually chose as his first wife for that reason.

From "I Love Those Earrings" by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

From “I Love Those Earrings” by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

The book is organized chronologically, which is logical and easy to follow. As is common for pop histories spanning huge amounts of time, the “early” chapters cover centuries and even millennia, whereas the later might discuss a two or three decades. The chapters are pleasantly organized in different manners, keeping the reader engaged: the sixteenth-century examines European depictions of famous women, the seventeenth-century chapter starts with a tour of Dutch portraits in American museums. The “Belle Époque” leads with a personal history of grandmothers and ends with “In the Colors of Feminism.” When we arrive in the twenty-first century, individual earring artists, almost all American, are given the stage. The book concludes with personal histories from women who love earrings, a short visual glossary of earring fastenings, and a bibliography.

Sushi earrings by Stephanie Kilgast. Pictured in "I Love Those Earrings" by Jane Merrill and Christ Filstrup, 2014.

Sushi earrings by Stephanie Kilgast. Pictured in “I Love Those Earrings” by Jane Merrill and Christ Filstrup, 2014.

The photographs and reproduced paintings included are museum quality, generally well edited. One drawback–perhaps a function of the image budget?–is that many paintings referenced meaningfully in the text are not included visually. But I especially appreciated the authors’ study of contemporary portraits, which gave the work a more academic feel–more than “just” a collector’s delight. As Merrill writes in her introduction,

Swirling quite carefree in culture and fun, I became drawn to earrings like a crow to a piece of silver foil. I consciously wanted to develop my sense of beauty as I had for carpets–and my pursuit became the earrings I saw in paintings, museums, fairs, expositions, and shops. …Playing detective, I would detect a whisper of pearl of pendant in a portrait, which might well not show up in a reproduction. (6-7)

Portraits are prized in this book, and the authors write short analyses of the importance and roles of these paintings in the history of earrings to augment the existence of the extant jewelry. Advancements or fashions in portrait painting as well as the skill of celebrated artists are noted for how they helped make certain types of earrings popular, proved the eminence of the portrayed figure, or highlighted the inherent beauty of stones and precious materials.

From "I Love Those Earrings" by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

From “I Love Those Earrings” by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

Here and there are teasers of other primary source materials, such as an eighteenth-century drawing, a design for Aigrettes housed at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, seen above. I wish there had been more of these less obvious sources for variety’s sake. Interestingly, as the decades pass in this volume, a greater portion of the jewelry photographed was courtesy jewelry dealers and private collections than museum collections. In the “Victorian Era” chapter, Merrill passes into a collectors’ state:

This brings me to my single, favorite pair of Victorian earrings, where whimsy is executed with perfect craftsmanship, resulting in utterly wearable fantasy. You see this pair of goldfish bowls that were a tour de force in rock crystal. If you’ve carried a goldfish in a bowl or plastic sack back from a country fair or amusement park, you know that the bowl sloshes and almost tips out the fish. The same giddy tension was embodied in these earrings. (101)

Her heartfelt description of “A Mother’s Jewelry Box” will be familiar to many young women (and men). This book is, after all, about (and arguably for) women. Men (or, “studs who wear them”) and jewelry fill one chapter, which also begins with a personal history: Merrill confronts her co-author–her ex-husband–with his adornment choices over the years.

From "I Love Those Earrings" by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

From “I Love Those Earrings” by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

From there we jump into ancient history and speed through the millennia to the seventeenth century. It is also an example of the abrupt endings found here and there in this book: that’s certainly not the end of male earring-wearing, and there is no concluding paragraph. The final line of the chapter concludes an anecdote about the Abbé de Choisy: “Even as he took on the celibate life of a clergyman, he continued to crossdress.”

While entertainingly written, there are some odd punctuation and interesting word-order choices; this may not bother other readers. The style is informal; historian Ion Grumeza personalizes his essay on ancient jewelry with the qualifying phrase, “Romania, where I grew up.” (20) And yes, you will find a few instances of the word “bling.” Sometimes the informality breaks the storytelling spell; the description of sixteenth-century collars as “his, the circus dog style; hers, the standing kind” (26) feels unnecessarily distancing. There are certainly examples of earrings here that could be conveyed as equally ridiculous.

From "I Love Those Earrings" by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

From “I Love Those Earrings” by Jane Merrill and Chris Fulstrup, 2014.

While the visuals are strong (if relatively small), this book is meant to be read. Its value lies in the energetic storytelling, never focusing too long on one subject, time period, or style, but keeping today’s reader afloat on a river of anecdotes and examples. This is not a book from which to pull hard quotations for a term paper, but rather an admiring, playful tribute. There are no citations, and although the bibliography is good, sources quoted in the text are mysteriously not included there. There are not many books that focus on earrings and this is the most comprehensive in years. Books on “dress accessories” rarely include jewelry; books on jewelry are often focused on one designer or try to tackle All of the Jewelry That Ever Was.

The fashion historian might benefit from passages about trends in shape and material, such as how the girandoles of the eighteenth century were largely replaced by pendeloques by the turn of the nineteenth century, or why paste jewels were practical. But this is a book for the aspiring informed collector, and would be a helpful precedent for other writers working on similarly focused subjects. Like any excellent pop history, I Love Those Earrings places its object of affection meaningfully in the course of our accepted history, making that history all the more enjoyable and accessible.


Lead Image: Cover of I Love Those Earrings by Jane Merrill with Chris Filstrup. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2014.


Find more book reviews on Worn Through here!

Further Reading:

Evans, Joan. A History of Jewelry 1100-1870. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1989.

Mascetti, Daniela and Amanda Triossi. Earrings: From Antiquity to the Present. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.

