New interns 2015-16

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

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

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

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

Email Monica with your CV and a brief cover letter. Due date July 15.


Review: Riviera Style Resort & Swimwear Since 1900, FTM, London

A recent visit to the Regency seaside resort St Leonards on Sea along with a renewed interest in swimming, courtesy of my local lido, meant I just had to start the summer with a visit to the exhibition Riviera Style: Resort & Swimwear Since 1900 at the Fashion and Textile Museum (FTM) in London this week. 


Pyjama suits popular in the 1930s, part of the Cling, Bag, Stretch 1920 – 1939 section

Billed as a celebration of clothing worn in and by the sea, the exhibition displays a huge range of garments lent by Leicestershire County Council, which is also the county where many of the swimwear manufacturers were based.  As a result, most of the items on display reflect UK and USA manufacturers and tastes. The guest curator is Dr Christine Boydell, a design historian from Leicester’s De Montfort University, who has an interest in twentieth century fashion and was previously involved in the FTM’s 2010 exhibition on Horrockses Fashions as well as the author of Horrockses Fashions'; Off-the-Peg style in the ‘40s and ‘50.

The exhibition is an effort to tell several stories and I think some are told more successfully than others.  The first charts the role of design and production in the developing styles of swimwear during the last century.  The second is the relationship between shifting notions of the fashionable human form and design, while the third is the increasing emphasis on holiday locations, whether they be at home or abroad, for the display of swimwear styles.  While the first and second story are more obvious throughout the exhibition, the third story is less consistently told, and the visitor has to work harder to find the narrative amongst the displays.


Early twentieth century swimwear, 1895 – 1919, opening the exhibition

The exhibition is arranged by the way in which swimwear has attempted to address the human form with the application of textile design and technology during the twentieth century.  This is reflected in a chronological order of display, organised by five sections: Bathing Beauties 1895-1919, Cling, Bag, Stretch 1920 – 1939, Mould and Control 1940 – 1959, Body Beautiful 1960 – 1989 and Second Skin 1990 onwards.  In case you are not familiar with the layout of the FTM, it is essentially one large ground level room that can be divided up into smaller sections, overlooked by a horseshoe shaped mezzanine that provides relatively narrow corridors of exhibition space.  For this exhibition, the first two sections occupy the ground level, where the designers have recreated a fictional lido setting, literally placing the early twentieth century swimwear into a recreational context. The last three sections are to be found upstairs, with increasingly less emphasis on a literal context and more emphasis on the quantity of items on display.


Lido recreated on ground floor for the first two sections of the exhibition

The initial impact of the exhibition is strong as the visitor finds themselves walking past bathers and swimmers enjoying the benefits of a fictional lido. Here, the visitor learns about early twentieth century swimwear, with its shifting emphasis on modesty against the backdrop of increasing demand for seaside holidays.  The visitor sees garments in-situ, whether they are swimsuits for swimming or pyjama suits for lounging by the pool, sipping on an apres-swim cocktail.  The entire lido scene is supported by some beautiful blown up promotional images from the 1930s of resorts in the UK, as well as a range of fantastic prints from British Vogue showing models wearing swimwear in a range of holiday locations.  Literal recreations of places where swimwear might be worn and seen continue upstairs with the third section, which focuses on the relationship between underwear and swimwear.  Here, the curators have displayed the mannequins as if they were taking part in a beauty contest held in a seaside town, each one sporting a rosette with their respective number and placed upon prize giving blocks.

Bathing Beauty Queen context, 1945 - 1989, Morecambe, Lancashire ,UK

Bathing Beauty Queen context, 1945 – 1989, Morecambe, Lancashire ,UK

The immersive approach to the exhibition’s theme is followed through with associated summer songs played through speakers and heard across the entire space, as well as plenty of smaller displays focusing on accessories and some specific events related to the display of swimwear, in particular the Bathing Beauty Queen context held in Morecambe, Lancashire between 1945 – 1989.


Body Beautiful 1960 – 1989 section; note popularity of the two piece suit

What I find the FTM does well when it comes to their exhibitions is the sheer number of garments on display, often reflecting a diversity that is just not possible to see in more permanent displays of dress favoured by bigger museums like the V&A.  Walking through an FTM exhibition reminds me just how important it is to see real examples of clothing, and not to just rely on two dimensional representation for further understanding.  This is perhaps even more critical when it comes to swimwear, where the form can often be misunderstood until it is seen on an actual body.  This exhibition does not disappoint the visitor who wants to see a hundred years of swimwear design with real examples.  It is also fantastic to see so many examples of clothing worn by, and not just in, the water, ranging from day dresses to sarongs, playsuits to burkinis. 


Pyjama suit, 1920s, rayon, designer/maker unknown

I thought the recreated lido and beauty contest displays worked very well because they best represented the development of resort life, which is really only dealt with in the written summaries for each section.  I think having most of the explanation presented in this way meant there was sometimes a tendency to display objects without any labels.  Corresponding images could either be too small or in awkward places, making them difficult to read for further historical context. Also, upstairs, there are almost too many examples shown and the displays teeter on the brink of becoming glorified shop windows.

