Springtime in London: Women of the World, Fashion in Film, Alexander McQueen and Fashion Symposia

It’s exciting to finally see the dark evenings receding, spot little floral bursts of white, purple and yellow amongst the grassy urban verges and feel like my winter coat’s days are swiftly numbered!  To celebrate this arrival of spring, here are some interesting events related to fashion taking place in the capital this month.

The first is the Women of the World Festival at Southbank, in central London, which takes place this week 1st – 8th March.  In its fifth year, the WOW Festival celebrates women and girls through a range of talks, workshops and performances that draws upon the global and local.  Two interesting exhibitions about gender, identity and dress include the early 20th century self-portraits of artist Claude Cahun and Sara Shamsavari’s contemporary portraits of hijab styles as worn by young Muslim women in London, Paris and New York.  Both of these are free and run throughout the festival.  On Saturday 7th March, there is a specific talk on the power of fashion and a workshop on finding new ways to portray women in underwear to avoid objectification, both of which you can join by purchasing a day ticket for £20.

Lernert & Sander’s work featuring in Clothes on the Move: What’s Behind the Production of Fashion Films? 17 March

Later on this month is the Fashion in Film Festival, which launches on 17 March until 24 March across three London locations: Central Saint Martins, Somerset House and Hackney Picture house.  Also in its fifth year, this festival aims to explore the recent rise of the moving image in the fashion industry and get behind-the-scenes insights into the production of fashion films” through a series of talks and conversations curated by Hywel Davies and Marketa UhlirovaFeaturing speakers such as Caroline Evans, Nick Knight, Caryn Franklin, Pamela Church-Gibson, Oriole Cullen and Agnes Rocamora, the festival draws upon their views as historians, journalists, designers, image makers and theorists to debate the role of the moving image in fashion.  It will be an exciting programme of free events and I was particularly pleased to see the use of different London locations, making it possible to see much more!

Jacket, Alexander McQueen, It’s a Jungle out there, Autumn/Winter 1997-8. Image: firstVIEW

On Saturday 14 March, the V&A Museum will welcome visitors to the eagerly awaited exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which runs until 4 August.  I can still remember booking my ticket this time last year for what will definitely be one of the most talked about fashion related events this year.  It will be interesting to see what the V&A’s fashion curator Claire Wilcox has done with the exhibition given its new European location.

Fashioning Professionals Symposium, 27th March Gaby Schreiber Industrial/Interior Designer (1916-1991). Photographer: Bee & Watson, 1948. Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.

Finally, Friday 27th March is a popular day for fashion symposia here in the city!  Competing for our attention is Fashioning Professionals at the Research Department in the V&A Museum and Fashion and the Senses at London College of Fashion.  As it was impossible for me to be at both, I decided to attend Fashioning Professionals as this is more closely related to my research interests.  I will report back in April, hopefully along with a review of McQueen.

Happy Spring!


You Should Be Watching: Craft In America

Craft in America is a PBS docuseries presenting intimate portraits of artisans at work, cutting footage of process and tools used to create with artist interviews that reveal the inspiration and legacies behind a range of fashionable and decorative objects – textiles, clothing, shoes, furniture, sculptures, musical instruments and much more. Around two episodes per year have been produced since 2007; the thirteenth episode, “Service,” aired last November. The full series is available to stream for free at pbs.videos.org. Below are stills from three episodes that profile needleworkers, quilters, and weavers. Click the images to watch the full episodes.

In Episode VI: Messages

Bead Artist

Bead artist Jill J. Scott discusses her beaded sculptures, quilts and collars; metalsmith Thomas Mann explains his “techno-romantic jewelry objects.”

Many artists use their craft to share personal and political opinions. Craft has the ability to entice viewers to consider topics that they might find difficult. By expressing their ideas through their work, artists add meaning to the objects they create. – Synopsis from Network

Episode VIII: Threads

Threads ep

Explore the creativity of the human spirit through works that begin with the humble thread. Featured artists include fiber artist Terese Agnew, weaver Randall Darwall & designer Brian Murphy, artist Faith Ringgold, and fiber artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood. – Synopsis from Network

Episode XII: Industry


This episode includes Gee’s Bend, Alabama quilters Lucy Mingo & Mary Ann Pettway and quilt maker and teacher Joe Cunningham; textile designer Bethanne Knudson The Oriole Mill in North Carolina and her colleague Libby O’Bryan, founder of Western Carolina Sewing Company; and jewelry artist/ Etsy seller Shane Yamane. Libby O’Bryan will teach a textiles workshop on personal uniforms during this summer’s sessions at Haystack Mountain School of Craft.