Phillips, Clare. Jewelry: From Antiquity to the Present. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Steinbach, Ronald. The Fashionable Ear: A History of Ear-Piercing Trends for Men and Women. Burlington, VT: Vantage Press, 1995.

Tait, Hugh, ed. 7000 Years of Jewelry. Richmond Hill, Ontario: Firefly Books, 2009.



You Should Be Reading: Fashion and the Female Ideal

fashion books from

We all know that the ideal female body–its shape, form, styling, even its very presence–has varied dramatically throughout human history. Readers of this blog are aware of the discussions surrounding the unattainably thin female body that has been in vogue for the past two decades, but what of the ways that fashion trends play into that ideal? How is that ideal body clothed? How do those clothes reinforce (or rebel) against the ideal? How have historical clothing trends addressed changing ideals? And (as some of you may be wondering), “Why does it matter?” Here are three articles, published recently, that tackle these questions. We hope you enjoy the selection!

1. Church Gibson, P. (2014). Pornostyle: Sexualized dress and the fracturing of feminismFashion Theory, 18(2), 189-206.

This article is premised on the suggestion that there are now two separate Western systems of fashion; here the word “system” is not intended to evoke the model suggested by Roland Barthes, but rather to refer, quite simply, to a pragmatic “system” of design, manufacture, distribution, and dissemination, similar to the cultural studies’ “circuit of culture” model of analysis. A new, unacknowledged “system” of design and promotion has emerged in the last decade, which has its own fashion leaders in young female celebrities, its own magazines to chronicle their activities and showcase their style, its own Internet presence, and its own retailing patterns. These young women often resemble in their self-presentation the “glamour models” or pin-up girls of popular men’s magazines, whose “look” is a muted version of the styling associated by many with that of hard-core pornography. The “body ideal” of this alternative system is very different to that of high-fashion; once again, it resembles the look of the women pictured in magazines for men. Although one or two writers on fashion have noted this new trend, it is feminist scholars who have shown most interest; they see the new system as part of the “pornification” of contemporary visual culture. A number of these same scholars are avowed anti-pornography campaigners and the author argues that this could further damage the fragile feminist project, already riven by differences. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

2. Kayoung, K., & Sagas, M. (2014). Athletic or sexy? A comparison of female athletes and fashion models in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issuesGender Issues, 31(2), 123-141. 

Using a modified version of Goffman’s (Gender advertisements. Harper Colophon, New York, 1976) gender display as a conceptual framework, this study examined the gendered body images of female athletes and female fashion models. The authors investigated sexualized female body images by comparing athletes with fashion models in Sports Illustrated (SI) swimsuit issues. Specifically, they used images of female athletes and female fashion models from SI swimsuit issues (n = 1,099) over the past 15 years (1997–2011). The variables analyzed included four photographic image categories: photo shot location, facial expression, body display, and hand display. The findings revealed few differences in sexual portrayals between female athletes and female fashion models. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

3. Scarborough, A. D., Hunt-Hurst, P. (2014). The making of an erogenous zone: The role of exoticism, dance, and the movies in midriff exposure, 1900-1946Dress, 40(1), 47-65.

This study examined the evolution of midriff exposure in fashionable apparel between 1900 and 1946. There were two objectives: 1) to understand the cultural factors that influenced its adoption, and 2) discover its stages in becoming an erogenous zone. In this exploratory study, a content analysis was conducted on the fashion magazines Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar; these primary sources, plus analysis of selections from three newspapers, proved to be useful for the exploration of how the exposed midriff evolved from exotic dance wear to fashionable apparel. Cultural events assisted in the progression of fashionable exposure from underwear, swimwear, casual wear to evening wear in clothing that bared the midriff. Standards of morality were instrumental in the process of evolution. Production Codes established for motion pictures reflected and reinforced the morality standards of US society. Parts of the body deemed inappropriate for show in the movies were likewise considered inappropriate for fashionable dress. The 1940s was the turning point as popular culture and World War II helped to stimulate interest and more fashion pages featured women in midriff exposing ensembles. – Full Article Abstract 


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You Should Be Reading: Fashion and the Designer

fashion books from

This week, Worn Through would like to highlight a selection of articles that explore the role of the designer in the fashion process. While these articles address a wide variety of issues surrounding designers, they all focus on what it means to be a designer in the 21st century. From facing problems caused by fast-fashion to working with trade associations, and from incorporating sustainability to tackling the ever-present “art vs. commerce” debate, these five recently published articles present an array of viewpoints on the role and importance of the fashion designer. We hope you enjoy! 

1.  Laamanen, T-K., & Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, P. (2014). Interview study of professional designers’ ideation approaches. The Design Journal, 17(2), 194-217.

In addressing the subject of ideation in design, this paper reports on a series of focused interviews with nine professional designers from the fields of textile, fashion and interior design. The study concentrated on the practices undertaken by the designers before they come to, or form, a tentative idea for the design project. The authors were interested in professional designers’ ways of ideating, the use of sources of inspiration and the effect of previous professional experience on ideation. During the interviews, designers reflected on their ideation phase using materials from their previous design projects. The interview data were analysed by qualitative content analysis; the classification scheme was theory and data driven. In the analysis, the authors found that designers used supporting practices (such as collecting, sketching and experimenting) and triggers (sources of inspiration, mental image and primary generator) for framing the design space. Further, the authors distinguished four approaches to ideation: graphic, material, verbal and mental. Results are discussed in the light of previous research and the needs of design education. – Paraphrased Article Abstract 

2. Leslie, D., Brail, S., and Hun, M. (2014). Crafting an antidote to fast fashion: The case of Toronto’s independent fashion design sectorGrowth and Change, 45(2), 222-239.