Examples of swimwear from 1990 onwards

I particularly enjoyed the British Vogue prints because it is here in fashion magazines that we often imagine ourselves into clothes and situations.  They give us opportunities to fantasise about what a particular swimsuit might look like in our imagined holiday or for us to pragmatically assess whether it will suit our particular body shape.  Although swimwear is clearly a staple of designer collections, is associated with specific manufacturers and, arguably, integral to the planning of our holidays, for many of us, it is something we spend very little time actually wearing.  However, we do seem to spend a lot of time imagining ourselves in swimwear and possibly buying it, often with little success (well, in my experience, this is certainly the case!) It would have been nice to have seen the exhibition embrace this more, perhaps with the addition of soundbites from people talking about their own experience of swimwear, whether it be buying or wearing it.  I was curious to know whether people would try to make their own ‘telescopic’ swimwear in the 1940s, given that they were expensive to buy at the time.


1920s swimming cap made from rubber and reminded me of The Philadelphia Story

I also think more representation of swimwear in popular visual culture might have been included, beyond magazines and postcards. In particular I was thinking about the brilliant scene from The Philidelphia Story (1940) where Katherine Hepburn’s character gets changed into her swimming outfit or the scene from Shag (1989), where Bridget Fonda’s character takes part in a seaside beauty contest.

Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story

I think the choice to present the exhibition chronologically, which the FTM tends to do, is problematic because it fails to make thematic connections that might otherwise engage a wider audience with their displays.  I rarely see diversity amongst the visitors at the FTM, which is a shame, given that the garments on display are often of fantastic quality and make critical contributions to our understanding of the past and present.


Fashionable wear by the water 1920 – 1939; note the outfit in the foreground very similiar to Chanel’s designs which can just be seen in the book in the bottom left hand corner

To conclude, this is an enjoyable exhibition in parts but you do need to read the written summaries while looking at the objects in order to see the various stories being told, particularly the social historical narrative of holidays and resorts.  Perhaps go with friends so you can contribute your own social history to this exhibition – send FTM a postcard of your swimwear in situ!


All images are authors own except for opening image.


On Teaching: Summer Engagement Strategies

Summer is fast approaching and it is time to start thinking about vacation, family time, and for many college administrators, student retention. During this time of year, students also begin to think about time with friends and family. Too often the summer turns quickly into fall and, before you know it, several students have decided not to come back to college. How can we counteract this? What can we do to encourage students to continue pursuing their fashion degree?


Photo courtesy of Yellow Brick Road

I began observing post-summer retention several years back when I began noticing a handful of students saying the same thing before the summer break: they were going to take time off to spend more time with friends and family. Of course they all said they would be back after a little time off! Sadly, almost all of them did not return. Many students I followed, I’ve come to find out, never went back to any college to finish any type of degree. I wanted to know if this happened to more colleges and what others were doing to mitigate these circumstances.

An average of 60% of the students who leave college do not return to the same institution (Bushong, 2009). Research shows student retention varies from college to college, and that students leave for various reasons. One commonality appears to be the loss of students after their first year. Much of the research surrounds incoming freshman and how to ensure academic success during and after their first year. A negative experience could be more impactful to freshmen than to their more academically advanced peers and lead to a freshman’s withdrawal from school (Roberts & Styron, 2009).


Photo courtesy of Teen Life

All students face transitional adjustments when pursuing a college education (Budny & Paul, 2003). To aid in this adjustment and to attempt to create positive experiences for students, I have begun creating an engagement strategy to help mitigate these circumstances.

  1. During the break, provide service-learning opportunities. For those students wanting to do something meaningful during their break, I have set up opportunities to work with a group of peers to help local businesses. For example, students will have the opportunity to intern or volunteer with charities such as Dress for Success and the local senior center. The administrators for these groups and I worked to prepare a two-to-three week project where students work with an underserved or needy market to research and analyze a pressing issue, and then prepare and implement a solution. While they may not be taking college courses or even step onto a campus, the students will remain connected with the college through these sponsored events.
  2. Encourage summer school with additional, free workshops. For those students who would have withdrawn from school after taking the summer off, providing an incentive to return for summer school is another initiative I am introducing. Starting the first week of school and spanning the remainder of the summer quarter, students will have the opportunity to meet outside professionals and learn additional skills through workshops in between class times. Topics for the workshops are developed by surveying students, particularly those at risk, and include topics such as couture techniques, fashion journalism, and fashion photography.
  3. Host a college job fair. One common reason students leave school that  I have observed is because of financial difficulty. Students often need college jobs to help them meet their bills and provide a more comfortable life. To assist students in securing these college jobs, a job fair held during the beginning of the summer quarter will encourage students to return to campus and create support outside the classroom for the students.
  4. Provide internship opportunities to all students. In addition to the college job fair, internship sites will also be on campus during the beginning of the summer quarter. Top fashion colleges offer internship opportunities to students at all levels of the program. In addition, providing internships to students early in their program will allow students to build an impressive level of experience in the industry while still in college (Roth, 2014).

