2nd Annual Research Award Winners!

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:

Susan Neill
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.

Sophie Pitman
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.


You Should Be Reading: Fashion and Individuality

fashion books from stellafluorescent.blogspot.com

Traditionally, fashion has both celebrated and punished individuality. Over the years, men and women have been mocked for particular fashions that at other times are quite popular. We are often encouraged to be unique and be “ourselves”, but to do so within certain boundaries. In contemporary society, there is an enormous variety of styles and aesthetic ideals, almost to to the point of rendering individuality impossible. What does it mean to be an individual in today’s fashion world? What do we expect from our fashion retailers in this regard? What about from our fashion models? These three articles below explore those questions, addressing styles like the now ubiquitous Converse All Stars, the concept of fast fashion co-branding (driven by consumers’ need for uniqueness), and the once derided maxillary midline diastema (AKA “gap teeth”), which has in recent years become the calling card of several high fashion models. We hope you enjoy!

1. Lewis, K. C., Sherriff, M., & Denize, E. S. (2014). Change in frequency of the maxillary midline diastema appearing in photographs of Caucasian females in two fashion magazines from 2003 to 2012. Journal of Orthodontics, doi 10.1179/1465313313Y.0000000081.

The objective of this study is to ascertain if there has been a change in the frequency of appearance of maxillary midline diastema in two leading women’s fashion magazines over a decade. Two observers counted the frequency of maxillary midline diastema that appeared in Caucasian female models featured in British Vogue and Glamour (UK). An increase in the frequency of maxillary midline diastema appearing in both publications was observed between 2003 and 2012. This change may indicate an increase in the acceptance of the maxillary midline diastema, which may in turn influence orthodontic and aesthetic dentistry treatment planning. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

2. Mackinney-Valentin, M. (2014). Mass-individualism: Converse All Stars and the paradox of sartorial sameness. Clothing Cultures, 1(2), 127-142.

Through a study of Converse All Stars sneakers, this article explores an apparent paradox in the notion of ‘individuality’ in current fashion consumption where the potential freedom of choice among consumers in Denmark appears to have led to a sartorial sameness rather than radical pluralism. The concept of mass-individualism is used as a vehicle for understanding this paradox that is heightened both by the social value attributed to individuality in much of contemporary Western society and the image of All Stars as a symbol of individuality and self-expression. The concept is seen as part of an ambiguous strategy of status representation operating on conditions of fashion democracy. The study is interview-based and focuses on consumers aged seven to 71 in the greater Copenhagen area in which All Stars may be considered a transplanted, American cultural icon. Themes of undercoding and visual assemblage run through the exploration of mass-individualism in contemporary fashion. – Full Article Abstract 

3. Shen, B., Jung, J., Chow, P-S., & Wong, S. (2014). Co-branding in fast fashion: The impact of consumers’ need for uniqueness on purchase perceptionFashion Branding and Consumer Behaviors, 101-112.

Co-branding is deemed as an effective strategy of brand development and has been largely adopted by fast fashion brands such as H&M. A fast fashion brand collaborating with a luxury designer fashion brand is recognized as “fast fashion co-branding.” This study explores the consumers’ need for uniqueness and purchase perception of fast fashion co-brands, which also relates to the consumers satisfaction and welfare. A self-administered survey questionnaire was employed in main shopping areas in Hong Kong and 175 valid respondents were obtained. The empirical results show that the consumers’ needs for uniqueness among the associated fashion brands have significant differences. The impact of their need for uniqueness on the purchase perception of fast fashion co-brands is also revealed. This study gives an important implication of fast fashion co-brands on consumer-purchasing behavior and provides managerial insights to companies’ co-branding strategies centered on fashion brands of different brand positioning. – Full Article Abstract 


Image Credit: stellafluorescent.blogspot.com


CFP: Creatures of Comfort, 1650-1950

Rienzi, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s house museum for European decorative arts, celebrates its 15th anniversary as a public collection with the symposium, “Creatures of Comfort: 1650-1950.” By examining the period from 1650 to 1950, how and why did the concept of comfort evolve and become an important part of European and American cultures? What objects, inventions, aesthetic or cultural changes improved ones’ physical or emotional well-being simply by making life more comfortable?

Rienzi houses a significant European collection of paintings, sculpture, furniture, porcelain, and silver from the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries. Built in 1953 as a residence and now a house museum, Rienzi evokes the fine European country houses of the 18th century with formal, yet comfortable, furnishings, entertaining and private spaces, and rooms specifically designed for the enjoyment of family and friends. Rienzi also retains many modern amenities such as central air conditioning, a dishwasher, an elevator and other luxurious essentials that defined the ultimate comforts in America in the 1950s.