Guest Post: How to Write a Book in Twenty Years – Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell

Worn Through is pleased to have another guest post from fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell*

KCC Cover


FROM KIMBERLY: Twenty years ago, when I first started working on the project that would become my new book Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, I loved talking about it to anyone who would listen. Ten or twelve years later, my friends and family had learned not to mention the book; I was in the midst of a dispiriting crash course in the harsh realities of academic publishing, and my frustration was painfully obvious.

Now that Fashion Victims is out at last, my unpublished colleagues keep pulling me aside and asking in hushed tones how I did it. How did I choose a publisher? How did I score 90,000 words and 220 illustrations? How I you negotiate a contract? These are the same questions I had before starting the publishing process, and I can finally say with confidence that we’re all asking the wrong questions.

If you’re thinking of writing a book about fashion, you should be asking yourself the following: How many images do I need? Where am I going to find these images? Who’s going to pay for them? Answer those three questions, and the rest will quickly start to fall into place.
I probably don’t have to convince Worn Through readers that an appropriate number of high-quality images are essential to any discussion of fashion; that number will vary depending on the particular subject and methodology, but–whether it’s ten or 200–every image should serve the text rather than simply illustrate it. Lackluster or irrelevant images are a red flag, raising doubts about the quality of the writing. The same is true, however, about books that are mostly pictures. On the other hand, I’ve happily bought lousy books just for the pictures. Images are evidence. Neglect them and you do a disservice to your readers, and, more importantly, to yourself.

The number and type of images you want to use in your book will dictate so many other factors. There are only a handful of publishers who will even consider fashion books—or illustrated books of any kind—and many of those have strict minimum and maximum image counts. A few publishers told me they’d love to publish my book with ten, twenty, or even fifty images—fine for a cultural history or museum studies book, but not nearly enough for an art historian to do justice to the infinite variety of fashionable dress under Louis XVI. Others were more generous with images but wanted me to cut half the text (and all the footnotes). Yale University Press routinely publishes books with 200 images and footnotes galore, so that’s the one I targeted. Yale’s deservedly stellar reputation in the field, its well-established distribution networks, and the chance to work with legendary editor and designer Gillian Malpass were equally strong attractions.

Two hundred images may sound like a dream come true (and it is) but someone has to pay for all those images. That means paying for both the photo itself (or, more often, the digital file) and the reproduction rights, calculated on a sliding scale based on print run, image size and placement, distribution, and so on. With academic books, it’s usually the author who pays; the picture research, captions, photo credits, and paperwork fall on the author, too. Trade publishers often give authors a budget for images, but it doesn’t go far; it’s much more expensive to license images for commercial use, and the author is still responsible legally if not financially.

For Fashion Victims, I was able to cobble together grants, savings, and favors to cover my image costs, but the process of seeking out funding was time-consuming and soul-destroying. There are not many grants out there for publishing, although academics can sometimes get subventions from their universities. And a grant application can take up to a year from start to finish, with no guarantee that it will be successful.

Fortunately, many forward-thinking museums and archives have begun to make their image libraries available to anyone, at no cost, through “open content” programs. Other institutions offer free images for academic publishing. I was able to take advantage of this welcome trend, and it was certainly something I took into consideration when making the final decisions about my images and cover image. I also got very creative about sourcing mass-produced images. Why pay a picture agency for a fashion plate when I could get it from the British Museum for free? For contemporary subjects, authors can save money by taking their own photos; I was once advised by a journal editor that licensing a movie still would be cost-prohibitive, but my own photo of a billboard for the same movie could be published legally and at no charge.

However, I fear that the open content trend is only going create new problems, as the same images from the same collections will be published over and over again while other collections remain inaccessible and unknown. I am absolutely guilty of this; more than half of the 220 images in my book come from the same five institutions, largely because they were searchable online and free (or at least inexpensive) to license. Similarly, many publishers have agreements with certain museums or picture agencies that make their images more affordable than others.

