For the train journey home from a recent conference I decided to buy a fashion magazine. This was quite a big deal because I rarely buy them, due to the disappointment felt by their inability to identify with my particular fashioned self. While Entwistle (2000) suggests that magazines can connect the practice of getting dressed with both the discourse and production of fashion, I think we still don’t quite know how that happens from an academic perspective. In other words, how do people who buy fashion magazines articulate what they read/see into their daily dress? Furthermore, do people challenge or critique what they read/see through their dress, and if so, how?
It is not my intention to answer these questions right now but they do seem relevant to a more nuanced understanding of how fashion and dress interconnect through the circulation and ownership of magazines. So, with some reservation about the extent to which magazines really hope to identify with me as their reader in mind, I chose one that claims to be focused on how women ‘actually look, think and dress’ in an attempt to see whether this was possible without any reference to the consumer.
First issue, published in Spring/Summer 2010
This is how I came to read The Gentlewoman, a British based bi-annual publication whose distinguishing features include an academic editor in chief, a intellectual approach to the business of fashion and an aesthetic lineage that can be traced back to the emergence of innovative style magazines in Britain during the 1980s.
Main features includes an interview with Westwood by Deborah Orr, columnist for The Guardian, and photographed by Alasdair McLellan
The current issue features a vibrant coral front cover that creates a frame around the black and white photographic portrait of Vivienne Westwood from the shoulder upwards. This singular image is given the simple banner of ‘Vivienne’. The magazine’s title is the only other wording on the front cover and both use black Helvetica typeface. There are no further captions alluding to the content within although on opening the magazine, there are approximately 62 pages of advertorial before I reach the contents and contributors lists. Despite the very minimal exterior, the first section seems no different to any other Vogue or Harpers Bazaar. In fact, The Gentlewoman seems no less keen on being desired for its ‘must have’ status than Vogue did when Condé Nast took over at the turn of the 20th century.
Feature on yoga, photographed by Lena C. Emery
However, there are details throughout The Gentlewoman that suggest this is a magazine attuned to an audience that desires something more distinct from between its covers. Firstly, there is the use of heavy cream paper for a middle section devoted to the different ways in which ‘gentlewomen’ identify with cultural products. Here is an image of someone who practices yoga and seeks out drinking alone in bars. Someone interested in architecture as much as the latest cosmetic products. The more expensive paper is dedicated to interviews with well-established fashion related personalities, such as Westwood, by contributors known for their writing various liberal, intellectual broadsheets.
Model Saskia discusses her fine art practice, photographed by Annemarieke van Drimmelen
Secondly, the fashion editorials, which make up the third section of this particular issue, are accompanied by interviews with the featured models that reveal their intellectual and creative aptitudes. I discover that a display of swimsuits are worn by a fine artist, while a range of menswear is modeled by someone with a university degree. These models are not just clothes hangers but women who live lives beyond the two-dimensional realm of fashion imagery.
Pocket detailing photographed by Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes
Thirdly, everything from the pared down photography with an emphasis on natural light and minimal retouching to a series of smaller editorials discussing the semantics of detailing within dress, with reference to pockets and underwear, are all underpinned by the presence of an editor in chief known for her fashion history credentials. Penny Martin, whose commercial experience includes working for Nick Knight’s SHOWStudio, studied fashion magazines for her PhD at the Royal College of Art while working at the Fawcett Society Women’s Library. With this background, which also includes curation, Martin’s intellectual clout is what arguably enables The Gentlewoman to classify itself as a magazine for intelligent women.
Penny Martin talking to fashion journalism students at London College of Fashion in 2013
Breward (2003) suggests that magazines play a crucial role in imagining how we might play out a diverse cast of fashionable lifestyles. The published fashion image not only suggests what’s to come but allows us to dream of possibilities that are often far removed from our socio-economic realities. The difficulty with The Gentlewoman is that due to its self aware sense of academic and subcultural identity, suspension of belief is not an option. The Gentlewoman is too aware of its own ironies on the one hand, its commitment to historical accuracy on the other.