The “Creatures of Comfort: 1650-1950” symposium offers academics and emerging scholars an opportunity to explore the ever-changing role of comfort in European and American cultures. The symposium will take place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from Friday, September 19, 2014, through Sunday, September 21, 2014.

Call for Papers

We invite masters, doctorial students and emerging scholars to direct all submissions to rienzisymposium@mfah.org.  Selected participants will be notified by July 1, 2014. Participants will be offered a $600 travel and lodging stipend.  All presentations will be given on Saturday, September 20, and Sunday, September 21, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Deadline for abstracts: May 1, 2014

Abstract length: 400 words outlining a twenty-minute presentation, along with a current CV

Possible themes of investigation may include, but are not limited to:

  • Interiors
  • Design
  • Architecture
  • Dining
  • Privacy

Leisure Activities

  • Etiquette
  • Gender
  • Costume
  • Travel
  • Technology
  • Economics 

The keynote address will be given on Friday, September 19,2014 by Dr. Joan DeJean, Cultural Historian and Trustee Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research includes the cultural history and the material culture of late 17th- and early 18th-century France.  She is the author of ten books on French literature, history, and material culture, including, The Essence of Style, How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, and SophisticationThe Age of Comfort: When Paris Discovered Casual and the Modern Home Began, and her most recent publication, How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City.


On Teaching Fashion: When English Is Your Second Language

Teaching in a university setting is challenging at times but when you are not teaching in your native language it brings about new challenges. Speaking is our primary method of communication in the classroom and being a teacher demands that we are able to be understood by our students. When this is a struggle for either the teacher or the student, the learning outcomes are compromised. Since English is my second language, I purposefully speak slowly and clearly during my lectures. English is my primary method of reading, writing, and speaking these days and I don’t have a noticeable accent. I grew up with parents that do have a very strong accent, which of course never bothered me. What did bother me is when I saw that others were confused at what they said or told them they couldn’t understand what they just said. My mother, a former teacher, had a student burst out in the middle of her lecture saying that he couldn’t understand what she was saying because of her accent. Her response was: “I don’t have an accent-you have an accent!” This quickly diffused the situation and everyone laughed. It also gave her an opportunity to announce that if anyone needs her to repeat anything they should just raise their hand and she will be happy to do so. She was also supplementing her lessons with handouts and slide show presentations.


On Teaching photographed by Tre Miles

I think being a good teacher includes knowing that not all students learn the same way, accent or not. Having a typed copy of the presentation for the students to follow along with your lecture, handouts, writing key terms on the board are all helpful for any teacher. But these tools are essential when communication problems may occur. You have to make sure that you announce to your students, especially undergraduates, that it is okay if they need you to repeat something that you said. Graduate students may also be hesitant to ask you to repeat yourself, as they may not want to seem rude. Perhaps even making a joke about a word you struggle with as an example for students to see that repeating yourself does not bother you, and the lesson plans will not be compromised.

If a student hasn’t had much exposure to a person with an accent, they may not be as comfortable or maybe not have experience in making an effort to understand a person who sounds different from others in their life. We want the student to be focused on the content of the lesson, not the way it sounds. If a student misunderstands a word or two, it shouldn’t make a big impact since we want them to be focusing on understanding the concept. However, for those of us with an accent, it is worth exploring this because after every semester, each student will fill out a course instructor survey, or teacher evaluation. This information is then used for promotion, a pay raise, and is a deciding factor if the teacher is rehired for another semester. An example of a survey question could be “Has the instructor communicated information effectively?”, which the student will have to rate either Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, or Strongly Agree. Students are also able to leave comments and I have heard from colleagues that they have seen comments such as “the way she speaks makes it difficult to understand” or that they “aren’t able to do well in the course because the teacher doesn’t speak proper English and I can’t understand”.

There is an article out right now discussing how to acclimate international students to campus. The article notes that they “challenge faculty to alter their traditional teaching methods by varying their lecture styles and talking speeds, adding visuals to presentations and to play into different learning styles. (Also noted), that international students don’t often participate the same way American students do, and might be uncertain when it comes to expectations.” It is a great read for those of you that have an international student working with you. I recently heard from another faculty member at a different university about her experience with team teaching a course in which “the TA had such a strong accent that the students in that section complained of inequities which led to some adjustments for the semester to balance things”. Being able to understand how an international student may feel and having solutions to work with any limitations is important for the whole department. Most universities have small graduate student numbers, so we should actively help international students to ensure that they will be successful in their coursework and complete the program.