But the money I saved on open content images allowed me to have other key objects photographed and published for the first time. So for every free, familiar image, there’s one that you’ve never seen before that cost me $500. Because I work on the eighteenth century, I generally don’t have to worry about copyright, which can drive the costs even higher. But if you’re using contemporary fashion photography or publishing with a trade press, you might need to sell a kidney. If I had to do it again (and I do—I’m already working on a sequel to Fashion Victims), I’d pay more attention to image costs during the research and writing stage, rather than face sticker shock and a lengthy fundraising drive at the end. Indeed, knowing how the whole publishing process is likely to unfold has made the early stages go much more smoothly.

If dealing with the images was the hard part, negotiating the contract was the easy part. A reputable academic publisher will offer you a fairly standard agreement with little wiggle room, especially for a first-time author. (My editor graciously fought for a few additional perks, like more color pictures and extra author copies—another reason why a good editor is as important as a good publisher.) If you’re publishing with a trade press, you should have an agent or lawyer negotiate for you. If you’re hoping to make money from publishing, your time would be better spent writing textbooks, or maybe romance novels.

But there are many other compelling reasons to publish your work, like getting tenure, giving back to your field, or increasing your chances of getting a job, raise, or promotion. If you’ve already done the research and writing (for a dissertation, conference paper, or exhibition, for example), why wouldn’t you want your efforts to have a permanent, public impact in print? Personally, I’m amazed at how much great research goes unpublished—not because publishers aren’t interested, but because the authors never submit it to publishers.

Ultimately, getting Fashion Victims published—finding a publisher, revising the text, raising grant money, locating and licensing illustrations, and slogging through the year-long editing process, from copy editing to proofreading to indexing—took roughly the same amount of time as writing it in the first place: nearly two decades in total. The book started as my MA thesis, then spilled over into my PhD dissertation, only to undergo a total rewrite before I even considered submitting for publication. Over the next few years, I continued honing the text as I figured out how I was going to pay for the image rights and reproductions. It evolved from a formal and somewhat fragmentary series of chapters—many of them originally developed as stand-alone conference papers or journal articles—into an organic narrative, ironically becoming much truer to the themes that got me interested in the subject in the first place.

During the same period, I worked in some museums, had a couple of kids, attended conferences, moved house a few times, and published a bunch of journal and magazine articles and essays in edited volumes and exhibition catalogues. Along the way, I discovered new objects, images, and sources; made valuable contacts; and learned the ropes of the publishing business; all of those things ultimately benefitted the book. At the time, I was intensely annoyed with myself because I hadn’t managed to publish it yet. But, looking back now, I can see how useful that season of discontent was. Fashion Victims is much richer for it, and so am I. And it was worth waiting to work with the publisher, editor, and images I wanted all along. The book I’ve had in my head for twenty years is now in print, and it’s even more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Check it out.

Related reading:




*Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She has worked as a curator, consultant, and educator for museums and universities around the world. She is a frequent contributor to books, scholarly journals, and magazines, as well as an experienced lecturer. Her areas of expertise include European fashion and textiles and French and British painting and decorative arts of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries

Trivia question: Who painted the portrait on the book cover?
First person to email Monica the right answer wins a copy.
United States and Canada only please.


You Should Be Reading: Heritage Fashion Brands


The recent announcement by Viktor & Rolf of their decision to abandon their ready-to-wear collection and focus on couture (and highly profitable fragrances) got me thinking about the evolution and fate of various fashion houses and brands throughout history. What are the factors that lead to one designer’s name living on and their legacy being preserved, while others who may experience just as much notoriety or success at one point in time are later forgotten? The following three articles explore issues surrounding reviving heritage fashion houses at Pucci and Schiaparelli, and the difficulties facing a legendary designer’s successor at Oscar de la Renta. 

1. Friedman, Vanessa. ‘Keeping the Oscar de la Renta Name Alive.’ The New York Times. February 13, 2015.

‘The first day of Peter Copping’s new job at a new brand in a new country did not go exactly as planned. Instead of going to the offices of Oscar de la Renta on 42nd Street across from the leafy gardens of Bryant Park and taking his place in a glass-fronted office next to Mr. de la Renta, the designer who had recently named Mr. Copping his first-ever creative director and heir, Mr. Copping found himself at a pew in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue, behind Donna Karan and somewhere in the vicinity of Michael Kors and Tory Burch, attending Mr. de la Renta’s memorial service. [...] Fashion is notoriously bad at succession planning: Its history is littered with stories of designers who sold their companies without naming their heirs and were unhappy with the results, from Hubert de Givenchy to Yves Saint Laurent, or whose brands fell apart after their death through lack of foresight (Halston, Bill Blass). At Oscar de la Renta, however, for arguably the first time, a designer had consciously tried to change the narrative.’ – Article Excerpt