The fashion industry has undergone a profound transformation in business practices and production systems over the past several decades. These shifts include the globalisation of production chains and the emergence of a new model of “fast fashion.” This paper investigates the response of independent fashion designers in Toronto, Canada to the growing competition posed by fast fashion. It identifies a number of strategies utilised by designers to compete, arguing that they are increasingly adopting a new model of “slow fashion,” which opens up possibilities for forging locally and ethically based relationships in the fashion sector. – Full Article Abstract

3.  Palomo-Lovinski, N., & Hahn, K. (2014). Fashion design industry impressions of current sustainable practicesFashion Practice, 6(1), 87-106.

Sustainable practices in clothing have not, thus far, created a significant impact and instead continue to be largely marginalized within the fashion industry. The fashion industry continues to work in an inefficient manner that creates massive waste, exploits workers, and makes it increasingly difficult to make a substantial profit. There is wide disagreement among design environmentalists where energies must be focused to solve these problems. Many believe that consumers are primary instigators in change. Consumers do not understand any of the logistical or practical considerations of clothing design. Designers are, however, responsible for as much as 80 percent of any product that is introduced and have the ability to influence how fabric is sourced and how clothing is produced, cared for, and then discarded. This article explores professional fashion designers’ understanding and awareness of the current best practices in sustainable design. Thirty-five design professionals were surveyed about sustainability in fashion to assess what was missing in their education. The results are interpreted and analyzed as a basis for a new focus on curricula within the American college system and to create lasting and substantive change in the fashion. — Full Article Abstract 

4. Pedroni, M., & Volonté, P. (2014). Art seen from the outside: Non-artistic legitimation within the field of fashion designPoetics, 43, 102-119.

This article focuses on the relation between art and fashion—two fields of cultural production marked by contrasts and shifting boundaries—by investigating it in light of the perceptions of art among ordinary fashion designers. Drawing on an institutional perspective that conceives fashion and art as social fields, the authors summarize the effects produced between the two fields and outline the processes of identity formation and the legitimation of fields of cultural production. Empirical research on a sample of Milanese fashion designers allows the authors to determine whether or not fashion designers use art as a means to acquire legitimacy and to create an identity, thereby institutionalising their field of cultural production (fashion) as artistic. The authors’ argument is that identification with art is often rejected by ordinary fashion designers, who seek to legitimate their cultural production, not through art, but through a culture of wearability. The case of Milanese fashion adds breadth and depth to the theory of artification and to the production of culture theory by showing that comparison with the fine arts by actors in a field of cultural production in constant search of legitimation may come about through channels other than assimilation into the world of art. – Paraphrased Article Abstract 

5. Rantisi, N. M. (2014). Exploring the role of industry intermediaries in the construction of ‘local pipelines’: The case of the Montreal fur garment cluster and the rise of fur-fashion connections. Journal of Economic Geography, doi: 10.1093/jeg/lbu019.

The fur garment cluster in Montreal, Canada has been undergoing a gradual process of transformation in the last two decades, marked by the increasing incorporation of fashion design as a competitive strategy. This article explores the role played by a trade association intermediary, the Fur Council of Canada, to promote this design-led form of development. In particular, it examines a series of initiatives undertaken by the Fur Council in collaboration with other actors to promote greater links, or ‘local pipelines’, between the fashion and fur industries. Drawing primarily on semi-structured interviews, the article draws particular attention to efforts to reduce the cognitive distance between potential pipeline actors as a basis for pipeline construction. – Full Article Abstract


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The International Journal of Fashion Studies: a new platform for non-English scholars

This week I had the pleasure of attending the UK launch of a new journal that focuses on the dissemination of fashion studies by non-English scholars at London College of Fashion. The International Journal of Fashion Studies aims to continue a long tradition of understanding fashion as a multi-disciplinary field by providing a much needed platform for work from international writers and thinkers whose first language is not English. In order to do this, the editors Emanuela Mora, Agnès Rocamora and Paolo Volonté, of which none speak English as their first language, have developed an innovative peer review system where contributions are scientifically reviewed in their original language before translated into English for the final publication. Languages currently covered are Danish, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croat, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish, however both the editors and Intellect, the publisher, hope this will widen out as more peer reviewers and contributors become involved in the journal’s development.

The first issue, which is available to download for free, includes contributions in French, Finnish and Portuguese covering a wealth of subjects including clothing worn by prisoners on their way to concentration camps in the Second World War, the geopolitics of fashion capitals and Brazilian fashion as understood by Brazilians. This and much more are brought together in a refreshing but thought provoking introduction by the three editors where they discuss both the linguistic and epistemological issues relevant to this new endeavor.

I had the opportunity to ask the editors Agnès and Paolo about what it was like to put this journal together. Both expressed great enthusiasm for the project, drawing upon editorial collaboration and the overwhelming interest by non-English scholars as positive highlights. While Agnès observed the unexpected but exciting arrival of a contribution in a language not covered by the existing peer reviewers, Paolo commented on the high level of demand for the idea which had overall made the whole process much easier than expected. Upcoming issues will focus on topics such as sustainable fashion and non-Western fashion.

I also managed to have a chat with Sarah Cunningham, Journals Manager for Intellect. Sarah commented on the rigour given to the peer review system and the opportunities the journal offers to researchers and scholars who may not have the resources to translate their work. Although contributors will initially fund the final translation, Intellect is looking at ways to be able to offer funding in order to broaden its international reach and establish relationships with those whose work may go unnoticed otherwise.

The International Journal of Fashion Studies is one of several fashion/dress/cloth related journals Intellect currently publish which include Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion, Clothing Cultures, Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty and Fashion, Style & Popular Culture. It was exciting to see so many titles in the catalogue, expressing the diversity of approaches that make the study of fashion, dress and cloth both fascinating and relevant to our everyday lives.