Pattermaking students photographed by Karen Bravo

On a related note, I learned patternmaking using the English System of Measurements and not the metric system. I currently teach patternmaking in one of my courses and have seen bewildered international student faces look back at me when I point out the ¼” measurement used along the neckline. I’ve started to explain our measurement system to all students and point to the ruler when talking about each point. I know this is important for international students, but it also helps the others get use to the new equipment they’ll be using in the classroom. Ultimately, I want all the students to be familiar with both styles of measuring since it’ll be essential for students to work internationally in the future. I am curious which measuring system apparel design teachers are using. I’d also love to hear your experience with English as a second language in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.


Historical Dress on the Small Screen: The Great British Sewing Bee

‘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] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/10602931/Behind-the-scenes-of-Great-British-Sewing-Bee.html [Accessed 10 March 2014]

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


Museum Life: Making the unseen visible

Making or modifying mannequins for exhibition is just one facet of the work we do in our field.  Once placed in the public space of the gallery, these dressed forms are perhaps the most visually communicative, tangible, comprehensible, and immediate vehicles to inform the public about our objects of study.  The history of the mannequin and the choice of mannequins and what that particular decision conveys has been the subject of much discussion on Worn Through, as well as strategies for properly preparing mannequins to safely receive and support a garment.  Hayley-Jane’s recent post discusses the use of invisible forms in the Azzedine Alaia exhibit at the Palais Galléria and the problems inherent in this approach, which essentially erases the visible female body or the body of a particular individual from the discourse of the history, production, or the experience of clothes.

As many Worn Through readers know, making a mannequin look good is no swift exercise—it is hardly ever straightforward, and it is no accident (although trial and error can often lead to unexpected, favorable results). This work results in a deeper knowledge of the garment and how it hangs, reacts to handling, looks on a human form, and was constructed and worn by its former owner(s). It involves the process of gaining knowledge of the material object that is essential to its understanding.

Unlike many of the museums discussed or featured on Worn Through, displays of costumes or textiles at my home institution generally occur once every three or four years, depending upon the particular exhibition’s theme and the curator’s choice to include costumes or textiles (there are, on average, three major exhibitions per year). In 2010, nine film costumes were shown in the main gallery for the exhibition Making Movies—unprecedented in the exhibition history at the Ransom Center.

Eight of nine costumes on display in the exhibition, Making Movies, 2010 Harry Ransom Center

Eight of nine costumes on display in the exhibition, Making Movies, 2010
Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

This year there will be costumes or clothing displayed in two consecutive exhibitions, so mannequins and support for costume is very much on my mind and immediate task list.

An exhibition display may please and wow an audience, but is the work that we do to achieve these effects really communicated? And is it necessary to do so? The topic of mannequins is often discussed solely amongst ourselves as professionals–in workshops, conference presentations, and during private conversations with each other.  In recent years, I’ve noticed a proliferation of efforts to convey this complex and vital work to the public in recent years, mainly through the avenue of the blog.  I’ll discuss a few examples below.

In 2009, FIDM presented a post on the building and design of their invisible forms for the exhibition, High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture.  The final photo of carefully shaped mannequins, odd and somewhat alien-looking, was very intriguing to me.

"Floating" forms created by Carolyn Jamerson for the FIDM exhibition, High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture (2009) Reproduced from FIDM blog post, 11/23/2009

“Floating” forms created by Carolyn Jamerson for the FIDM exhibition, High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture (2009)
Reproduced from FIDM blog post, November 23, 2009

I would love to see such created and modified mannequins brought naked, so to speak, into the gallery space. Often period underpinnings are displayed in the gallery, but a small exhibition of garments and their accompanying mounts (the latter at half scale, perhaps, as they are very time-consuming to make), would be very interesting to show the audience.  Or, a period underpinning and the “museum equivalent” that is pared down to the necessary support, made from archival materials and devoid of embellishment, would be an instructive juxtaposition. It could also be visually interesting–the garments alive with color, pattern, or textural trim compared side-by-side with the largely reserved colors of beige or ivory of the archival mannequins/undergarments.

A recent post from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s conservation department treats us to striking photos of the beautiful underpinnings and supports created for a 19th century wedding gown, along with the unexpected tools and hands-on techniques of mannequin modification.  Photos such as this may help to dismantle the assumption that most of this work is precious and delicate (although, of course, much of it demands a delicate and experienced hand!)