2. Madsen, Anders Christian. ‘Rules of Revival: How to Resuscitate a Fashion Brand.’ i-D. 14 November 2014.

‘Fashion likes to talk about its musical chairs a lot. So much that it sometimes seems as if more high-value name brands are added to the pool just to increase the options and raise the bets. Last week, the following email rolled in: “Paris, November 7, 2014 – Schiaparelli is announcing today the end of its collaboration with Marco Zanini. The House of Schiaparelli is looking towards its future while transcending the aesthetic codes created by Elsa Schiaparelli. It follows a dynamic where a contemporary spirit meets its founder’s daring personality. Schiaparelli will announce its new creative director soon.” No teary goodbyes there, apparently. Zanini’s departure didn’t create massive waves of shock and despair in the industry, partly because it was somewhat expected but mainly because the re-launch of Schiaparelli somehow never generated the hype and excitement of its legacy. So what would have made things different for Schiaparelli 2.0?’ – Article Excerpt

3. Merlo, Elisabetta and Mario Perugini. ‘The Revival of Fashion Brands between Marketing and History: The Case of the Italian Fashion Company Pucci.’ Journal of Historical Research in Marketing 7(1): 91-112.

The purpose of this paper is to shed light on the contribution that history can give to marketing strategies aimed at revitalizing fashion brands. It focuses on the revival strategy implemented in recent years by the Pucci fashion company. The analysis is carried out in four parts. Marketing literature dealing with “brand revival” is reviewed in the first part. The second and the third part deal with the main characteristics featured, respectively, by the original and restored Palio and Vivara collections. In the fourth part, by applying the key concepts provided to us by the marketing literature, we pinpoint the chief values which Pucci’s retro-marketing strategy has emphasized upon and those that instead have been partially, if not completely, neglected. The research is based on a mix of sources including records kept by historical archives, fashion press, economic and financial databases and exhibition catalogues. The research shows that resorting to the past to revitalize a fashion brand can backfire if the retro-marketing strategy is not supported by an extensive knowledge of the firm’s history, and by a well documented analysis of the historical background in which the brand was originally introduced. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

Image Credit: www.thefashpack.net


The Visible Self: Contest

Please consider doing our contest!


You could win a copy of The Visible Self, a wonderful book at a value of $100!
See the interview with author Joanne Eicher for details.


You Should Be Watching: Lectures from the Bard Graduate Center

The Bard Graduate Center (BGC), a graduate school in New York devoted entirely to the study of design history, material culture and the decorative arts, has been quietly uploading videos of seminars, lectures and symposiums to Youtube over the past two years. The resulting Youtube channel showcases new research by leading academics from around the world, and makes their work accessible beyond the walls of the lecture hall. The following three videos are examples of past fashion-focused lectures given at the BGC, but there are many more to be found on the institution’s Youtube channel that may interest fashion and design historians.

1. Amanda Wunder: The Spanish Farthingale: Women, Fashion, and Politics in Baroque Spain

Women’s fashion inspired great political debate during the reign of King Philip IV (1621-65) in Spain, and no garment was more controversial than the farthingale known as the guardainfante. The name “guardainfante” reflects the widespread rumor that women wore this wide-hipped hoopskirt to conceal illicit pregnancies. Despite the ubiquity of the guardainfante in Golden-Age Spanish literature and art—Princess Margarita is wearing one at the center of Velázquez’s Las Meninas—very little is known about the material construction of these farthingales or the historical experiences of the women who wore them. An interdisciplinary methodology combining research in archival, visual, and literary sources uncovers the diverse experiences that women had with the guardainfante and reveals their contributions to the political culture of Baroque Spain as the makers, wearers, defenders, and detractors of this iconic fashion. – Full Lecture Abstract

2. Ines Rotermund-Reynard: Beads and Buttons from Briare: A Global Industrial Success Story from 19th Century France

In her talk at the BGC, Rotermund-Reynard will discuss the cultural history of 19th-century bead-making in the French town of Briare. Inventor of a new manufacturing process for the production of buttons and beads, Jean-Félix Bapterosses (1813-1885) was also an outstanding example of the moral qualities of the bourgeois industrialist in 19th-century French society. Rather than describe the economic development of the Briare beads and buttons production, Rotermund-Reynard will focus on the material object itself, in particular on its expressive character, from which emerges the portrait of a collective identity. This approach, in which an attempt is made to decipher the whole by examining the detail, leads us to question the bead itself: What does the material of which it is made tell us about the time it was created? What does its form tell us about the newly invented technical procedure? What does its color tell us about the social conditions of both the society that created these beads and the societies that received and adopted them? Doesn’t it seem that the Briare bead and its thousand-fold reproduction bear the signature of 19th-century Europe, as the philosopher Walter Benjamin might say? – Full Lecture Abstract