The editors of the International Journal of Fashion Studies have also set up a Facebook page called Fashion Studies which can be found here and details for anyone interested in contributing either as a writer or an editor can be found on the Intellect website.

1. Top image used courtesy of


From the Archives: Parisian Insights: The Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Online Archives

Today, I invite you to look back at my last September post about the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent’s online archives. The website is being, slowly but surely, completed, with various costume drawings. A quick reminder urging you to keep your eye open on this treasured online resource!


As a student and during my early years as a researcher (not a very long time ago!), I tended to be quite suspicious of the internet. Online resources were not always well developed and except for a few museum’s websites, I would mistrust information found on the web: I would only rely on books! I have, fortunately, since, learnt to see online information as an ally as long as I know how to sort out the material.

In France, fashion and costume museums are late: their websites present little are no patrimonial documentation. Les Arts Décoratifs do propose about 2000 objects within their database and are a future partner of the Europeana Fashion project whilst the Musée Galliera does not even possess a proper website. [at this date, they now do]

I was therefore thrilled to learn that the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent is working on the digitization of their documentation. Little by little, all the fashion drawings, costume projects, posters and spectacle décors will be online. For the moment, you can find the exquisite Paper Dolls imagined by Yves Saint Laurent between 1953 and 1955. A fantastic resource!

As a teenager, the couturier imagined his ideal fashion house, ‘Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent Couture Place Vendôme‘: his models are paper dolls for which he imagines garments and accessories. He also details collection programs that precise who are the textile suppliers and that the models’ hair is done by Carita and make-up by Elisabeth Arden. It is quite amazing to observe how a childlike game can reveal itself as very serious and herald a future fruitful career.

Paper Doll 'Ivy' Copyright: Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent

Paper Doll ‘Ivy’
Copyright: Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent


The foundation, now, possesses 11 dolls, more than 400 paper garments and more than 100 accessories and the online category enables visitors to dress up these dolls: a playful and pedagogic way of discovering the collection.

You can also browse through a few of the designer’s posters and drawings that highlight Yves Saint Laurent’s creativity and artistic sense that did not confine itself to fashion only.

Whilst working for Christian Dior, in 1956, Yves Saint Laurent imagined a cartoon for adults, entitled ‘La Vilaine Lulu‘ (Naughty Lulu) who enjoys being provocative and cruel: a humorous work that was published in 1967.  You can discover on the foundation’s website 10 little illustrated stories.

Finally, are visible costume designs conceived for Jean Seberg in Moment to Moment, Sophia Loren in Arabesque, Catherine Deneuve (his favourite!) in Belle de Jour, la Chamade and La Sirène du Mississippi and Anny Duperey in Stavisky.

Belle de Jour Costume Sketch. Copyright: Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent

Belle de Jour Costume Sketch – 1967.
Copyright: Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent

It’s always fantastic to observe the preparatory work prior to the making of a film. I haven’t seen all the films cited but a few, Belle de Jour , La Sirène du Mississippi and Arabesque: it eases the experience. You can guess behind the pencil sketch, the actress’s figure and character; you can affix the tones and the environment…

I imagine this section is in the making as it is still very poor and lacks further information about the costumes and films themselves; I hope this category will be fed in the future to add a touch of celebrity glamour to the website!

The fashion section has not been started yet and I cannot wait for it to be online: that will be the ultimate resource!

When I was in charge of the organisation of Guy Laroche’s archives, rummaging (that is the exact term! Drawings had all been thrown into boxes and had been sleeping there for more than 10 years) through the sketches and classifying them: I truly sensed the worth of illustrations. Not that I hadn’t before but I was quite an object-obsessed! I needed three-dimensional objects to comprehend a trend or a history and to me, drawings only completed the information. At Guy Laroche, I had no objects to rely on, illustrations and (hopefully!) a few photographies were my only resources. At that point, I started treasuring these documents, understanding the primary data they would diffuse and today, I still need an object because I esteem ‘the finished product’  but I definitely value these handmade elementary resources. 

The foundation’s online archives are not perfect right now: the digitalization is an ongoing process so I imagine that justifies the lack of explanations along certain documents. I, however, find the site very aesthetic and easy to use (especially the Paper Doll section). I don’t know if, once the site is completely achieved, there will be more interaction between the objects and the categories but I do hope so: a method that will enable visitors to stumble upon archives they had not previously planned to research!

I tried to switch on the English version to test it for you but it didn’t seem to work: a momentary problem? The translation has not been done yet? I’d be curious to know whether, despite the website may only be in French at this time,  it is useful and valuable for English speaking-only users. Let me know!

What do you think of online resources? Are you like me a few years ago: a book-only researcher? Do you practice both? 

I secretly wish that in the future, the foundation would also digitalize photographies of its collection of garments: therefore, this online resource will be mere perfection! Do you agree?


Book Review: Caps/One Size Fits All

caps cover image

In my very short time as a substitute teacher in the Swedish public school system, I suddenly had a new relationship with baseball caps: trying to get boys 12-15 to please take them off, if I have to ask you a fifth time there will be consequences, et cetera. What, besides an emphatic need to do the opposite of anything a substitute teacher says, makes these caps so irresistible, so difficult to remove? Steven Bryden has been equally besatt with hats his whole life, beginning with a Marlboro merchandise hat his father gave him. Now that caps have become the objects of obsession and collection, a new book on the subject was in order: Bryden’s Caps/One Size Fits All was released this year. One cap enthusiast even called it a “bible.

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For the fashion historian this is a meritorious material culture study from a true insider. The book prioritizes the object as a collector’s item, and offers a pop history of the ubiquitous accessory that is heavy on images and photography. From wool flannel vintage remakes to the Odd Future Golf cap, Bryden centers his book around a selection of hats that represent the width and breadth of cap culture.