The Parlour featuring stylists being made up, photographed by Devin Blair
This is particularly noticeable in a photographic editorial that features five make up/hair stylists who are shown being made up by various assistants at branded make up counters in the department store Selfridges. The images reveal only the hands of those applying the make up while the faces of the stylists display a range of naturalistic poses. I was particularly drawn to the idea of juxtaposing the unknown make up assistant with the recognized achievements of the stylists yet neither are caught looking directly at the camera so we see a moment in action, a glimpse of both, just as we might if we were there in Selfridges.
However, I was interested to discover that the hands of the make up assistants were in fact those of two hand models and so throwing into question the entire premise of this being a documentary effort. I also wondered at the decision to recreate the experience of being at a Selfridges make up counter, how in doing so, to what extent does The Gentlewoman challenge the reader’s opportunities to dream of possible lifestyles?
Although I did find an undergraduate dissertation on the subject and would love to hear more from the student on this study, overall, not much critical analysis has emerged about The Gentlewoman. In a newspaper interview with Martin by Kate Finnegan last year, I was struck by the journalist’s description of the magazine as an ‘equivalent of Slow Food’. It suggests that while reading The Gentlewoman might be an act of subversion on the one hand, it is also imbued with the philosophical aim of eventually making the fashion world a better place on the other. The reader of The Gentlewoman is one who ultimately understands that fast fashion will rarely lead to a more authentic, and in this case, more naturalized, sartorial identity. But is that really the case?
Published in 2000, this fascinating text calls for a more embodied approach to the study of fashion and dress
As I said at the beginning, not enough has been done to understand the relationship between fashion magazines and how we dress in our everyday lives. While they have always been a means to understand the top down flow of stylistic trends, since the 1950s, they have also reflected the increasingly blurred distinctions between cultural practices and objects. In this way, fashion magazines invite the reader to identify with its language, to encourage us to learn their particular vocabulary. Yet, when it comes to academic research, we still seem to focus solely on talking to journalists, photographers and editors as important cultural mediators. Why don’t we also include discussion with the people who buy magazines, to explore how fashion as image is articulated through the embodiment of dress, as Entwistle suggests?
If you are involved in research that addresses some of these questions, please do get in touch as I would really like to hear from anyone who has either developed some of Entwistle’s ideas about dress, fashion and the body or interesting methodological approaches to documenting the daily experience of getting dressed. Also, if you have a particular view on The Gentlewoman, please do get in touch.
The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics (MCP) seeks papers for a themed issue on Indigenous Film and Media. Papers should address any aspect of Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nations, Maori, Sami, etc. film, media, and popular cultures.
MCP is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and popular cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those which run across cultures, nations, and nation-states. Consequently, this themed volume welcomes comparative research across media and/or Indigenous ethnicities and cultures. In particular, the volume highly encourages comparative papers between Indigenous and, say, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and African film, media, and popular cultures.
Topics might address, but are not in any way limited to the following:
Video Games, Blogging, YouTube
Comic books, Graphic novels, and Cartoons
Theater, Festivals, Spectacles, and Ceremonies
MCP invites interested contributors to submt (4,000-8,000 word) essays, short commentaries (2,500-3,000), and book reviews (1,000-2,500) on Indigenous film, new media, social media, and popular cultural politics. Contributors should also include brief biographical notes of approximately 200 words.
Deadline for submissions: May 30, 2014
Submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Midwest Popular Culture Association and Midwest American Culture Association will be hosting their annual conference October 3-5, 2014 in Indianapolis, IN.
Topics can include, but are not limited to, fashion as it is represented in literature, film, television, or music; fashion as it pertains to current popular culture or popular culture of any time period of the past; the fashions of celebrities; or sociological implications of fashion in our culture.
Abstracts must be 250 words and address any aspect of fashion to the “Fashion” area of the submissions website. Please include your name, affiliation, and e-mail address with the 250 word abstract. Also, please indicate in your submission whether your presentation will require an LCD Projector.
Additionally, there are graduate student travel grants available! More information may be found here.
Deadline for submissions: April 30, 2014
Please upload all proposals here.