3. Birgit Borkopp-Restle: How To Do Things with Textiles: Maria Antoinette at the Courts of Vienna and Versailles

The French queen Marie Antoinette is often associated with extravagant fashions and the lavishing of huge sums of money on elaborate dresses and exquisitely furnished interiors—so much so that she is sometimes viewed as a “Pandora” who almost single-handedly brought on the French Revolution. Textiles—woven silks, tapestries, furnishing fabrics and embroideries—indeed had a prominent part in the images she presented to the world. A closer look at these objects reveals, however, that her choices were motivated less by extravagance, personal taste, or a desire for self-expression than by dynastic traditions and established political strategies and conventions. Textiles were of paramount importance at early modern European courts: tapestries with their narrative sequences of images, embroideries encompassing a wide variety of materials and forms, and woven silks with elaborate patterns all contributed to the splendid and highly charged interiors in which court festivals and ceremonies were held. Rulers themselves had to appear in robes of state and embody magnificence as their cardinal virtue. Marie Antoinette was no exception to this rule, strategically employing textile objects as significant elements of a language that was read and understood within the aristocratic society of her time. – Full Lecture Abstract

In addition, the upcoming symposium Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette, to be held at the BGC on March 27, 2015, will be streamed live for viewing on Youtube along with several other planned seminars and lectures this spring.


The Visible Self: Contest

Please consider doing our contest!


You could win a copy of The Visible Self, a wonderful book at a value of $100!
See the interview with author Joanne Eicher for details.


Reissue of The Visible Self: Interview with Joanne Eicher

The Visible Self

2015 will see the reissue of The Visible Self, a seminal text many of us have encountered in our study of dress. Co-Author Joanne Eicher, PhD is Regents Professor Emerita from the University of Minnesota and was my professor for Dress & Culture graduate level course as well as served on my dissertation committee. She was kind enough to share with us her thoughts on the research, writing, and publishing process of The Visible Self and the state of fashion scholarship/publications today.

In conjunction with this interview, the publisher of The Visible Self, Bloomsbury, has provided a copy I can give away to one fabulous Worn Through reader! (U.S. mail address only, apologies, I need to save on postage and I’m in the U.S.). Below the interview you’ll see instructions. UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER THANK YOU!

M: This is the Fourth edition of The Visible Self (TVS). Why was now the right time to do an update and reissue? What is different?

J: My co-author, Sandra Evenson, and I have worked through updates for various parts of the text and wanted to take advantage of Fairchild Publishers commitment to providing ancillary materials to faculty to enhance the basic concepts in the book. A revision allows us to review the images and update them with many new examples as well as use refinement of John Bodley’s ideas regarding sociocultural systems that we relate to dressing the body as a communication system and refinement of our own ideas as well that develop over time and with our reading of current research and scholarship.

M: Do you see this as a book for undergraduates or graduates?

J: We see it as appropriate for both levels, although it will no doubt be primarily used for undergraduates. In late March, however, I am presenting a seminar in London with MA students from both History and Culture of Fashion and Fashion and Film at London College of Fashion as well as students from Critical Fashion Studies and Journalism pathways of MA Communication at Central Saint Martins. The seminar focus will be a give and take on the Definition and Classification System of Dress that we present in the first chapter of TVS.

M: What kinds of courses could it be used in?

J: The book has been a basic text for courses on understanding the sociocultural significance of dress and fashion, using a three-pronged approach of viewing the physical base of the body for dress, its aesthetic aspects, and the sociocultural significance in cultures across the world. Our book makes students think about dress in other cultures as well as viewing dress and fashion from a more limited “Western” perspective. We want them to ditch stereotypes about other cultures and what may seem exotic when looking at others from an outsider’s point of view.

M: Do you think it can be used in pieces/chapters or is best read as a course-long textbook?