These four engagement strategies are developed to provide student engagement and build value with the college. While these are developed based on research conducted around first year students, I believe they will also engage the entire of the student population. To measure the results, the retention data from the Spring, Summer and Fall quarters the previous three years will be compared to the retention results of this year. If there is an increase, the initiatives will be improved and implemented again next year.


Photo courtesy of Kingston University

Not all students will return to college or continue to pursue their degree in fashion. However, by attempting to understand the reasons they decide not return that are within our control, hopefully we can influence more students to continue their education. Providing engaging and positive experiences over the break may be just the thing to improve post-summer retention. 

What do you do to encourage student progression?  What other options do you think this initiative could benefit from?


Budny, D. D., & Paul, C. A. (2003).Working with students and parents to improve. Journal of STEM Education, 413(4), 1-9, Retrieved from

Bushong, S. (2009). Freshman retention continues to decline, report says. Chronicle of Higher Education, Retrieved from Continue/42287/.

Roth, L. (2014). The Top 50 Fashion Schools in the World: 2014 edition., Retrieved on May 25, 2015.

Robert, J. & Styron, R. (2009). Student Satisfaction and Persistence: Factors vital to student retention. Research in Higher Education Journal, Retrieved from



A Postcard from Abroad: Summertime in the UK

Hello!  It’s nice to be back, and be able to bring you a summery round up of fashion related events and exhibitions in the UK over the next few months.  My last Worn Through contribution was in early spring and I must say a massive thank you to our Managing Editor Brenna Barks for covering in my absence with some great videos; that last one certainly sets the seasonal tone!

To start, I would like to mention the Textile Society has a great overview of events, exhibitions and activities over the summer that cover both fashion and textiles interests.  I strongly recommend having a closer look because whereas I tend to focus more on London and fashion related events, they provide excellent UK coverage of textile related events.  With that in mind, there are a few things taking place in the capital that I want to highlight now!


The first one is the Institute of Historical Research’s (IHR) 84th Anglo-American Conference of Historians, 2-3 July, which focuses on the subject of fashion In collaboration with the V&A Museum, the IHR hopes to showcase the importance of fashion and how it brings together museums, graduate teaching programmes, learned societies and the fashion profession around a common set of interests and concerns.  This two day conference includes over 30 panel sessions, which encompass the history of fashion, tastes, design innovation, globalisation, museum display, consumption and retailing.  There will also be a special exhibition in the IHR,  in partnership with the Senate House Library, that looks like a rare opportunity to see fashion images from their catalogues.  Tickets are now available and a provisional programme can be viewed here.

Fine Cell Work, 2010,

The second display to catch my eye is the artist Cornelia Parker’s contemporary Magna Carta, on public view at the British Library until 24 JulyTo mark its 800th anniversary, the British Library commissioned Parker to create a new artwork and her response was to fabricate the entire Wikipedia entry on the Great Charter with only embroidered stitches.  While the work was produced in association with the Embroiderer’s Guild, the Royal School of Needlework and Hand & Lock, many hands contributed to the piece, including Fine Cell Work, who support prisoners by training them in needleworkHave a look at the video about the making of the piece – it’s fascinating. I am really looking forward to seeing this in person and great to see such a esteemed British artist drawing upon textiles as her medium of choice here.

The third event I want to mention is actually two, insomuch they are both shows based in universities.  At Goldsmiths University, the BA Fine Art/History of Art students have drawn upon the Goldsmiths Textiles Collection to create Reconstructing Textiles.  This exhibition, only open until 23 June, is an attempt to draw connections between contemporary practices and archival material. For me, any opportunity to see the Goldsmiths Textiles Collection is a golden one and it is great to see students engaging with previous students work in the archive.

Image taken from Fabric of the City website. Unknown source.

At The Cass, part of London Metropolitan University, staff and students have invited textile and fashion designers to celebrate the local history of Spitalfield’s 17th century silk weavers for an exhibition entitled Fabric of the City.  This is part of The Cass’ contribution to the festival ‘Huguenot Summer 2015’, organised by the Huguenots of Spitalfields in partnership with the City of London.  The Cass is where I teach so it is great to share what they are up to, especially as, due to health reasons, I have not been there these last couple of months.  The exhibition runs 10-25 July.

