Dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of fashion from an academic perspective, the quarterly journal Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture views fashion as a cultural phenomenon, offering the reader a wide range of articles by leading Western and Russian specialists, as well as classical texts on fashion theory. From the history of dress and design to body practices; from the work of well-known designers to issues around consumption in fashion; from beauty and the fashionable figure through the ages to fashion journalism, fashion and PR, fashion and city life, art and fashion, fashion and photography — Fashion Theory covers it all.
In this issue’s Dress section, we take another look at fashion and constructions of national identity. It opens with Sofya Abasheva’s paper Black Lace and Cachucha: The Image of the Spanish Woman in Russian Culture,
Síle de Cléir offers Creativity in the Margins: Identity and Locality in Ireland’s Fashion Journey. Over the last 170 years, Ireland has undergone significant economic changes: from the destitution of the Great Famine of the 1840s to the affluence of the Celtic Tiger years at the end of the twentieth century. This article examines the relationship of Irish people with fashion, whether as producers of crafted textiles for export to larger centers of culture in the nineteenth century, or as consumers who integrated elements of fashion with folk dress traditions. The effect of Ireland’s heritage of folk material culture on the discourse of dress in the cultural nationalism of the early twentieth century is explained. The early flowering of fashion design in Dublin and the international success of designers such as Sybil Connolly and Irene Gilbert is discussed through the use of classic histories of Irish fashion: the subsequent performance of the industry in the freer trade environment of the 1970s and 1980s is assessed. Irish fashion today is building an international profile, while the industry copes with the challenges of multinational retailing and globalization of production. The article concludes by looking at localized fashion discourses, where groups use ritualized display to build a local engagement with the international aesthetic discourse of fashion.
This issue’s Body section looks at the intimate process of dressing, at how we wear — and wear out — our clothes, and at the signs left on clothing by the wearer’s body. Lucie Ruggerone contributes her paper The Feeling of Being Dressed: Affect Studies and the Clothed Body. In sociological and cultural studies, the relationship we have with our clothes has been mostly analyzed in terms of fashion and identity, with a focus on the ways in which we use clothing to represent ourselves to, and in, the world. The paper argues that in all these analyses one important aspect is still missing: the feelings we experience about, and in, our clothes when we are dressed. It proposes a change of paradigm to find ways to incorporate in our analyses what is here called the ‘feeling of being dressed’. This change can be performed by transgressing the boundaries of semiotic, structural and sociological explanations and by abandoning the mind‒body dualism which shapes the description of our relationship with clothes as mainly intellectual, and our choices of garments as the result of a dialogue within our minds. It then shows how affect studies open up opportunities for the investigation of the body‒clothes assemblage; in particular, the notion of body as a composition of forces and the approach to practices (in this case dressing practices) as ways of becoming are central for this endeavour.
Ellen Sampson offers her paper The Cleaved Garment: The Maker, The Wearer and the ‘Me and Not Me’ of Fashion Practice. This article explores the ways that the self and the garment may become entwined — how through the acts of making and of wearing clothes, the garment and self become cleaved, both to and from one another. The article presents the processes of making and of using garments as both a negotiation with the garment’s materiality and the projection of the user’s fantasy onto their material form — processes through which the maker or user’s agency may become entangled with the material agency of the garment. Though the relationships between ‘the wearer and the garment’ and between ‘the garment and the maker’ have been addressed, these two sets of relationships are often viewed as bounded or mutually exclusive. The distance between maker and user in contemporary commodity cultures often renders the maker inert in the experience of the wearer; the maker’s agency is viewed as bounded within the transaction of making. This article suggests a rethinking of this dynamic, examining the ways that the maker is present for the wearer in their experience of the garment.