After a (very) short history by Gary Warnett, the reader is presented with diagrams from a baseball cap patent, which allows Bryden to show us the “Anatomy of a Cap”: here is the brim, the buckram, the sweatband. It may seem like overdrive for such a simple garment, but I like the democratic approach. Caps and sneakers have become, oxymoronically, elite street fashion, but this book allows everyone to come in on the same level. Bryden outlines the major manufacturers, including the well-known New Era and the perhaps lesser-known Sports Specialties Corporation (later sold to Nike). The book has a collector’s tone: just enough information so that you can impress your friends and keep an eye on what you might like to own and wear yourself.

So it’s no surprise that the most substantial section of this book is about individual specimen, listing specs like date, type of hat, and a few lines of observation, maybe a snippet of historical significance or an insidery trivia gem. The museum-collections-report-like sentence structure can sound unnatural considering the pop-history function of the book, but the empirical observation also serves to honor the objects with respectful distance:

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The [ESPN 'Boo-Yeah!!'] cap is a promotional item for the US TV network ESPN; it was only available on studio tours. It features the network’s ‘Boo-Yeah!!’ strapline stitched onto the rear; this was a well-known catchphrase of SportCenter anchor Stuart Scott. The cap has an adjustable strap and is constructed from cotton twill. (93)

While each of these descriptions may be fascinating to cap collectors, and possibly very useful for future fashion historians (what was “in,” collectable, or at least available in 2014?), the second half of the book provides the most entertaining sections: interviews with innovators, photographs of the film and sports stars that made caps a Thing, and street style. Offering the reader insights from “key insiders from the streetwear world,” Bryden continues to let us in on the ground floor. The interviews in the “Influencers and Innovators” section are short; Bryden asks marginally more interesting questions than we saw in the Fashion Scandinavia book, but we the readers want more! Fittingly, only one woman is interviewed: this is a male fashion world.

The “Caps Made Famous” chapter is the most engaging, visually strong and nostalgic. Pop culture icons from Eddie Merckx and Will Smith to Lewis Hamilton and A$AP Rocky are shown in their cap of choice, providing a historical flow. Remember Daryl Strawberry? Did you know that the Tri-Mountain Baseball Club was the first New England team to take up New York-style baseball?

“Street Snaps” brings the cap back into the present, offering a variety of different faces (mostly young, mostly male) framed by an equally broad range of caps. The volume ends with a list of shops for those readers inspired to start or expand his or her own collection.

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This book shows how not only the aesthetics and the materials but also the meanings and the use of caps have changed from their earliest years in the late nineteenth century, in brief. Acknowledging and furthering the cult status of the cap, Cap/One Size Fits All provides a foundation for collectors and maybe even collections personnel in museums with forward-thinking accessions policies. While it is an interesting, quick read even for those not interested in wearing caps, I’m not sure it’s worthwhile to fashion historians except for the value inherent in its insider perspective (it’s not the first book about the cap phenomenon, but it is the first one in almost 20 years) It collates pertinent information into one resource in a way the internet cannot, with a clear structure and a nice flow. Far from academic, it is the ideal analog homage to a now-timeless accessory.


Lead Image: Cover of Caps/One Size Fits All by Steven Bryden [Prestel, 2014].

Further Reading:

Garcia, Bobbito. Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture 1960-1987. New York: Testify Books, 2003.

Harris, Alice. The White T. New York: HarperStyle, 1996.

Sullivan, Deidre. Caps. New York: Andrew McMeel Publications, 1997.

Talbot, Stephanie. Slogan T-Shirts: cult and culture. London: A&C Black, 2013.


If you speak Swedish, I suggest you listen to the Baseballkepsen episode of Stil i P1. If you have any other insider baseball cap research tips, leave them in the comments section and I’ll update this bibliography!


You Should Be Reading: Fashion and Fantasy

fashion books from

This week’s Reading column focuses on the interplay of fashion and fantasy, paying particular attention to the ways in which fashion presents a specific sort of fantasy world for the viewer and consumer. By carefully choosing the narrative, the fashion industry and media have the ability to promote a fantasy world for the consumer (either through the pages of a magazine or, more directly, through the purchasing of the clothes themselves). What sorts of fantasies are being promoted to audiences now? And why does this matter? These questions and more are answered in the three articles below. Enjoy!

1. Barry, B. (2014). Selling whose dream? A taxonomy of aspiration in fashion imageryFashion, Style & Popular Culture, 1(2), 175-192. 

Scholars and practitioners assume that women aspire to fashion photographs of idealized models. It is unknown, however, what makes a fashion image aspirational because previous researchers have not explored the various dimensions that evoke this concept. In this article, the author shares the development of a taxonomy that explains the evaluative criteria and image elements that elicit aspiration in fashion photographs based on data gathered in focus groups with 100 women. Findings reveal that women aspire to a fashion image according to their evaluations that it is honest, empowering and socially responsible. The models, creative direction and visual cues in the image trigger these three aspirational criteria. The author’s research contributes the first taxonomy of aspiration in fashion photographs and to the enhancement of knowledge about consumer engagement with images. Industry professionals are encouraged to incorporate promotional photographs into their corporate social responsibility agenda and produce imagery that represents women’s diverse beauty and character alongside glamour and artistry. – Paraphrased Article Abstract 

2. Bonadio, M. C. (2014). Brazilian fashion and the ‘exotic’International Journal of Fashion Studies, 1(1), 57-74. 

The construction of an exoticism associated with diverse elements of Brazilian cultural identities is a subject that has been widely investigated in several studies. Although much of what one sees and does in Brazilian fashion is characterized by images of exoticism, there has been little reflection on how it has become exotic. And yet, is this something that is just exotic to ‘others’ or also to Brazilians? Do Brazilians also understand themselves as such? In this article, the author seeks possible answers to these questions by outlining a brief history of the way the visual identity of Brazilian fashion has been created, by examining the role of the textile industry and cultural institutions (in particular the São Paulo Museum of Art) in the preparation of this visual understanding. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

3. Huppatz, D. J., & Manlow, V. (2014). Producing and consuming American mythologies: Branding in mass market fashion firmsGlobal Fashion Brands: Style, Luxury & History, 1(1), 23-40. 