Morecambe and Wise presenting Miss Great Britain 1965. Photograph: Fashion and Textile Museum

Moving on, summer is that time when we panic about swimwear in the UK, especially because the opportunity to wear it, given our climate, is so very small.  However, this does not stop us fantasising about the ideal bikini or one-piece nor us purchasing something new each year in the hope that this time, it really will be perfect!  Seeking some kind of perspective then, it may be helpful to catch RIVIERA STYLE Resort & Swimwear since 1900at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London this summer.  On until 30 August, this exhibition, in association with Leicestershire County Council Museums, focuses not just on swimwear style but also technological developments in fabric and the role of retailing in making those design innovations popular.  I hope to review this later on in the month but be great to hear from anyone who has already visited in the comments below.

Camper advertising, SS 1977 and SS 1992 Source: Design Museum

While on the topic of summer sartorial concerns, shoes are also perhaps a major obsession as we dare to bare our pale pieds.  Last year, I was obsessed with clogs.  I thought they were the perfect summer shoe because, unlike most sandals, they kept my toes out of sight.  However, after realising I cannot walk in clogs – too many years wearing flats – I am now still on the lookout for my ideal summer shoe.  Along with my ideal swimming garment, come to think of it.  Perhaps then it comes as no surprise to see two major London design museums dedicating their summer exhibition space to what we put on our feet.  In east London, the Design Museum focuses on the Spanish footwear brand Camper in Life on Foot while in west London, the V&A Museum looks at the extremities footwear has gone to in Shoes: Pleasure and Painife on Foot, open now until 1 November, is the use of archival material from Camper to tell the design story of their products from the drawing board to the concept store.  Meanwhile, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, open 13 June until 31 January 2016, draws upon the V&A’s historic collection to present over 200 pairs of shoes in considering how technology often provides opportunities for extreme wearability

Detail from United States market advertisement, 1947. Courtesy of Jamie Mulherron.

Lastly, I noticed an exhibition about Pringle of Scotland knitwear at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh entitled Fully Fashioned and open until 16 August.  Marking the company’s 200th anniversary, the exhibition charts the history of what is now an international fashion brand with the use of archival material and knitwear garments. I would love to hear from anyone who has visited it or whether it might be travelling to other museums later in the year.

Happy holidays!


“This teacher talked about ethics. You’ll never believe what happened next.”

“This is a new generation,” my colleague told me, after I recounted a recent class scenario to her, because I was so surprised about the opinions and attitudes which emerged during a class discussion on a popular fashion brand.

Is this generation gap really true? We are only one generation or about 12 years apart, but the gap seems quite prominent. I would be generation X, whilst my students are Y, some young ones even Millenials. However, just like in this picture, it seems that the outlook on life can be as opposing as black and white.


Image source here.

The said fashion brand which we looked at in class is large American-based clothing retailer who has often generated negative press. This is because the clothes were intentionally limited in size, occasionally featured racist T-shirt prints and were marketed to teens in an obviously sexualized manner (through advertising, TV commercials and half-clothed sales assistants).


Image source and news article here.

Furthermore, the long-standing CEO who suddenly left at the end of last year explicitly said that he was only interested in marketing to cool kids. So for the background information, the students looked at the brand’s visual marketing material, read the negative press articles and watched the marketing expert Jonathan Gabay talk about a recent issue where an applicant was denied a job due to wearing a headscarf to the interview.

Jonathan Gabay on BBC World News speaking on Hijab hiring scandal

Because this particular class deals with fashion advertising, I also engage the students in a discussion about ethics of advertising and marketing. My goal was not to blame the brand, but to look at its negative media coverage and think about possible new rebranding strategies, now that the visionary CEO had left. (At the end of the class, the students were given a project where they’d be inventing a new and more ethical advertising strategy for this brand.) My hope, as a teacher, was to inspire a constructive discussion and new ideas.

But here is where is turned strange. As one of those recently popular Facebook posts would say: “This teacher talked about ethics. You’ll never believe what happened next.”

urlraising hands

Image source here.

My usually timid students raised their hands and informed me that this brand’s attitude was absolutely fine with them. Joking about certain ethnicities and races is fine, too, said one student of a mixed-race ethnic background. Selling clothes in a sexual context is what young people want, said another. And discrimination? Well if you wear a head-scarf to a job interview and then don’t get the job, it’s your own fault, they said. If you don’t like the brand’s marketing you can always choose to shop (or work) somewhere else. However, the students were sure that the brand was popular for a reason, so they must have been doing something right. Or else, why would dozens of teenagers be lining the streets during a shop opening?


Image source and article here.

When I tried to explain that there are other people on this planet (one classroom of youths in southern Germany is not representative of all global opinions) who felt differently about the specific incidents, the generation gap opened gaping wide. My plea for ethical awareness and political correctness, respect for other ethnicities or religions was met with more raised arms, all ready to contradict me. Finally, a student summarized: “It’s great that you brought up this case study, because now you know that we think differently!”

So here are my questions to you, who teach, and to myself, because I have not answered them properly yet:

– How do you deal with contradicting or controversial opinions in class?

– What was your experience with the generation gap and the shift of ethical values?