Three videos of the final installation of the LACMA exhibition, Fashioning Fashion, at Les Arts Décoratifs last year (reviewed by Hayley-Jane here) shows glimpses of the often untold story of couriering a traveling show, from the crates arriving to the unpacking and condition reporting to the dressing and final placement in the gallery.  While all of these unseen activities are shown, the views are fleeting and without further voice-over explanation. The videos are beautifully lit and shot, with accompanying music that lends a magical, otherworldly feel to the visuals.  Overall, it is an idealized view of installation that shows the delicate final touches only.  Of course, these videos serve the purpose of enticing visitors to the gallery, not necessarily educating the audience about the tasks of couriering and installation.  But they do definitely convey that this is detailed, methodical, and, preferably, slow work (given the breakneck pace of most exhibition installation schedules).

A video post from Indianapolis Museum of Art has the same spirit but takes a different approach, utilizing real-time sound for a video on exhibition prep for the 2010-2011 exhibition, Body Unbound: Contemporary Couture from the IMA’s CollectionWith the soundtrack of various power tools, the curator’s voice, and startling images of mannequin decapitation under bright workroom lights, this video shows the nitty-gritty of exhibition preparation.  It also demonstrates that mounting contemporary clothing (widely assumed to be easy-breezy to place on ready-made retail mannequins) can be pretty complicated.

Real-time sounds of the fabric moving, murmurs of discussion and problem-solving, or sounds of installation are often absent from such behind-the-scenes presentations, replaced by voice-over narration or music (or, are necessarily absent by format, as in still images).  Granted, no one really wants the added stress of a camera turned on them during tense moments such as lifting a heavy garment up on a platform, or closing up a fragile bodice, but I would like to see (and do!) this type of approach to “behind-the-scenes” content more often.

A recently closed exhibition at the Texas State Library and Archives here in Austin marked the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and included the suit worn by Governor John Connally. The suit jacket and shirt are visceral reminders of the violence of that day, evidenced by the bullet holes and blood stains.  In addition to archival materials detailing the events and media reactions, one wall case displayed photographs taken by staff and a description of the mannequin-making and mounting process for the shirt and suit.  Techniques outlined in Lara Flecker’s excellent resource, A Practical Guide to Costume Mounting are evident in the photographs.

I was disappointed to hear from several people who visited the exhibit that they felt puzzled and slightly annoyed by the photographs—did they run out of material? Why didn’t they show more archival material related to the assassination? Who cares how the suit was mounted?  There is a perception that this work is somehow separate from the interpretation and the intellectual content of the clothing.  And yet these are the archival materials that make the interpretation and presentation of compelling three-dimensional archival materials such as clothing possible.

As pointed out by scholars Alexandra Palmer and Lou Taylor, the process of preparing mounts and garments for display and caring for garments within the museum may be fairly categorized as “women’s work” (as historically most curators and practitioners in this area have been women, and because of the traditionally categorized work of sewing and caring for clothing), but, because of this it is unfairly disparaged as frivolous work or “playing dress up” (which also recalls the debates of theoretical versus material culture approaches to dress) (Taylor, 2002; Palmer, 2008). Palmer has further asserted that the relentless pace of changing exhibitions leaves little time for serious research for the curator, and has called for a demystification of museum work, which can demonstrate for the public the challenges in display and care we face every day.

Obviously, we can’t control the perceptions of those who may view our work as fussy or irrelevant, but we can attempt to change these perceptions. If there is to be support for research and for costumes to be displayed safely and convincingly, this kind of information about the work involved needs to be continually put out there.

I am planning a blog post for my home institution that will discuss the various difficulties in getting from one unmodified dress form torso to the finished presentation for an ensemble, a World War I uniform, that presented several challenges for us.  And after the process of reviewing the posts above, I wish I would have documented my own process more completely!

Left: modified commercial dress form with custom arms and fosshape legs Right: World War I uniform on finished mannequin Uniform from collection of the Texas Military Forces Museum, Camp Mabry

Left: modified commercial dress form with custom arms and fosshape foundation legs
Right: World War I uniform on finished mannequin, ready to be brought to the gallery space for the exhibition, The World at War, 1914-1918, Harry Ransom Center
Uniform from collection of the Texas Military Forces Museum, Camp Mabry

Blogging or participating in making videos for your home institution may seem like just another job to do–extra work in a day with little time. But such posts go beyond merely illustrating for the public some cool, behind-the-scenes thing.  While it is certainly that, it is also the evidence of hard work that doesn’t just “happen”.  It is work that requires resources and support for staff and continued learning, and its dissemination can gradually increase an awareness of what is necessary in our field to do the best job we can–for the public, donors, and even colleagues within our own institutions, who may have very little idea of what is involved.