Any questions may be forwarded to Kelli Purcell O’Brien at email@example.com.
American Studies Association of Texas: Reimagining, Reframing, and Reflecting American Studies in the 21st Century
November 13-15, 2014
Sam Houston State University
This Call for Papers invites submissions that examine the controversies of the field, both resolved and ongoing, through the varied lenses of scholars across disciplines. We ask the broad question: as society becomes more global, in what ways do scholars, artists, and musicians reimagine, reframe, or reflect what it is to be American?
Possible questions to consider:
- How has American Identity shaped or been shaped by concepts of American Individualism?
- How has the conflicted political past/present reshaped American Identity?
- How has our own art and music reflected the American Ideal? Are there such things as uniquely American food, music, art, culture?
- Has the embracing of multicultural elements in society reflected or deflected our understanding of what it is to be American?
- How is multiculturalism reflected in current American culture?
Papers are invited from a variety of disciplines which reflect the conference theme, including:
- Art (visual and performing)
- Gender (in America)
- History (General, Cultural, Economic, Social)
Abstract deadline: July 1, 2014
Abstract length: 500 words
Please submit abstracts to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, please contact Barbara Miles at email@example.com.
DECADENCE: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference
August 15-17, 2014
If it is a cliché to speak of one’s own age as decadent, so be it. These are decadent times. Justin Bieber’s car collection and Viktor Yanukovych’s presidential palace fit comfortably in a world where the 85 richest people have accumulated as much wealth as the poorest half of the planet’s population, according to a recent Oxfam study. Such narrowly defined good times cannot roll. This disparity between extreme wealth and poverty expresses the paradox inherent in the term “decadence.”
Although literary critics most commonly associate decadence with nineteenth-century and fin-de-siècle authors such as Baudelaire, the French Symbolists, and Oscar Wilde, this interdisciplinary conference aims to encourage exploration of the ways in which this term can be effectively applied to a variety of historical and contemporary subjects, periods, or politics. It seems clear that the various manifestations of decadence could never—and cannot now—be articulated, illustrated, or even imagined independently of a particular complex of cultural, moral, or socio-political conditions. But how does decadence figure into other disciplines? What does decadence look like in the twenty-first century? Are exquisite excesses inevitable, or even necessary?
The Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students in English (DAGSE) invites submissions for paper presentations for “Decadence: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference.” We welcome proposals from students at all levels and in all areas of graduate study. This three-day conference will be held August 15-17, 2014 at Dalhousie University, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and will investigate the symptoms and effects of decadence as a literary, artistic, historical, and socio-cultural phenomenon.
We invite proposals for papers (15-20 minutes) on themes and subjects including, but not limited to:
- Neoliberalism: patterns of production and consumption
- Decadence and the Ivory Tower
- Sexuality and gender; hypersexuality and erotomania
- Aestheticism, Symbolism, and fin-de-siècle literature
- Decadence abroad: the French Decadents, the “Lost Generation,” et al.
- The Dandy, the flâneur, the bon viveur: decadence and self-fashioning
- Aristocratic and political excesses
- Physical, aesthetic, or intellectual pleasures
- Health and Fitness, HGH, plastic surgery, and biohacking
Deadline for abstracts: April 25, 2014
Abstract length: 250-words
Please send abstracts to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Full posting and submission requirements at the conference website.
Last night I was able to attend the last of a series of talks curated by Dr Carolyn Mair, MA course leader at London College of Fashion (LCF), and entitled ‘Looking Ahead…isms in Fashion’. Previous talks in the series have covered topics such as ageism, racism and ableism, underlining LCF’s initative Better Lives, which aims to develop our understanding of sustainaiblity within the business of fashion. This final presentation was a panel discussion between a range of diverse speakers, all asked to reflect upon what the Chair, Dr Phil Sams, suggested were ‘tools’ at our disposal in effecting positive change upon a range of long-held stereotypes within the fashion industry.