– How do you stay true to your beliefs and remain a positive role model in the position as a teacher, when students are clearly not accepting your guidance?

I would love to hear your views on this, as I am still trying to figure out the answers myself. One thing I did realize however: You can never tell in advance how a lecture will go and how students will react.



On Teaching: Teaching a Fashion Millennial

As the beginning of a new quarter approaches, I find myself preparing for my classes conflicted. A part of me still feels close to my students in age and personality traits.  I remember being in college and how I thought and felt.   Another part of me feels removed.  The conversations and motivations of my students seem very different than how I acted in college.  As this inner conflict arose while preparing for this quarter, I began asking myself new questions; how do I engage these Millennial students? And beyond engagement, how do I actually teach them?

FC Tech Group

Photo courtesy of FC Tech Group.

First we must endeavor to understand a Millennial. According to Michael Wilson and Leslie Gerber (2008), Millennials are sheltered, confident, optimistic, team-oriented and are not internally driven. “Millennials respond best to external motivators… (Wilson & Gerber, 2008, pp.31).” Despite their sheltered upbringing, millennials are international consumers and show concern regarding global issues (Pasricha & Kadolph, 2009). In addition, students who choose to study fashion are “more creative and interested in the arts than students in other majors (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 69).” The most significant motivating factor for students is the perceived professional image and a personally satisfying career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010). Students want to “…take their love of fashion beyond an interest and turn it into a career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 71).” Many understand they will not graduate into their desired position but they expect to grow into it instead; others express the desire to be their own boss (Poshadlo, 2010; Hodges & Karpova, Making a major decision, 2009).

Tru Access Blog

Photo Courtesy of Tru Access Blog.

With the beginning of understanding comes the beginning of teaching theories. Some educators are responding by shortening lecture times, reshaping assignments and incorporating more technology (Wilson & Gerber, 2008). Others are simply not assigning work they know the students are not “good” at. But, just as my own conflict sways me to one side, another sound argument is presented; at what point does this “reshaping” destroy higher education (Barnes, Marateo & Ferris, 2007)? At what point do we stop the “razzle dazzle,” as one of my colleagues puts it, and we teach?


Photo courtesy of Forbes.

The benefit of my position as the coordinator for fashion design and management programs is that I can look at the whole picture and see how new ideas can be applied to a larger construct. For these fashion millennial students, how can we tap into their motivators and provide quality education throughout their program to develop them into a successful fashion professional? Through analyzing our total curriculum, a colleague helped define an approach I believe can address this challenge. Through curriculum analysis, this hypothesis can start students at a “discovery” phase to explore and gain a foundational knowledge then lead them to critical thinking. After they critically evaluate the material, students and faculty can create a “collaborative learning environment,” which applies the course concepts, enhancing the student’s skills (Pidgeon, N., personal communication, 2014 April 2). To ensure these fashion millennials find value in this collaborative environment, applying a social concern in a service-learning activity could actively engage them (Videtic, 2009). Karen Videtic from Virginia Commonwealth University (2009) explores this concept in greater detail for fashion education and presented strong arguments supported by research completed by Anupama Pasricha and Sara J. Kadoph (2009).

I have constructed my own course content with this new progression;

  • Scavenger Hunt: The first homework assignment students will be given is a scavenger hunt. This hunt will require them to find examples of various topics, which will later be covered in the quarter. This is a discovery project and sets them up for the competencies of the course.
  • Article Analysis: Next, I lead them into a critical thinking phase. The student’s read articles related to the topic of the week. After they read the articles they must develop their original opinion on the content and create a presentation to deliver to the class the following week.
  • Socially Responsible Project: A project that involves a socially responsible component is an active engagement exercise. The students must work as a team to develop a project centered on a class-selected charity. The project is a total competency assignment summarizing the information taught throughout the quarter. Just as the scavenger hunt was a homework assignment to “discover” the content of the class, this final project is an “application” of what they have learned.

These new approaches should allow these millennial students the opportunity to embrace their learning and walk away from my courses with a deeper understanding of the content. Thanks to the insight provided by the many notable scholars on millennials, these assignments, activities and project will guide students through the learning phases in my courses.  By changing my methods to engage and teach the millenial students, my conflict remains but has lessened in importance.

I will be trying this out this quarter and will let you know how it goes! Wish me luck!


Photo courtesy of Eyedea.


Barnes, K., R. Marateo, and S. Ferris. (2007). Teaching and learning with the net generation. Innovate, 3 (4). (accessed April 24, 2008).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2010 March 24). Majoring in fashion: a theoretical framework for understanding the decision-making process. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 3(2), 67-76. (accessed March 24, 2015).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2009 July 13). Making a major decision: an exploration of why students enrol in fashion programmes. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 47-57.

Pasricha, A. & Kadolph, S.J. (2009 October 6). Millennial generation and fashion education: a discussion on agents of change. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 119-126.

Poshadlo, G. (2010 September 20-26). Fashion students don’t want to be part of the brain drain. Indianapolis Business Journal, pp 38.