Palmer, Alexandra (2008). Untouchable: Creating Desire and Knowledge in Museum Costume and Textile Exhibitions.  Fashion Theory, 12 (1): 31-64.

Taylor, Lou (2002).  The Study of Dress History. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.


CFP: ITAA 2014 Annual Conference Seminar Session – Sexualities in Fashion

Sexualities in Fashion: An Exploration of Industry, Design, Aesthetics, and Personal Style

November 13, 2014 

International Textile and Apparel Association

There has been much discussion lately relating to sexuality in the US news as many states have been challenging issues related to same-sex marriage. How has a growing acceptance of LGBQT lifestyles affected both personal stylings and the apparel industry? How is the apparel industry (design, merchandising, advertising, marketing, etc.) responding to these shifting sensibilities? We would like to explore these questions in a seminar format at the 2014 ITAA conference. We invite creative scholarship, research submissions, and research-in-progress in an interactive format. We hope to challenge scholars to articulate research findings in a creative medium.

Presentations may include (but are not limited to):

  • textile designs
  • video/media
  • apparel design
  • fiber arts
  • interactive presentations

We invite scholarship from all disciplines and research methodologies.

Deadline for submission: April 15, 2014

Please email submissions to Kelly Reddy-Best at krb@sfsu.edu

Full submission requirements and information available here.


Rat Race: Publications, Publications, Publications

As a young academic, the importance of publications is regularly reiterated to me. The often-repeated mantra of ‘publish or perish‘ rings in the ears of many of my peers. While some PhD students plunge forward into the world of journal publishing, others flounder without guidance of what, when, and where they should publish. As the editor of a history journal directed at postgraduate students, these questions often come in my direction. In this post, I will outline how the publishing process works, before giving some hints, advice, and titbits of information I have picked up.

fashion books from stellafluorescent.blogspot.com

1) When to publish

The first question many young researchers face is whether or not they have written an article of publishable standard. What is good enough? What is useful enough? Working in a very subjective field, there is no formula for ‘good enough’. Often, you won’t know if it is good enough until you start putting it out there. The best route is to try out your work at conferences, gauge reactions, and work from there. Most important though, is whether you, as a researcher, feel that you have made a contribution to your field with this work.

2) Where to publish

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to brave the publishing experience, the first decision to make is where to publish. This post is written mainly with journals in mind, but of course there are also chapters in edited volumes, conference proceedings, and other avenues to consider.

Focusing on journals, do you publish in a postgraduate journal, or a specialist journal in your field? As the editor of a postgraduate journal, I recommend them as a first experience, but ideally with an essay from an MA, or work from early PhD research. They are a fantastic experience of how the process works, but they are not the best place for the finished research from your PhD. In the UK, we have the REF, and it is imperative to publish in REF recognised journals.

However, the best approach is simply to ask: what journal would it suit best? Which other journals have articles on similar topics? Are there any particular journals you frequently footnote? Don’t be afraid of trying your ideal journal, even if it seems scary and important. Even if they don’t accept you, the feedback will be invaluable.

3) How to submit

The important thing here is to follow guidelines exactly. Every journal will provide them, and if they don’t, request them. As an editor, mis-formatted submissions immediately receive a negative response. Not only does it create more work for the journal team, it also doesn’t look professional.

4) What will happen

Following submission, you will usually receive a response either directly rejecting the article (in which case, return to point 2 – this could simply mean you chose the wrong place), or informing you it will be going out for peer-review. In this process, two academics in your field will read and comment upon your work anonymously. These comments are returned to the editor, who in turn passes them on to you. There are three primary outcomes at this stage 1) acceptance, 2) acceptance with revisions, 3) decline. The latter two outcomes are far more usual than the first. Whatever happens, the feedback will be invaluable.

5) Feedback

Feedback should never be ignored. Yes, it may be contradictory, and you may disagree, but these are the opinions of your peers. The editor will usually provide some guidance about what to ignore and what to follow, but aside from this, even if you are rejected, take that feedback onboard. If you disagree, make sure you still address the point – you may simply need to clarify some point they have misunderstood. The point of the process is to improve, and to publish the best possible research; and every submission, whether from a graduate student or a professor, receives the same treatment.

Everyone has to keep publishing, and every academic is scared of rejection. The key is to try, to take it in your stride, to improve, and to make your research the best it can be. That, after all, is why we do what we do.