J: Of course, an instructor is free to use parts of the book for various purposes, such as the initial chapters about “what is dress” and “what is its significance,” to “what do we know about dress” and “what are the sources of information,” or to use the sociocultural perspective chapters or the aesthetic chapters to fit into or enhance/supplement another course. We see the book serving the purpose effectively to provide an overview to understanding that fashion and dressing the body are mainstay activities in all societies across the world and not “special” to the immediate world around us and students.

M: Is the book intended for international audiences?

J: The revised edition, just out in August of 2014 has been adopted in other countries as well as at least 40 universities in the United States. The adoptions abroad are in Scotland, England, Wales, Bosnia-Herzogovina and Japan so far.

M: Are there differences in the way the United States and other countries are studying apparel?

J: Often, at least in the UK and Europe, textbooks are not usually chosen for use as much as basic readings from specific books. In the United States and Canada, the textbook is a more common approach that synthesizes knowledge and provides extensive bibliographic references for readers.

M: How did you address different learning perspectives in the book?

J: Our questions at the end of chapters provide a wide array of possibilities for different points of view across cultures with discussion by students and instructors.

M:The Visible Self covers a vast amount of material. It is a mix of collected writings and textbook-style explanations with a plentiful amount of images. Can you discuss the process for dealing with a large body of information and how to wrangle it into one cohesive publication?

J: Our first edition of TVS was text only with no readings, authored by Mary Ellen Roach and me as colleagues. We wrote first drafts of various chapters that came from the courses we taught at our two universities (University of Wisconsin, Madison, for her, and Michigan State University for me) which were based on the ideas, the starting point, we developed in editing our first book together, Dress, Adornment, and The Social Order in 1965. We had a very similar point of view having received our PhDs at Michigan State University in a combined Anthropology and Sociology Dept at that time. Each of our drafts were shared with the other one and then carefully scrutinized and worked over in discussion (we most frequently met in person when writing). The end result was an amalgamation of ideas, It was difficult to say at the completion, “this is mine.” You have a co-author, Sandra Lee Evenson, so dividing the work was certainly part of the process. We worked similarly to the way Roach and I began which was also true for 2e and 3e when Hazel Lutz was also a co-author. Both Sandra and Hazel had worked with me as students and we shared similar perspectives, but they brought new points of view as well. Sandra and Hazel had extensive experience in design and construction with Sandra also having retail experience and Hazel having had depth in anthropology in graduate work. The three of us shared fieldwork and knowledge of South Asia Indian dress and textiles as well.

M: You start the book with 4 chapters that compile a “systematic study of dress” with classifications, dress society and culture, records of types of dress, and writer interpretations of dress. By putting this framework first and foremost it serves as a foundation for this line of study. Do you feel the current academic apparel programs are addressing each of these issues?

J: I do not have any research about what other programs have as a base, but my impression is that many focus on the world most familiar to their students, American culture. We are committed to the idea of the basic similarities of human beings across the world with the differences that come about cross-culturally as icing on the cake.

M: You have a portion in your book on the types of scholarly publications that established the study of apparel. Thankfully in my doctoral program I took a course with Gloria Williams about the history of writing in our field. I took contemporary writing, which covered the early 20th century to the present, and I was always disappointed the course on earlier writings did not fit into my schedule. From what I can tell, these types of courses are rare. Scholarship in our field has been spreading and shifting since its inception. Each expansion provides fresh new perspectives however it does appear some of the foundation/past is not considered, and a canon in our field is dissipating. How did you decide which to include in The Visible Self and can you discuss this issue in general?

J: I am a wide reader across disciplines and the references we cite in the 4th chapter, “Written Interpretations of Dress,” reflect the three prongs I discussed earlier of focus on the physical, aesthetic, and sociocultural aspects of dress. This is an expansion/revision/update of the chapter that Roach and I were determined to include in our 1973 first edition, as we wanted readers to know how extensive the study of dress is and how broad a base it has.

M: The book addresses international dress, ethnic dress, religious dress, and how those concepts intersect with tourism in home countries and identity issues with immigration and relocation. Can you address a few of the main points from these chapters?

J: Our main purpose, again, is to have students think about the role of dress in their own lives and compare and contrast with the lives of others, whether other cultural groups in their home country, whether they are students in the US or elsewhere. There are many specific differences in the US and Canada with our histories of immigration and influx of people from all over the world, continuing to today.

M: This section of the book made me think of two things: Do you feel the mainstream press/popular media explores these concepts empathically or one dimensionally and what is the impact on public perception of ethnic/religious dress?