Videtic, K. (2009 November 7). Service Learning: opportunities for deep learning in fashion design and merchandising education. The International Journal of Learning, 16, 397-403.

Wilson, M. & Gerber, L.E. (2008 Fall). How generational theory can improve teaching: strategies for working with the “Millennials”. Currents in Teaching and Learning, 1 (1), 29-44.


Voulez-vous étudier? How international second-person pronouns can affect the student-teacher relationship.

The English language is not my first language, although I’m a near-native speaker. I find it to be a very easy-going and practical language for connecting with people. No matter whether the person you are speaking to is someone you are meeting for the first time, or a close friend, whether it is someone younger or older than you one can address him or her with “you.”

Meeting for the first time or not?

Meeting for the first time or not?

And when you teach in German, like I do at the moment, the correct use of “you” becomes an important matter in the classroom. Perhaps those who have encountered a foreign language, might have heard the various forms of the second-person pronoun “you“ and already can guess what I am referring to.

This is because in many other languages, such as French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and English (just to name a few which I happen to be familiar with) there is an entire cultural set of rules and a codex of behavior attached to this pronoun. One has to use a formal or informal pronoun based on the context of the conversation and relationship of the speakers. This is the rule for everyday life and especially important when teaching because this sets the tone for the student-teacher relationship.

"You" in other languages

“Voulez-vous étudier?“ means “do you want to study with me?” in French, and VOUS is formally used instead of th informal TU.


Lets have a look at Germany as an example:

In the classroom such as mine, where teaching takes place in the German language, it is vital to estabish a rule for the correct form of addressing the students from the beginning. I’ve spoken to my colleagues on this matter and they each have a personal approach. Some say that using a formal “Sie” versus the informal “Du“ is the way to go. Others offer an informal “Du“ from the getgo. So how does this affect the student-teacher relationship you may ask? And which one is the right one to apply?


1. SIE – Mutual respect or distance

“Sie,” the formal you, means mutual respect. „Sie“ is what a person is entitled to be called once he or she is 18. It is a sign of being an adult and by addressing a young person this way it acknowledges their adulthood. If a young person is addressed with the formal “Sie” by an elder, they have to use the same pronoun in return. So here we would establish a very formal but respectful form of communication in the classroom setting.


The downside of this pronoun is that it can equally create distance. In fact, sometimes it is used in speech on purpose to show superiority or even mockery.

2. DU – Friendship and equality or disrecspect

“Du,” the informal you, is mostly reserved for friends, family and children.


Image credit: here.

All adults are permitted to address children or young looking people (the definition is up to the speaker!) with the “Du.”

It means: “You are a youngster, I am older. I know more.”

Children however, are in big trouble if they use “Du” with elders. Whether it is the lady selling bread at the bakery, their teacher or any adult who they are not realted to – they must not say “Du“ or else it is an insult.


Image credit: here.

In the past and sometimes even today, children in France or Russia were not allowed to use an informal pronoun when speaking to their own parents!

When used amongst friends, “Du” is the way to go. It means equality, informality, a comfort zone and closeness. Even adults can use this informal speech amongst each other but only if they are a) relatives, b) friends or c) have oficially offered the “Du.”

Option c) – offering to switch from “Sie“ to “Du”- is a big sign for commeradery. In Europe you might say: „If you like, we can use the informal you from now on.“ Or „You can call me by my first name and use the informal you.” (This offer implies that obliges the other person to extend the same invitation or else it will be a really tricky situation.)



Image credit: here.

By now I hope that you are not too confused and still here, dear reader! As you can see, this matter is quite complex, although in most European countries one learns the rules from childhood on and knows them instinctively.

Which one did I opt for when teaching fashion? I decided to use the formal, mutually respective “Sie.”

My fashion students are young adults and have embarked on a journey of fashion education in order to pursue a career in this field. I want to respect this effort. The distance and professional setting which this formal pronoun creates adds to the seriousness of the classroom. Equally, the students have to address me the same way and thus acknoledge my position as their tutor. I call them by their last names and they have to address me by my last name.


Image credit: here.

Here is the fun part though: Once the students have graduated and are no longer attending my class, I am allowed to offer them the informal „Du“! In this context, the elder person has to offer it first, but I will be more than happy to do that. Without explaining, this coming-of-age sort of inuendo implies something to the extent of: “You have made it. You have passed all tests and are no longer my student but my equal. Therefore we can reduce the distance and step to the same level. You can call me by my first name and use an informal pronoun.”


Image credit: here.

Have you ever taught in a different language than English? How did you address your students? Is there a way to establish a serious working environment even when using the English “you?” How did you approach distance and closeness, formality and mutual respect in your classrom? I’m looking forward to hearing about your experiences!


UMN Fashion and Gender Symposium

May 1-2, 2015 is the Fashion and Gender Symposium at the University of Minnesota.