James Partridge, founder and CEO of UK charity Changing Faces
The discussion was structured around brief presentations by all the speakers and the order of service was well considered. It began with two very positive, eloquent and engaging introductions by James Partridge, the founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, the distinguished UK charity supporting people with disfigurements, and Caryn Franklin MBE, fashion broadcaster and co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, an independent organization focused on challenging stereotypes of body ideals within the fashion industry.
All Walks Beyond the Catwalks 2013 campaign to diversify media representation of body shapes
Both were able to raise questions about fashion, well-being and diversity that struck a personal chord with the audience. James engaged us by revealing just how many people know someone with a disfigurement while noting how research suggests we still psychologically associate negative characteristics with people based upon their physical appearance. Caryn suggested we consider what is meant by ‘success’ not just within the fashion industry but when we get dressed every morning. Caryn asked us whether what we chose to wear was an experience of anxiety and conformity or affirmation and individualisation. This personal approach to the subject of exclusion, identity and fashion was certainly inspiring. While Caryn talked of the ‘extraordinary’ as a profitable antidote to the emphasis on normalization within the business of fashion, James highlighted a recent media campaign by Illamasqua, a cosmetics company, whose slogan ‘beauty is imperfection’ helped to recognize facial diversity within society.
Illamasqua 2013 ‘Imperfection’ campaign featuring a model with a facial birthmark
However, for me, the highlight of the panel discussion was the elucidating contributions by the last two speakers. Firstly, Dr Chris Pawson, a community psychologist and Principal Lecturer in Clinical & Community Psychology at the Institute for Research in Child Development, reminded us of how external circumstances, such as socio-economic systems, can negatively impact upon our mental well-being. As he put it, some people definitely have a rougher time of it than others. To only suggest a range of therapeutic methods that focus on self-improvement fails to address wider communal issues. Chris drew our attention to the way in which stereotypes are the products of socialization, not just cognitive hardwiring as referred to by other panel and audience members. Chris also voiced the oppression felt by young people when faced with pressure to conform to fashion trends or particular ways of dressing in order to be fully accepted into society, however, he was equally optimistic about fashion’s contribution to enhanced self-esteem.
M&S 2013 clothing campaign featuring Helen Mirren (actress), Tracey Emin (artist) and Katie Piper (philanthropist)
Chris was followed by Dr Carolyn Mair, the primary instigator behind these talks, who pointed out that fashion was still a very narrow business in terms of social representation, reflected in the fact that a third of Britain’s population are over the age of fifty yet barely seen in fashion representation. However, the fact that the clothes worn by Helen Mirren and Tracey Emin in the recent Marks & Spencer (M&S) campaign were the first to sell out clearly highlight the profits of appealing to a more diverse fashion consumer.
Both Chris and Carolyn brought a critical eye to a discussion that covered explicit themes such as the normalization of dress, identity and diversity, yet, arguably, more implicit themes of exclusion, anxiety and conformity were less considered. Here, it might have been interesting to include Daniel Miller, material anthropologist at UCL, or Rebecca Arnold, fashion historian at the Courtauld Institute of Art, who have both written about the various ways in which fashion and dress manifests anxieties around a range of issues, including perceived body ideals.
Instead, the final contribution to the discussion was given by Zowie Broach, co-creator of Boudicca, a London based design house, whose practitioner stance would offer insight into how fashion design might help to improve our lives. Unfortunately, her presentation with its focus on a recent art piece rather than the inherent structural challenges of working in fashion failed to engage me despite her being considerably moved by what the other speakers had to say. Zowie observed that the issues raised all made her feel quite ‘sad’. Yet it seems to me that if the fashion industry and the public are to move forward in terms of broadening our perception of what is ‘normal’, perhaps it is better to transform this sympathy, which rarely resolves and more often condones ‘isms’, into an empathy so we can start to imagine ourselves in the body/dress of another in an effort to see the world from their perspective.
Boudicca’s The Liquid Game, 2014 ( audio-visual installation)
The final audience discussion was disappointing, with very little time allowed to hear a range of questions, and was not helped by the panel Chair, who drew upon previously featured speakers amongst the audience for contributions rather than pursue lesser well-known faces amongst the sitting crowd. This was a missed opportunity to have a dialogue about ‘isms’ in more depth and perhaps in future, the panel might consider asking audience members for questions in advance.