J: I think it depends on what press/media you cite/read. Some sources like the New York Times are very thorough in presentation of various examples. Some sources, perhaps like popular magazines, may be less so. I think you are asking what could be a research question to be pursued for its answer. Also, there is always a great deal of discussion when these markers of cultural identity are appropriated. Would your research indicate that is appreciation or misunderstanding or just an expected outcome of globalization? Not sure I understand this last part of the question. I think whatever answer comes out, depends on the specific source to be cited.

M: Can you talk a bit about publishing? What do you think is the future of academic publishing on apparel?

J: The publishing world seems to be all agog on publishing about dress and fashion, particularly picking up on the word, “fashion.” [There was] an article that was published in 2013 on the numbers of articles that are coming out on the topic of fashion…(Style and Substance: Fashion in Twenty-first Century Research Libraries) which is pretty fascinating. Just going into any bookstore or even to the fashion section on the web for Barnes and Noble or Amazon is astonishing in regard to numbers of titles and varied related topics. I am editor of two book series on dress/fashion for Bloomsbury Publishers and we have 61 titles in Dress, Body, Culture, a series that began with its first title in 1997 and two titles to date with my most recent series, Dress and Fashion Research. Journals are pouring forth along with books and many publishers are entering this field with titles.

M: Where is the scholarship going in terms of print-academic or mass market, e-books, journals, blogs, multi-media? What are the important things for a scholar/researcher to consider about when, where and how to get their ideas out there?

J: Scholarship seems to be going across all media—The Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion of ten volumes was published in hardcopy in July of 2010 and went online in September, 2010. I have been commissioning 100,000 words yearly since then to add to the online version. I think we have wide-open spaces for publishing possibilities in our field. Blogs are thriving, books and ebooks, too. Journals, magazines, newspapers, TV pick up the stories. People have begun to acknowledge that the way we dress is an important part of life and our identities.

One person (in the U.S) will be the recipient of this $100 book for free! Please email and in 50 words or less tell us why you feel you need this book. Email subject line: The Visible Self Book Giveaway. We’ll review responses through Wednesday February 18, 2015 and shortly thereafter notify the winner, who we will choose based on who wrote the most convincing appeal. Please include your U.S. mailing address. UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER THANK YOU!

Please email me your correct response.
Thank you.


You Should Be Reading: Dress in Paintings

One of my first assignments in my M.A. program was to visit a museum and select a painting for study and analysis. Having always been drawn to medieval scenes, I chose the triptych panel, “Young Woman with a Pink,” by Netherlandish painter Hans Memling. Research into the smallest elements of our woman’s dress revealed historical and social context that would never fit onto a tombstone label. In her fascinating account of dress in Vermeer’s domestic interiors, fashion historian Marieke de Winkel contends that interpretation of dress is not ancillary to the study of art history, but a key element in understanding art. Linked below are analyses of fashion in paintings, including de Winkel’s explorations of Vermeer and of Rembrandt, an essay on the controversy surrounding Sargent’s “Madame X,”  and the catalog for the recent exhibition Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity. Note to readers without institutional affiliation: JSTOR is testing a new program, “Register and Read” that allows free read-online access when you register for a MyJSTOR account. 

 1. de Winkel, Marieke (1998). The Interpretation of Dress in Vermeer’s PaintingsStudies in the History of Art, 55, 326-339.

Art historians traditionally treat the history of dress as an ancillary discipline, helpful mainly in the dating of works of art. In the case of painters such as Vermeer, where only a few works are dated, this is certainly a useful approach. In the interpretation of dress, however, art historians tend to rely on their personal, usually general, knowledge of clothing, with often unfortunate consequences. Accurate analysis requires knowledge of the material culture and historical context of the period in question, and the challenge to the historian of costume is to connect the visual and written evidence, although frequently there seems to be no apparent link between the two. Another essential problem is the question of whether or not genre painting depicts clothes that were actually worn. In addition to documentary and literary evidence, the comparison with surviving items or dress can be valuable in this respect. Unfortunately, few seventeenth-century garments have survived in the Netherlands itself. Some examples in England, however, can be related to costumes seen in contemporary Dutch painting. Another interesting source of information is seventeenth-century dollhouses, three of which are on display in Dutch museums. –Article Excerpt

2.  de Winkel, Marieke (2006). Fashion and Fancy: Dress and Meaning in Rembrandt’s PaintingsAmsterdam University Press