This is where I teach part time and I live in the area so I’m curious if any readers will be in attendance? Drop me a line if you plan to come to town.


How to teach fashion when you’ve stopped believing in fashion?

Fashion. It is a world of glitz and glam, fairy tales and extravaganza. Modern fashion of the last few decades needs the combination of creativity, smart business strategies and lots of hype in order to exist. I used to be someone who just loved loved loved loved! the new it-bag which retailed at GBP 500, or absolutely had to have those high heels fresh off the catwalk which only the coolest fashionistas of the world’s capitals knew about. Attending amaaaazing fashion shows, running my own small label and doing my very own shows, mixing with the “right crowd” and following the most important trends used to be my thing when I was younger.

Grace Coddington

A make-believe fashion shoot by Grace Coddington for Vogue.

At some point, however, I learned that this is a deceptive industry, a huge, multi-billion-dollar business, selling us a world of luxury, make-believe, unattainable beauty and dream aspirations. It’s not all gold that glitters, you can say, and it can be equally unfair on the consumers as well as on the creators.

Let’s start with the designers. The most talented creative minds can easily still live in a flat share well into their 30s and freelance from one job to the other, hoping to make it big one day or at least pay the next bill in the meantime. They might have masterminded that iconic T-shirt print last season, but only their friends will ever know that. (Besides, sometimes it’s the connections that help one land that job and not the honestly-earned degree.) And quite a few big designers were fighting bankruptcy on their way up, including Yves-Saint-Laurent, Christian Lacroix and Valentino just to name a few. It’s a tough business.

How about the imagery and ads? I’ve learned that the most celebrated fashion models can end up used and forgotten within a few seasons (or even very ill due to being a size zero) and it turns out that magazines and Photoshop are best friends who want consumers to believe in unattainable beauty standards.

And while we flood the high streets in order to buy whatever the magazines wrote about, we rarely think about the ones who sewed the clothes. The extreme mark-up is hardly ever justified when you look at true production cost.

There is a lot of truth to a TV series like Ugly Betty or the famous movie about an iconic editor-in-chief who wears Prada. I remember a friend who was not in the fashion industry asking me: “Are people really like that in the fashion industry?” I smiled and replied: “Of course not! They are much much worse!” Such were my observations and experiences, that at some point I felt like I did not believe in fashion anymore.

Ugly Betty

Image source here.

But I have returned to lecturing on fashion and now I need to figure out how to do it positively. After all, these young students who signed up for my classes are considering a career in the industry and need motivation on their way. So in order to get my mind back into fashion, I slowly started looking at those elements which I still love. For example, I watched the movie on Valentino, “Valentino the last Emperor,” which recounts the story of a truly gifted couturier and one of the last ones in his metier.


Image source here.

I did not stop admiring couture and I will still drool over the perfect stitching in exclusive clothes, such as my vintage Emanuel Ungaro dress, or vintage Chanel costume. Equally I am still in awe of Martin Margiela’s one-off creation which I bought at his strore in London. That store all painted white, it was a phenomenal concept when it opened. And the 1980s Karl Lagerfeld skirt which I inherited from my mother….

Martin Margiela 0 Vest Selfie in Karl Lagerfeld skirt

[The Margiela vest on the left consists of a shirt, tie and vest stitched together, missing the sleeves and the back; and a selfie in an 80s Karl Lagerfed printed wool skirt.]

Then I went through my own vast library of books and magazines on fashion, of which some I had not touched in years. There is a book on Adrian, the man who dressed Hollywood in its most glamorous time; a September Issue of Vogue featuring Kate Moss’ wedding and a few rare magazines which I bought in Japan. Then there are my own files from my time as an MA student at Central Saint Martins in London. Oh what memories! We were all so eager and did such amazing work.

I also looked at current topics of the fashion industry. For example, I found the retail strategy of Uniqlo to be amazing, especially because I spent some time in Japan when Uniqlo was only available there. Equally amazing is the steady decline of Abercrombie & Fitch which has had difficulties breaking into the European and German market and has to finagle its way out of numerous scandals.

And then I fell in love with Olivier Rousteing. What a beautiful, talented and smart boy! Look at Balmain’s social media strategy which has catapulted the brand into another dimension all thanks to a 24-year-old “kid” whom they gave a chance.


Image source here.

I think, after this process I have recovered my love for fashion and found a mature, adult viewpoint:

I refuse to worship the industry, but I am willing to believe in its talents and beauty. And that’s why I want the students to be alert regarding the charades of the fashion industry, including its misleading ideals. This way I can stay true to my principles whilst motivating the students. But even if they are motivated now, ultimately, only time will tell who will stay in fashion and who will choose to leave it. Because only those who really love love love fashion, despite all its setbacks, will stay in this industry. And, as it turns out, it seems that I still have a lot of love for it.