The majority of contemporary fashion encompasses a vast middle ground comprised of popular and influential brands whose designs are neither haute couture nor trendy. These mass-market brands rely on intensive marketing and advertising to evoke ideals of an American national identity and lifestyle. In this article, we employ a holistic analysis of Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger’s lifestyle branding strategies aimed at creating coherent American mythologies, Gap, J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister’s less coherent approach and American Apparel’s new ‘authenticity’ in its portrayal of American ideals. In their respective branding strategies, each of the brands constructs a hyperreal American world based on appearances and associations, in which contradictory ideologies are conflated and consumed by global audiences. The companies produce coherent systems of signification through advertising and promotional strategies in which consumers are invited to become a part of their mythological constructs. Through the kaleidoscopic lens of the production-branding-consumption cycle, an examination of several mass-market brands exposes variations on American national identity and differing responses to broader cultural and political changes over the last four decades. – Full Article Abstract 


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You Should Be Reading: Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion

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Today Worn Through would like to highlight a new journal in our field: Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion. This journal is unique in that it highlights an often neglected group in fashion studies: men. Much of what has been published from the academic fashion perspective focuses on women and girls, which is understandable considering that “fashion” has historically been associated with the feminine. This journal, however, aims to change that. With articles on men’s dress and topics of gender, identity, sexuality, culture, marketing, and business, it “provides a dedicated space for the discussion, analysis, and theoretical development of men’s appearance from multiple disciplines.” This volume concentrates on a category of dress much talked about for women but very rarely for men: undergarments. We hope you enjoy!

1. Berry, J. (2014). The underside of the undershirt: Australian masculine identity and representations of the undershirt in the ‘Chesty Bond’ comic-strip advertisementsCritical Studies in Men’s Fashions, 1(2), 147-160.

This article considers the male undershirt within discourses of distinctive Australian national dress styles, bush wear and swimwear. Through the case study of Chesty Bonds advertisements, this article will argue that the undershirt became a symbol of strength, virility, heroicism and mateship during the 1940s and 1950s. In aligning the Chesty Bond character with iconic Australian heroic types the surf lifesaver and the bushman advertisers were able to draw on mythologies of masculine cultural identity to promote the undershirt as a staple of the hegemonic male wardrobe. Through an analysis of the Chesty Bond comic-strip advertisements, the author argues that the athletic undershirt contributed to discourses of national identity in which the white male was dominant, and women and non-Anglo-Celtic men were marginalized, seen as being outside the Australian archetype. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

2. Black, P., Carter, M., De Perthuis, K., & Gill, A. (2014). What lies beneath? Thoughts on men’s underpants. Critical Studies in Men’s Fashions, 1(2), 133-146. 

This article consists of a number of thoughts about and meditations on men’s underpants. Beginning with a ‘day in the life’ of a standard pair of underpants, it moves on to explore some of the specific characteristics that accompany the wearing of this particular garment. There follows a consideration of the role played by underpants in the creation of male characters for screen and television. A brief look at Homer Simpson’s Y-fronts is followed by the examination of a crucial moment in the history of Australian undergarments, namely the move from wool to cotton as the chief material of their manufacture. After an exploration of the humour that is often associated with men’s underpants the article finishes with a series of recollections that show how undergarments can be folded into the most intimate of memories. — Full Article Abstract 

3. Blanco F., J. (2014). Revealing myself: A phenomenological approach to my underwear choices through the years. Critical Studies in Men’s Fashions, 1(2), 117-132.  

In this article the author applies a phenomenological approach to discuss his personal lived experience and creative authorship in selecting his underwear, thus, explaining the meanings created by his interaction with his underwear and how this clothing object has been shaped by his cultural context, socio-economic factors and his relation to his own body and sexuality. Underwear can be directly linked to questions of identity and a person’s location within a social context. Since identity can be read as imbedded in social relations and situations, it can be assumed that underwear is a dynamic tool in the construction of multiple identities. Underwear advertising openly showcases men’s bodies indicating that there is a strong connection between the role underwear plays in the private and public self. Whether underwear is revealed or not to others at some point of the day, the undergarment choices we make help create identity as performance both in private and public. The article discusses how underwear is essential in the performance of our self and social image and related to aspects of masculinity, sexuality and other scripts of cultural conventions. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

4. Cole, S. (2014). Jocks in Jocks: Sportsmen and underwear advertising. Critical Studies in Men’s Fashions, 1(2), 161-176. 

In 2012, British Football player David Beckham launched a range of self-branded underwear. He had previously modelled underwear for Emporio Armani. In both of these instances, Beckham followed in the footsteps of many other sportsmen throughout the twentieth century who were utilized by underwear brands to promote their products. Predating Beckham by 80 years American Baseball player Babe Ruth had featured in advertisements for Coopers and Sons Jockey underwear and launched his own brand of undergarments in the 1930s. This article will examine the changing use of sportsmen in underwear advertising over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, examining the way in which the sportsman’s body has been presented as a hard muscular ‘rock’ or passive ‘languid leaner’ and been increasingly objectified and commodified. – Full Article Abstract

5. Lönnqvist, B. (2014). Missiles, eroticism and fetishes. Critical Studies in Men’s Fashions, 1(2), 177-184.

This article addresses ideas about the origins of clothing in practice today. Clothing that conceals as protection, conceals mentally against shame and clothing that can be viewed as an aesthetic object. It examines the power of sexuality and erotic sexuality that has found a new means of expression and influence through men’s underwear. It explores language as an instrument for the exercise of power and the idea of protection and beauty as exemplified by men’s underwear in advertising. – Full Article Abstract

6. Maglio, D. (2014). Underwear for New York ‘swells’ in the age of VictoriaCritical Studies in Men’s Fashions, 1(2), 99-116. 