Until now dress has played only a subordinate role in the research of Rembrandt’s paintings, despite the fact that few artists are as intensively studied as this Dutch master. The lacuna is all the more surprising since Rembrandt obviously delighted in rendering clothes, which, for him, not only communicated the character and social status of his sitters but also clarified his narratives and heightened the drama in his historical pieces. Here, Marieke de Winkel offers a fascinating and much-needed study of dress and costume in the works of Rembrandt. – From the publisher

3. Groom, Gloria Lynn, ed. (2012). Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity. Art Institute of Chicago. 

This volume is the first to explore fashion as a critical aspect of modernity, one that paralleled and many times converged with the development of Impressionism, starting in the 1860s and continuing through the next two decades, when fashion attracted the foremost writers and artists of the day. Although they have depicted fashionable subjects throughout history, for many artists and writers, including Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, Émile Zola, Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, fashion became integral to the search for new literary and visual expression. In a series of essays that examine fashion and its social, cultural, and artistic context during some of the most important years of the Impressionist era—years that also gave birth to the modern fashion industry—a group of fifteen scholars, drawn from five interdisciplinary fields, examine approximately 140 Impressionist-era artworks, including those by dedicated fashion portraitists, in light of the rise of the department store, new working methods for designing clothing, and new social and technological changes that led to the democratization of fashion and, simultaneously, its ascendance as a vehicle for modernity. – From the publisher

 4. Sidlauskas, Susan (2001). Painting Skin: John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X”American Art, 15(3), 8-33.

In this essay, I try to understand the social and cultural circumstances of the creation and reception of Sargent’s Madame X in light of recent ideas about the presentation of the self-the various ways we display who we are and who we want to be-at its most fundamental level, in and through the skin of the body. My hope is to explore more fully why the painting inspired such intense reactions when it was first exhibited, and why it continues to fascinate. –Article Excerpt

Image credit: Vermeer’s The Art of Painting from Google Cultural Institute.


Who is your favourite fashion writer?


In my bedroom is a framed article about winter sunglasses, featuring an image of Blondie, by Colin McDowell when he was Senior Fashion Writer for The Sunday Times Style magazine.  As a teenager growing up in the early 1990s, I used to pour over his cultural and historical analysis of diverse sartorial objects; these were mythologies of fashion in the making.  And, there was nothing else quite like it in any other UK newspaper or, come to think of it, fashion magazines such as Elle, Vogue or Marie Clare at the time.   Similarly, when I discovered Worn Journal in 2004, I had the same response, something I wrote about here.

Looking at my saved McDowell article, I began to think about who in the UK currently writes about fashion and dress in an interesting way, perhaps taking unusual angles on well known subjects or introducing us to unknown topics.  Who do I frequently read or refer to on the topic?  Who do others turn to?  For many, identifying with common fashioned voices can take a long time as we often have to rely on serendipity and diligent curiosity, drawing upon disparate sources in order to create some sort of shared community.  In fact, I had to wait until Worn Journal before I could really begin to identify with fashion writers, most of whom were based in North America.  But, what about UK fashion writers?

In 2013, the Guardian launched a platform for a range of fashion blogs which showed the potential for hearing new voices, seeing things differently and broadening our everyday understanding of our clothed lives.  In particular, I liked The Invisible Woman with her interest in fashion for older women and Costume and Culture, an academic interested in fashion.  Unfortunately, these diverse blogs disappeared from the Guardian website at the end of 2014, which I think is a shame given that it was advantageous to have such a range within one site.  Of course, VICE UK and ShowStudio both play an invaluable role in imaginatively covering fashion and dress stories that popular printed media tends to avoid.  But, despite their plethora of contributors, I have yet to identify specific writers there that speak directly to me about dress and clothes.

Realising I needed to start looking out for more fashion writers who inspire me, this month I came across the British journal of fashion criticism called Address, edited by Johannes Reponen and Grace Eagle. In an interview in 2013,  Reponen described how the magazine would “discuss and analyse fashion as part of our everyday experience… [and it is] much more interested in the clothes we wear rather than some extravagant creation you see on the catwalks that nobody’s ever going to wear.”  Their second issue looked at ‘care’, ‘shoes’ and ‘voice’ through the lens of fashion, however, as this was published in 2013, it looks as if the website has now replaced the printed issue.  Pretty comprehensive, online Address includes opinion pieces, analyses, reviews and definitions.  This may be the beginning of a McDowell moment!

Who is your favourite fashion writer?  Who do you read and why?


(Top image taken by the author, date unknown)