Book Review: Wiener Chic

wiener chic cover

 The thrust of the collection is decidedly local. While some international designers are represented … they are dwarfed by items associated with notable Viennese personalities, such as one of Maria Theresia’s cashmere shawls, a pair of ballerina Fanny Elssler’s shoes, one of playwright Johann Nestroy’s dressing gowns, a parasol from the opening of the Suez Canal, boots belonging to Helene Vetsera… (117)

And on and on goes an impressive paragraph on the Wien Museum’s collection, ripe with meaning, personalities, and object lessons. But this excerpt also indicates Vienna’s bigger fashion issue that forms the premise of Wien Chicit is bogged down in the city’s indefatigable history; the international items are true objects of fashion, while the local is represented best by historic dress. Susan Ingram and Markus Reisenleitner seek to identify “a locational history of Vienna fashion” that re-places Vienna into a global sphere, this time not the stylistic or  the musical, but the fashionable.

Here, “fashion” becomes a byway through which the authors explore the aesthetics of the city, the multiplicity of Viennese self-identification and the spaces that at least some of those identified bodies interact with, create, enjoy. This is, after all, a locational history, and the locations are not only geographic (Vienna) but architectural or found in anecdotes on city planning. I was instead expecting a sort of glorified, academized street style book (possibly “misled” by the cover image), an understanding of how “Viennese” or “Vienna” can be expressed through clothing, fashion, and style.

In this volume, clothing/dress/style are not given primacy in the authors’ understanding of “fashion.” There was a fashion for all things Baroque (albeit by a different name), and its lasting influence on Vienna is underscored. But in the whole chapter on “Baroque Chic,” fashion/dress are never discussed, only architecture and ethos. Neither is it in the subsequent chapter on “Ringstrasse Chic,” but the leather jacket is mentioned as a visual indicator of “Prolo Chic” in the next. The section on “Ausländer (foreigner) Chic” speaks more to the role of the foreigner as portrayed in films and the changes in vocabulary that accompanied their changing ethnicities and status over the past two hundred years. As they summarize:

Baroque chic paved the way for the expression and understanding of passion and of suffering. Ringstrasse Chic put capital in charge, which restructured the city and expedited the pace of change. Prolo Chic and Ausländer Chic both participated in and responded to this change, mitigating its tendency to mythologize elites. Taken together, they provide a unique composite that fashion has had to grapple with in trying to make inroads into the Viennese urban imagery. (96)

This is all very important backstory and separate fashions, and the real strength of the book: books about fashion don’t have to be about clothes, just as in English the word “fashion” does not always mean dress or clothing. It seems here that the authors use fashion as a metonym for modernity. They note that “what is at stake in fashion is the pleasure derived from change, an all-encompassing cultural phenomenon that applies to more than dress or ornamentation.” (10) The authors’ struggle to bring the thesis back around to fashion/dress is mirrored in the struggles to achieve a balance in creating modern, forward-moving architecture while maintaining the baroque aesthetic that many in Vienna still cherish, described at length in the book: the story gets caught in a historical-interest loop. Vienna can’t commit to fashion/dress, and the authors can’t commit to it either.

Modernity means something quite different, something much more inflected and influenced by the weight of the historical, especially the baroque, in the Viennese context than it does in other modern Euro-American cities, such as London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. (9)

But although they “find fashion a useful heuristic wedge to open up the spatial specificity of the cultural-historical struggle inherent in the modernity of Vienna’s urban context,” [ed. note: Phew!] the wedge doesn’t seem a purposeful tool until more than 100 pages into the text (of 170). When we finally get to the applied fashion/dress section, it is split into Museum Chic and Designer Chic, reflecting the authors’ interest in the two as separate but occasionally overlapping spheres.

The introductory note to this section is quite good, using “the chics” to look very briefly at fashion (although not the other way around, as suggested above): “in the first instance, fashion is primarily staged in the city’s baroque tradition of conspicuous display.” In the Museum Chic section we are rarely treated with descriptions of the museums’ holdings, strengths, intriguing or important past fashion exhibitions (except for the passage above and a list is hidden in the notes), but most often the text jumps back into the loop for a comparison of the museums’ roles, historically and contemporarily, in Vienna’s cultural capital and landscape. However, the Wien Museum is credited with “mov[ing] the role of fashion … to the centre and giv[ing] it visibility.” Its inclusive intentions best fit with the Prolo and Ausländer chics, as a public offering with a focused mission. The MAK (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts Vienna) is most significant here for its leadership issues, Wiener Werkstätte collection, various fashion schools, and complex relationship with the category of “applied and decorative arts.”