Yet, despite these minor criticisms, the discussion was a useful starting point for thinking about cultural values, as both social and psychological phenomenon, and broader concerns about sustainability of the fashion industry. As Sandy Black has made clear, the notion of ethical or sustainable fashion is paradoxical: while the industry operates on wastefulness and obsolescence, it simultaneously claims to be our ecological and economic ally. This is perhaps why it is a challenge for designers such as Boudicca to be understood in a more critical light. But, last night’s discussion went some small way towards more intellectual reflection of cultural practices and their influence upon our efforts to ‘do better’ by fashion and by default by our complex, dressed social lives.
Finally, if you are studying anything to do with dress, fashion and mental health, I would love to hear from you. Recently, here in the UK, it was revealed that one in four people have a mental health disability. How might this impact upon people, especially when it is also often hidden from the normative gaze? How does the role of dress function within this newly emerging socio-cultural context?
 p252, Sandy Black ‘Ethical Fashion and EcoFashion’ in Steele, Valerie (ed) (2010) The Berg Companion to Fashion New York, Berg.
International Journal of Costume and Fashion (IJCF) invites papers for publication. IJCF is one of the representative academic journals of the Korean Society of Costume, published biannually in every June and December.
IJCF addresses all aspects of costume and fashion: history of dress, fashion theory, theatrical costume, fashion design, product development, aesthetics, fashion marketing and management, fashion merchandising and retailing, socio-cultural aspect of dress, social psychology of dress, clothing construction, textile science, and new technology in fashion industry. The full paper submitted by October 2014, after the review process, may be published in the journal in 2015. Manuscripts for consideration should be sent to the chief editor at email@example.com.
Abstracts of no more than 200 words are required for all papers submitted. Abstracts should briefly describe the objectives, methods, results and inquires so that the reader can better understand the contents of the manuscript. Each manuscript should have four to six keywords below the abstract. For more guidelines for submission, click here.
In February, Robin Givhan wrote a very interesting piece for The Cut about so-called “ethical fashion,” with Maiyet as a case study. The twist in that company’s luxury womenswear offerings is that they are produced not only by real, life artisans, but that said artisans hail from struggling countries or live in areas with few economic opportunities. Part of the profits support the establishment of the metalsmiths, the embroiderers, and the seamstresses as independent, profitable artisans in India, Kenya, Peru, and other places where hand craft skills are still practiced.
In her piece, Givhan dives into the qualifications of the founding partners, lists the big-name backers (Disney, Branson, etc), and has written a meaningful, timely piece on the effectiveness of the “ethical” brands we all love to support.
She outlines my pet protest:
The world of philanthropy has long known how to use Seventh Avenue to spur donations and raise our collective consciousness. Charities have inspired what might be called “pity purchases,” a transaction driven by liberal guilt, lefty do-goodism, or a host of other politically correct motivations rather than that most potent and enduring driver of obscenely priced fashion: pure, unadulterated desire. But ethical fashion still carries the stigma of being inelegant, precious, and a bit twee—unlike in the food industry, say, where customers eagerly pay a premium for farm-to-table bragging rights.
Examines the wonderfully real difficulties of working with craftspeople in global environments:
And then, says [Paul] Van Zyl, there are the silk weavers in India who work out of their homes and can’t work when the temperature soars because, without air conditioning, it’s too hot, and if the doors are left open, the goats come inside and get themselves tangled in the looms, and, well, it’s the kind of mess that the folks over at Hermès don’t have to worry about.
Not everyone can shop at luxury price points, but it’s there that mythology is born and reputations are built. If the luxury market can fetishize Lesage embroidery, can it not come to do the same with Varanasi silk?
“David Mulinga, Richard Ochieng, and the second Richard Ochieng.” Photographs copyright Guillaume Bonn/Global Assignments at Getty Images, 2014.
