Here at FIT, we all think about fashion a lot. Which is different from how I grew up. I remember my mom always taking time to point out well-made fabric, thick seam allowances, good linings and natural fibers. She’d learned this stuff from her grandmother, who was a dressmaker in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in the 1890s. But I ended up with a lot of clothes I might not have bought if they weren’t so beautifully made AND ON SALE. It took me until I was a design student here (1 year student, Fashion Design ’88) till someone said to me, “why don’t you choose your glasses for how they look?” See, I’d been thinking about what I wore from the point of view of “is it a good deal and do I like it enough?” But “fashion” is more about “does this garment-tattoo-music-phone-accessory say what I want it to say about me?”My great-grandmother, Elizabeth O’Hara,was a dressmaker in Greenpoint in the 1890s
Fashion and design are about a lot of things. In this blog, I’m going to talk about how different writers perceive them. Because, truth is, writers don’t even agree about what the word “fashion” means.
What is Fashion?
The term fashion can be understood to mean ‘clothing styles that change in swift succession’ (Johnson 2003, p.11). It sometimes is used synonymously with the word dress to refer to ‘an assemblage of modifications and supplements to the body, including such things as coiffed hair, painted skin, tattoos, garments, jewelry and accessories’ (Roach-Higgins 1995, p. 7) arranged in ‘a formal arrangement that “expresses the aesthetics and customs of a cultural period.”’ (Schreier1989, p.2). According to Stephen Greenblatt, ties between the ideas of fashion and identity parallel “etymological changes in the word fashion itself: ‘As a term for the action or process of making, for particular features or appearance, for a distinct style or pattern, the word had long been in use, but it is in the sixteenth century that the word fashion seems to come into wide currency as a way of redesigning the forming of a self.’” (quoted in Breward 1995, p.69) And if you think about it, fashion is the primary framework through which human beings read and understand the concepts of masculine or feminine.
We’re going to talk about a lot of stuff in this blog, because FIT is a place where fashion means not just a set of business practices and an industry that employs a lot of people, but also refers to the way design applies to clothing, toys, milk cartons, chairs and walls, ad campaigns, shoes, annual reports, tatoos, children’s books and on and on and on.
More reading (all to be found in the Gladys Marcus Library, of course!):
Barnes, Ruth and Joanne B. Eicher, ed. Dress and Gender, Making and Meaning in Cultural Contexts. Providence and Oxford: Berg, 1993.
5th floor Main: GT 525 .D74 1993
Breward, Christopher. The Culture of Fashion. Manchester and New York: University of Manchester Press, 1995.
4th floor Art Ref: GT 511 .B74 1995
Cordwell, Justine M. and Ronald A. Schwarz, eds. The Fabrics of Culture: The Anthropology of Clothing and Adornment. Paris and New York: Mouton, 1979.
4th floor Art Ref: GT 525 .F32 1979
Crane, Diana. Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender and Identity in Clothing. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
5th floor Main: GT 525 .C75 2000
Johnson, Kim K. P.; Susan Torntore; and Joanne B. Eicher, eds. Fashion Foundations, Early Writings on Fashion and Dress. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2003.
5th floor Main: PN56 .C684 F37 2003
Jones, Jennifer M. Sexing La Mode: Gender, Fashion and Commercial Culture in Old Regime France. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2004.
5th floor Main: GT 860 .J65 2004
Kidwell, Claudia Brush and Valerie Steele, eds. Men and Women, Dressing the Part. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.
5th floor Main: GT 605 .M45 1989
Roach-Higgins, Mary Ellen; Joanne B. Eicher; and Kim K. P. Johnson, eds. Dress and Identity. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1995.
5th floor Main: GT 524 .D74
Schreier, Barbara A. “Introduction.” In Men and Women, Dressing the Part, ed. Claudia Brush Kidwell and Valerie Steele, 1-5. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.
5th floor Main: GT 605 .M45 1989
Taylor, Lou. The Study of Dress History. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2002.
5th floor Main: GT511 .T39 2002
The magazines ‘Fashion Theory’, ‘Dress’, ‘Costume’ & ‘Textile History’ have lots of articles on this subject. You can find them at the Periodicals desk on the 6th floor.