What do you think? Do you ever have mixed feelings about your industry and the topic you teach? Have you experienced the highs and lows of fashion or has your career path always been a smooth one? What do you tell your students who start their first semester, hoping to become the next Lagerfeld, the next Anna Wintour or mega-star blogger?


From the Archives: The Great British Sewing Bee

Due to a bout of spring flu, here is my post from this time last year discussing the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, which had then completed its second season.  The third season has just come to a close so it’s a nice time to reflect back!

‘I watched Bake Off and couldn’t believe how upset people got,’ Chinelo says. ‘Now I totally understand. At one point I couldn’t even thread a needle, my hands were shaking so much.’[1]

The statement above was made by Chinello, one of ten contestants taking part in a BBC television programme called The Great British Sewing Bee, currently on air here in the UK.  This second series succeeds the first in both size and grandeur.  While the first was set over four episodes and located in a Georgian building in the heart of Dalston, East London, this one contains eight episodes and places more contestants in a lofty but grander converted warehouse by the Thames, offering everyone panoramic views of the capital city at the front while at the back, there is an extensive, well stocked haberdashery at their disposal.

The Great British Sewing Bee invites the participants to take part in weekly sewing challenges, which finds them spending two days completing three tasks: make a basic pattern, customize a piece of ready made clothing and finally making their own pattern, which must fit to a live model.  Their efforts are judged not by an audience vote but by two authoritative figures, who in this case are a Woman’s Institute sewing teacher with more than forty years of experience teaching and a director of a successful tailoring company located in Savile Row, London.  A television host, whose fundamental role is to mediate between the novice participants and the expert judges on behalf of the viewer, also joins them.

Contestants on The Great British Sewing Bee, Series 2

Each week, the two judges decide which contestant must leave the competition, based upon their performance across the three set challenges.  The most concise and in-depth review of the programme can be found in The Daily Telegraph, where Kate Bussman highlights how the nature of television production creates much tension for the contestants as they are constantly required to stop their sewing for ongoing sound bites, camera shots and set pieces.

For me, the most interesting contestant in The Great British Sewing Bee is Chinello, a twenty-six year old dressmaker who does not use paper patterns, having learnt to cut forms directly onto the cloth.  Chinello’s approach to clothesmaking is riveting because she engages with fabric directly, choosing not to mediate the process with the use of representational tools such as paper patterns.  Her process involves thinking and working with design in a very three-dimensional way; Chinello is like a living, breathing 3D printer.

The setting for the series is an old Thameside warehouse, seen here in the background while Chinello, one of the contestants, is cutting out her pattern in the foreground.

Another fascinating part of the programme is the way in which the historical context and social commentary about dress is approached.  Every week there is a theme explored, which might be a particular era or the type of material being used in the sewing challenges, such as stretchy fabric or patterned textiles.  The television host then engages with a range of scholars and academics to discuss interesting aspects of that weekly theme.  This part is fascinating because they draw upon a range of scholarly disciplines, from anthropology to consumption studies to performance and fashion, in an effort to contextualise the weekly challenges set for the contestants.

Prof. Giorgio Riello, Textile Historian, who discusses the advent of chintz and printed cottons in the 18th century

The Great British Sewing Bee provides us with a contemporary snapshot of academic interest in fashion, dress and textile studies. Craik’s (2009:264) identification of five types of fashion writing – language of fashion, fashion reportage, promotional writing, critical writing and intellectual analysis – makes no mention of the representation of these studies within the media of television yet it seems that in this one programme, there is visual evidence of all types of fashion writing taking place.[2]

My interest in fashion and dress television programmes, particularly with a focus on historical context and cultural commentary, has its roots in a childhood spent avidly watching The Clothes Show each week.  The Clothes Show was this unique mix of contemporary affairs and intellectual discussion about fashion and dress but whose content has now been taken over by the internet or reality television programmes that concentrate on how to improve the individual identities of ordinary people through fashion and dress.  These would include Trinny and Susannah’s What Not to Wear, How to Look 10 Years Younger or Gok Wan’s How to Look Naked, to name but a few of a growing genre focused upon the daily anxiety of colloquial dress.

While the Great British Sewing Bee has a lineage that certainly relates it to reality television programmes (its sister production is The Great British Bake Off), it does go some way to filling the gap left by the likes of The Clothes Show with its efforts to discuss and inform the viewer about the wider scholarly interest in fashion and dress.  In future, it could be part of a small archive of British television programmes that focus on fashion and dress history, perhaps beginning with Doris Langley-Moore’s What We Wore in 1957.  I would be very grateful to hear of reading suggestions on the subject of historical dress and its representation through the medium of television.  With the increasing complexity of internet coverage, it seems there is still a place for television to capture our attention with contextual discussion of dress and fashion for longer than just a brief click.  Research into how this is done, with particular reference to the second half of the 20th century, is definitely worth further consideration.

[1] [Accessed 10 March 2014]

[2] Jennifer Craik (2009) Fashion: The Key Concepts Oxford, Berg