The renowned museum cluster called the Museumsquartier (MQ) has worked with or offered spaces for fashion exploration and support, and also creates “inclusive” space for a wider public than private fashion shows (which are never truly addressed, other than to dismiss them as elitist), fulfilling an important anti-Baroque quality that the authors admire. (1).

The final chapter, Designer Chic, begins with designer Helmut Lang, offering a background on his unhappy teenage years that may have inspired him to become a designer, the schools he attended, Anna Wintour’s admiration…but not a lot about his collections, hardly an adjective or descriptor to explain his work–even from others. Is this less important than his childhood in the Styrian Alps? Is it left up to the reader to explore Lang’s work further, or does it assume a common foreknowledge of his aesthetic? The art Lang has made and shown is given more thought; it does, of course, use clothing, textiles, and garments from his label, but it is only in the guise of Artworks that these objects receive recognition and academic handling. The authors use the art to speculate about Lang’s attitude toward his clothing design, which is described as “champion[ing] the independent, proletarian heritage of jeans.” (Prolo chic!)

In their conclusion, the authors remark that:

What became apparent in our investigations is that Vienna’s urban imaginary is so intimately linked to its historical legacy that its fashion system’s inherently modern, change-oriented dynamic is constantly forced to define itself in relation to its past. (175)


And this book certainly proves that, in part due to the lack of observation of fashion; the structures, both physical and social, surrounding them were examined at length here, and occasionally applied to fashion/dress. As an explanation of why fashion has such a difficult time taking in root in Vienna, this work is excellent. Maybe it’s unfair of me to expect or desire an account of buying and wearing clothing in Vienna as opposed to Paris or Seoul, or what it is like to design in Vienna instead of  New York or London (or Denver?). But instead of adding to the body of work that describes fashion/dress outside of Major Fashion Cities, this book confirms that those are the places whose fashion systems actually deserve direct examination. An insightful, apropos remark is hidden in a note:

We would not want to be misunderstood as suggesting that it is due to Helmut Lang’s influence that these [younger designers'] collections contain echoes of his; rather, we would want to see them all as part of the larger system, one, moreover, that tends to produce a quite unique, more understated look than one tends to find in the fashion capitals. (172)

While the authors stated plainly that they did not want to create simply a comparison study, that “unique look” is never discussed explicitly. By offering each of the young designers and the entire concept of “sustainability” little more than a page or a paragraph and one small photograph each at the end of the book, contemporary fashion design that is unique to Vienna is effectively an afterthought, literally an endnote.

This book can perhaps be compared to the Fashion Scandinavia book I reviewed a few months ago; while an interesting read, it offered somewhat shallow, short interviews with fashion designs from all over Scandinavia, along with photographs chosen and submitted by the designer(s). Also locational, that book intended to help spread the word about new talent as well as collecting images and words that might begin to define “Scandinavian fashion” (despite the surprisingly different cultures within that loose geographical area). Wiener Chic does not attempt this definition, but rather seems to define everything but, the physical surroundings, the people, the art, the history. Somewhere in between these two is a truly useful and dynamic resource for the fashion historian; this book’s sister publication, Berliner Chic, accomplishes its goal much more effectively.

However, I really did enjoy this book! It was a truly engaging and well-written look at various aesthetic aspects of Viennese life, and laid a foundation for a very interesting future discussion on fashion and the spaces it inhabits, fills, or is lacking. I especially like the story-telling language that gives the often heavy academic historical prose a little lift:

[The Wien Museum] included, and put on display, the holdings of the city’s armoury (the Zeughaus), where not only the weapons that armed the citizens of Vienna were store but also the spoils of the two failed Ottoman sieges of 1529 and 1683. Displays emphasized the city’s historical role as a bulwark against the threats thought to be emanating from the East and characterized Vienna as a feisty place whose spirit of independence was temporarily subdued during the early modern absolutist period of the Habsburg’s reign, only to be resurrected by the Liberals wresting away the Ringstrasse urban modernization project from the imperial rulers. (112)

I can’t decide if it honors fashion/dress to go beyond the obvious descriptions and overwrought “examinations” of designers’ collections and museum exhibitions to find a more dynamic understanding of “Urban Chic,” or if the authors’ treatment of the subject (largely ignoring the material realities and even its easily accessible aesthetics) reduces it to a lesser-than-Art byproduct of life in Vienna. It’s obvious that the authors are more interested in film, architecture, and social structures than the fashion system per se, but by playing on that word in English, it does bring the fashion/dress into those “higher” scholarly realms. It may be interesting to more closely compare this 2014 look at fashion/modernity with Adolf Loo’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century commentary on modernity and Vienna (see Stewart). Although Vienna is not included in Breward and Gilbert or in Potvin, those books are more directly relevant to “locating” fashion in specific cities, albeit mostly the more obvious ones.