This research was inspired by an article in a menswear trade journal that examined one day in the sartorial life of the fictional Montgomery Montmorency, a ‘howling New York swell by environment and inclination’. At the start of day, his butler chose a suit of medium weight silk underwear in a shade of electric-blue that complemented the slate-blue mixed business suit he would wear to Wall Street. While the article documented nine complete wardrobe changes in one day, many with silk accessories, it was the detail of colour-coordinated electric-blue silk underwear that was most intriguing. Well-dressed men, like Mr Montmorency, were expected to be devoid of ‘peculiarity, pretension, […or] violent colors’ in public, which left the private world of underwear and bed clothing to express any flavour or personality. Under sensible outerwear, ‘swells’ wore carefully selected underwear in soft, sensuous and expensive silks, even following seasonal colour palettes. Using Mr Montmorency as the prototype for an upper-class consumer of fashion, this article will continue to ‘lift the veil’ from the separate spheres ideology in which women consume and men earn. Building on the work of Christopher Breward, Brett Shannon and Shaun Cole, the author focused on the urban environment of NYC as a central place where clothing and accoutrements were readily available. Making, marketing, displaying and purchasing the array of silk underwear attainable, revealed men to be consumers with ‘tastes more costly than those of women’. This article will include the styles, manufacturers and retailers of silk underwear worn by New York ‘swells’ in contrast to their woolen and worsted tailored clothing. Trade journals, fashion consumer publications and ephemera from the Bella C. Landauer collection of the New York Historical Society were studied. Textile samples from the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, etiquette books and dyers sample books were also examined. – Paraphrased Article Abstract


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Book Review: Fashion and Ethics



Ethics is not visual.

Friend, are you tired of your acquaintances’ self-congratulatory explanation of how they only buy jeans made of organic cotton? Are you confused by the limited ethical practices of do-good companies like Toms, and why your co-worker feels good about buying ten pairs?

Have we got the resource for you! Efrat Tseëlon has edited this special edition of the journal Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty. This journal takes its name seriously, and from Tseëlon’s introduction the writing does not spare the consumer’s feelings or pander to corporate interests and the general public’s assent. Tseëlon identifies responsibility in both parties, and while she may acknowledge difficulties in attaining a truly ethical fashion system, these are not excuses.

Ethical fashion is distinct from ethical fashion, a construction that Tseëlon defines as a “set of concepts” (13) such as ‘green’ or ‘produced locally.’ “Ethical fashion” is “an ethical style of doing things which serves as a smoke screen against having to engage with the issues that the twin concepts ‘ethics’ and ‘fashion’ entail. … ‘ethical fashion’ has come to designate what is safeguarded as the core of the ethical agenda in fashion, and what is left safely outside its bounds.” (3) In Tseëlon’s view, companies choose from a number of different strategies, such as a special ethical line of clothing or beauty products that give the company “cred” while allowing them to continue less ethical practices in their other offerings, and that the consumer is willing to participate in that structure. Have you shopped H&M’s new recycled fashion line? Did you buy a $10 bikini while you were there?

Tseëlon admits that it’s not so simple: if consumers purchased fewer, nicer things, the volume of sales would drop; if the corporations take their vows to improve worker’s rights and production values, the prices would go up: sounds mutually unattractive. But is this falsified middle road more insidious? Is the appearance of transparency actually creating great opacity?

Displacing its ethical concerns onto exotic and remote people, places and practices, and maintaining a mode of engagement which is philanthropic rather than political, the industry has been able to simultaneously genuinely enjoy the fruits of this exploitation while genuinely making some contributions to cleaning up their supply chain. (italics in original; 17)

The articles in this volume offer more specific debates and/or answers. Even the keywords are aggressive and niched, as identified for the first article, “Fashionable dilemmas” by Austin Williams:


questionable morality, ethical euphemism, ethical dogma, ethics of ‘development,’ conscience cleaning (69)

From "Fashion and Ethics: Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty," Volume 2. Edited by Efrat Tseëlon, 2014.

From “Fashion and Ethics: Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty,” Volume 2. Edited by Efrat Tseëlon, 2014.

Williams’ article continues the attack on “pick’n’mix” ethics laid out in the introduction and calls out ironies of ethical fashion: real or imagined, created or accidental. Which is the more important issue to address: animal cruelty, production waste, human rights? Why can’t we choose all of these? The Israeli fashion label Comme il faut was chosen by Tseëlon as an especially ethical business; while the label cannot reach the level of a platonic ideal, the holistic approach to an ethical mission impressed the editor. CEO Sybil Goldfiner contributed a long case study of her own company, which adds a commercial viewpoint to this volume.

Marie-Cécile Cervellon and Lindsey Carey have taken on a sociological marketing topic: what are consumers’ perceptions of ‘green’? These first-hand accounts are engaging and balance the previous article’s business-side focus; the subjects’ general skepticism and lack of knowledge support the volume’s theme neatly, but there is a generous bibliography for further reading, as with all the articles.