What I rather liked about this article was that the photographs accompanying the piece were of Kenyan craftspeople and the pieces they made for Maiyet. No CEO business headshot or “site visit” with a gaggle of smiling children. Givhan’s words were strengthened by portraits of Kenyan “partners” of the label, including the couple Maiyet first invested in through the Nest nonprofit. Givhan’s piece was about the business and product sides of Maiyet, but considering their apparently genuine interest in making small businesspeople visible and viable, it was nice to see the artisans lead the visual aspect of the article (accompanied by the obligatory magazine product-layout).
Watch videos about Maiyet artisans on their website here; how do beautifully-made media enhance the customer experience?
The portraits by Guillaume Bonn reminded me immediately of the work of Jim Naughten, known across the internet for his portraits of Hereros in their unique dress, featured on Worn Through in 2012.
From the “Herero” series by Jim Naughten, 2012. Photo copyright Jim Naughten, 2012.
Although I admire the Hereros series, and it may be unfair to compare the two photographic intentions, it is heartening to see people photographed for what they do, not what they wear. In their everyday dress (or work clothes?), accompanied by their tools and materials, these are just people! Very talented people, of course. I wonder if the photographs were taken outside of the Maiyet studio, or if the background was intentionally “neutral”?
How do you see “ethical fashion” companies portraying and representing their artisans and producers? Is it important that they are photographed, named, interviewed? Or is that another form of fetishization? Do you ask the same of your favorite small European brands or American producers (or would you have seven years ago)?
Leave your comments below!
Lead Photograph: Anton Onyango Otiende and Benta Otiende, metalsmiths from Kenya. Photograph copyright Guillaume Bonn/Global Assignments at Getty Images, 2014.
Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, an eccentric artist living in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1910s, exemplified the disillusioned artistic movement of Dadaism through her lifestyle and garb often comprised of an array of found or stolen objects. She ran with the likes of Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, and Jean Heap wrote that she was “the only one living anywhere who dresses Dada, loves Dada, lives Dada.” Few images of the Baroness’ fashions survive, the true picture of her being painted by descriptive testimonials that inspire mainstream fashion in a way that von Freytag-Loringhoven no doubt would have despised.
Click here for more Worn Through coverage of the Baroness.
Comme des Garcons, Fall 2012
“So she shaved her head. Next she lacquered it a high vermillion. Then she stole the crepe from the door of a house of mourning and made a dress out of it.”
Elle Fanning for New York, February 18, 2014
“I went to the consulate with a large-wide sugarcoated birthday cake upon my head with fifty flaming candles lit – I felt just so spunky and afluent [sic]!” 
Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, F/W 2009
“She stood before me quite naked—or nearly so. Over the nipples of her breasts were two twin tomato cans, fastened with a green string about her back. Between the tomato cans hung a very small bird-cage and a crestfallen canary.” 
 Gammel, I. Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity. The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2002.
 von Freytag-Loringhoven, Elsa. Undated letter to Djuna Barnes. http://www.lib.umd.edu/dcr/collections/EvFL-class/bios.html
 Gammel, I. Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity. The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2002.
We were so thrilled to be able to offer our research award again this year.
This is the second time we’ve offered the award and once again there were smart and thoughtful entries. For 2014 we made some changes and offered one award for a student and one for a working professional.
If you’re wondering, the money comes from advertisers. So, please consider advertising if you work for a school, a museum, an auction house, a costume house, a publisher, or something of that nature that appeals to readers. Your money goes to a good cause!
The award is to help support researchers in apparel fields for travel, publishing, presenting, image rights, interviews, or other things of that nature. (It does not go to institutions, strictly individuals or teams).
This year’s winners are:
She is using the funds to assist with a research trip to the Fashion Institute of Technology for her project on Couturier Bob Bugnand. That project is being presented at CSA and submitted for publication soon.
She is using the funds to assist with her research at the Museum of London into Elizabethan and Jacobean clothing. She plans to help do cataloging for the museum. This work will then inform her PhD thesis.
Best wishes to them both and we look forward to their blog posts here on Worn Through detailing their experiences. Also thank you again to all who applied and we encourage you to apply again next year.