There are very few books like this out there, and I want to encourage these non-predictable approaches to the subject of fashion/dress. I look forward to the continuation of the Urban Chic Series (edited by Susan Ingram), and I especially hope it continues to avoid the traditional “Fashion Cities” and will look for the more interesting stories; this seems to be the intention. I wonder which city will be next?

Have you read this book, or Berliner Chic? Which cities do you think merit or require a locational history of fashion?


(1) Speaking of which, this book is relatively academic-jargon-free, the one exception being “baroque,” despite their warning of general overuse of the word when describing Viennese culture.


Lead Image: Cover of Wiener Chic by Susan Ingram & Markus Reisenleitner. Intellect & University of Chicago Press, 2013.


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Further Reading

Brandstätter, Christian et al. Vienna 1900: art, life, and culture. New York: Vendome Press, 2006.

Breward, Christopher and David Gilbert. Fashion’s World Cities. Oxford: Berg, 2006.

Gilbert, David. “World Cities of Fashion” in The Fashion Reader, Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun, eds. Oxford: Berg, 2011. [More here about space/place in Part V, "Fashion: space and place].

Ingram, Susan and Katrina Sark. Berliner Chic: A Locational History of Berlin Fashion. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2011.

Kremer, Roberta S. Broken Threads: the destruction of the Jewish Fashion Industry in Germany and Austria. Oxford: Berg, 2007.

Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another: Site-specific art and locational identity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.

Levine, Lawrence. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Potvin, John. The places and spaces of fashion, 1800-2007. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Quinn, Bradley. The Fashion of Architecture. Oxford: Berg, 2003.

Stewart, Janet. Fashioning Vienna: Adolf Loos’ cultural criticism. London: Routledge, 2002.

Thun-Hohenstein, Christoph. Contemporary Vienna: architecture, art, design, film, literature, music. Wien: Schlebrügge, 2010.

Walkner, Martin et al. No fashion, please!: Photography between gender and lifestyle. Wien: Kunsthalle Vien, 2011.


Domestic Affairs: March Madness (the Fashion Studies version)



February, March and April are turning out to be very busy months for fashion exhibitions and events. It’s the sort of situation that makes me very angry at Star Trek: they promised me the future would have teleportation, after all.

Registration has begun for the 2014 Costume Society of America’s National Symposium, in Baltimore this year, celebrating 40 years of CSA.

The Italian Futurism exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York city, is entering its third week, and features a few lovely garments and textiles; while at the Museum at FIT, Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s is entering its second month. Given my love for all things material culture of the 1920s and 30s, words cannot describe how much I wish I could see these two. The Museum at FIT’s Trendology exhibition will also be up until 30 April.

Also in New York, the American Folk Art Museum‘s Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art exhibition will be up until 23 April. Jessica Sofia Mitrani: Headpieces for Peace closes this month at the French Institute: Alliance Française.

At the MFA in Boston, their exhibition, Think Pinkexplores the changing meaning of ‘pink’ in both art and fashion. The exhibition opened in October last year and will be up through the end of May.

If you missed the costumes at FIDM Museum’s Television costume show this past summer — or if you’re just suffering withdrawals, now season four has ended — the Costumes of Downton Abbey show will be up at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library until January 2015. I saw them when I was in LA the end of this past summer and they are truly beautiful pieces.

Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392 – 1910 opened this weekend at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing 150 objects of which many have never before been seen outside Korea, including several examples of dress and textiles. I’m very excited about this exhibition’s next stop in its US tour: LACMA. While I was a Japanese studies major in my undergraduate work, I’ve always preferred the artwork and textile arts of Korea so I will definitely be making a trip to Los Angeles to see it. Look for my review this summer!

At the Wilshire May Company in Los Angeles, Diane von Furstenberg’s 40th Anniversary show, Journey of a Dress, is in its last month.

Last but not least, I received an invitation to the opening of Hollywood Costume at the Phoenix Art Museum on 26 March. Oh how I wish I could go! But perhaps I will find a way to make it to Arizona before the exhibition closes on 6 July…

Have any of you been to any of these exhibitions? What did you think? Are there any other events that you think our readers should know about? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts and impressions in the comments below, or email me with announcements!