The ethical treatment of animals has been largely ignored by fashion theorists, writes John Sorenson in his article, “Ethical fashion and the exploitation of nonhuman animals.” While fur is a hot-button issue, the fashion industry exploits animals in a variety of ways that are overshadowed by the most obvious or egregious wrongs, like crocodile-skin bags. Sorenson argues that nonhuman animal rights are essential to an ethical fashion practice, not just an easy protest symbol. Rafi Grosglik takes a new tack, focusing on the cultural appropriation of hummus as inherently Israeli in the past few decades, making the now-popular connection between luxury/organic trends in food fashion and how those consumer choices translate to clothing fashion–or how they fail to.

The final two articles address body image and fashion modeling. The first, by Patrícia Soley-Beltran, offers models’ testimony on their experience in the business, just as in the consumer article, and equally engaging. This is the first point at which I thought, ‘Haven’t we read so much on this subject before?’ But the author’s inclusion of “the forms of symbolic violence that shape the experience of being a model” in the realm of ethical fashion broadens the definition of this topic and maintains Tseëlon’s challenge to the rote system of “ethical fashion” as it exists today. The final article adds a psychological angle to the previous topic, offering a professional opinion to the academic.

Each provides an excellent bibliography for further reading in its specific field, along with the email address of the author–a bold, inclusive choice. The book and exhibition reviews that close the volume are also on-theme: coverage of the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition, “From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” has consistently remarked on his interest in “diverse” models and non-traditional aesthetics, and the books reviewed have explicitly ethical subjects.

Fashion and Ethics: Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty offers an unflinching critical look at the greening of fashion consumption, an unbeatable source from which to gather poignant and critical quotes for a term paper or article. I’ve never put together a curriculum, but this volume provides a clear chorus of voices in a muddy subject and speaks to so many different issues that it seems a natural choice for students. Despite its presentation as a journal, this volume reads more like a book; a lot of the sources and examples are from at least four years ago, and at 250+ square pages, it’s a lot of reading. It may be evident from the tone of this review that I am sympathetic to the authors’ viewpoints, and glad to finally read something more decided and critical; I would look forward to opposing reviews from those who have read the book (write about it or link to your review in our comments section below!). The emphatic and passionate nature of Tseëlon’s arguments, as well as those voiced by other contributors, may raise some hackles; the editor’s comparison of animal cruelty to the Holocaust, for example (see: Goodwin’s Law). But that’s just the point: which sources of modern fashion criticism make you talk back to a book, get you posting on social media, or inspire you to discuss academic journals with everyone from your coworkers to your grandma?

I wonder if this journal will catch some good media attention, if Tseëlon or her contributors will be on NPR and peppered throughout the NYTimes as much as Elizabeth Cline was for her book, Overpriced: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Penguin, 2013). Which is the most effective medium for writing about ethical fashion/fashion and ethics, and which for reaching the target audience?


Find more Book Reviews on Worn Through here!

Lead Image: Cover of Fashion and Ethics: Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty, Volume 2. Edited by Efrat Tseëlon, 2014. University of Chicago Press & Intellect.


Further Reading:

Barnett, Clive et al. Globalizing Responsibility: The Political Rationalities of Ethical Consumption. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Baumann, Zygmunt. Postmodern Ethics. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 1993.

Black, Sandy. Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2008.

Cline, Elizabeth. Overpriced: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. New York: Penguin, 2013.

Devinney, Timothy et al. The Myth of the Ethical Consumer. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Ribero, Aileen. Dress and Morality. London: Batsford, 1986.

Rivoli, Pietra. The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy. New York: Wiley, 2009.

Stigliz, Joseph. Globalization and Its Discontents. London: Penguin, 2003.


I teach therefore I dress: Fashioning the Academic

I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge the recent passing away of Louise Wilson, the enigmatic course director of MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins This ‘formidable’ professor was known for her passionate but sometimes challenging approach to teaching fashion, which I think is described best by Wilson herself in an interview on ShowStudio in 2012.

I strongly recommend listening to Wilson talk about her own educational experience studying fashion at Central Saint Martins, her views on the shifting political landscape of higher education and the value of studying as a transformative process which can often be a tough journey for both teachers and students.  It was perhaps this last point that meant Wilson was able to push those she taught to find their own voice, as evidenced in an alumnus list that includes Roksanda Ilincic, Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Christopher Kane.

Still from ShowStudio interview with Wilson on 15 February 2012

Watching Wilson in the interview, I was struck by her uniform of black dress, her poise and the steadiness of her hands clasped together.  Her choice of dress was, as Wilson explained in Vogue, a consideration of her scholarly identity as wearing black gave her the opportunity to  avoid being singled out by others.  Conversely, it seems that the decision to maintain a particular uniform also lent authority to her role as tutor/teacher, as well as her strong views on the purpose of education.  This reflection upon the way in which dress can impact upon our role as teacher/educator resonated with a comment I heard at a recent workshop on learning development in higher education when the presented referred to the power of performativity in dress when engaging with students.  Both make a valid point – clothing plays an important role in the negotiation of our various identities, which in this case is our scholarly one, and perhaps it is this recognition that contributed a small role in making Wilson such an inspiring tutor. 

As someone who works across two universities, and who encounters both students and staff in a variety of contexts, I am in constant negotiation with clothing as a way to define both my roles and my responsibilities.  For example, in one university, I am categorised as an academic member of staff who works within an art and design department so I have free rein over how I present myself sartorially.  However, in the other institution, I belong to a senior professional services staff team who support students studying predominantly science and business subjects.  The dress code is more formalised, or uniformed, and for me, the hardest to negotiate in terms of my own educational identity.  Interestingly, there is often no formal dress policy within universities so these signs of uniformity are arguably individually and socially generated.

I am currently developing a research project into the dress of academic staff and would be very grateful for any reading suggestions, theoretical angles, everyday observations or possible volunteers.