Bethan Bide presents Signs of Wear: Encountering Memory in the Worn Materiality of a Museum Fashion Collection. Historical clothes are more than just examples of how past societies dressed — they are imbued with small details of individual lives in their marks of wear. This article explores how these marks evoke memories, and how setting up interactions between personal memories and the materiality of fashion objects creates opportunities for new perspectives in the field of fashion history. The article opens by considering how historians might draw on the methodologies of material culture and archival co-authorship to bring memories into collections research. In order to illustrate these ideas, the article then presents objects from the Museum of London’s fashion collection alongside the author’s own family photographs and stories to show how integrating her grandmother’s memories into her material culture research disrupted the conventional narratives of 1940s austerity fashion. The article concludes by considering how the application of memory to collections research might inform the way that fashion objects are displayed in museums. It suggests that, by focusing on the relationship between visitor memories and the small details of how a garment has been worn and used, museums could create displays which disrupt historical orthodoxies and reveal how echoes of the past continue to shape contemporary fashion cultures.
The Culture section this time around deals with costume in works of literature. It opens with Amely Apter’s Weaponizing the Femme Fatale: Rachilde’s Lethal Amazon, La Marquise de Sade. Rachilde’s La Marquise de Sade has typically been read as the quintessential French decadent novel of the 1880s. However, Apter’s essay outlines Rachilde’s alignment between the spirit of war represented by the novel’s central character Mary and the larger historical context of the Franco-Russian War, placing Mary in a tradition of ‘weaponized women’. The article argues for the pertinence of Rachilde’s vision in our current climate of female suicide bombers and their explosive adornments. Apter argues that the symbiotic relationship between gender wars and war between nations can be seen both within the novel and through responses to it, with the female warrior being permanently aligned with social and political decline. The article contends that gender war is assimilated into real war, whether through controversy surrounding women in the military or through justifications of intervention abroad. Weapon choices swing with fashions, from fashion couture to masculine riding habits, to the most recent cross-dressing trend, which, Apter argues, levels an attack at the institutions of state and family through denaturalizing the feminine. The article moves from overarching theory to a concentrated study of the subliminal messages in the period dramas of the fin de siécle, revealing beneath the folds of fabric a weaponized woman ready for battle.
In her paper Funny Hats, Clair Hughes looks into what it is about hats, some of the most culturally rich accessories in fashion, which causes laughter. She reads novels, plays and song lyrics, trying to understand why hats have made us laugh across centuries and continents. Hughes is the author of Hats (Bloomsbury, 2017), which takes us on a beautifully illustrated journey through class conflict, gendered etiquette and national allegiances to reveal the complex cultures from which each style emerged. The book will be appearing in the Fashion Theory Library book series later this year.
In Accessories to the Crime: Mapping Dickensian Trauma in Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, Theresa Atchison delves into Charles Dickens’s nuanced use of fashion accessories in two of his later works. She argues that because of nineteenth-century conventions, Dickens has to intimate certain aspects of his characters’ interiority by creating a performative exterior. Such analyses, particularly regarding female accessories concerning mobility, reveal censored subjects and illustrate Dickens as a more compassionate writer regarding the female sex.
In ‘We Are Expected to Be Pretty and Well-Dressed Till We Drop’: The Semiotics of Fashion in the Novels of Edith Wharton, Olga Vainstein looks at two novels by the American author Edith Wharton
Natalia Lebina’s From Colleagues to Oranges: Fashion and Style in the Early Prose of Vasily Aksenov (A Historian’s View) looks at the role of fiction in the study of historical aspects of fashion and fashionable behaviour. While touching on general issues in the study of history, the author mainly focuses on the writing of Vasily Aksenov, a key representative of Soviet confessional and youth prose of the 1950s and 1960s. Despite possessing many features of Socialist Realism, Aksenov’s novels Colleagues, A Ticket to the Stars and Oranges from Morocco also clearly show the emergence in Soviet reality of a new type of young hero. For Aksenov, the socialisation of youth is associated not only with politics and production. It is also connected with a process of aesthetic becoming that is inextricably linked to choice of clothing and living style. By analysing and comparing Aksenov’s works with traditional historical sources, Lebina confirms the accuracy of the writer’s portrayal of life during the Thaw. Himself a contemporary who witnessed those times, in his earlier stories Aksenov shows the anti-Stalinist nature of the semiotic features of the fashionable items and everyday living practices of the ‘shestidesyatniki’ (‘people of the sixties’), as well as the emergence of their particular brand of trendy behaviour.
Julia Emberley’s Material Fictions of Desire. Transactional Readings, Fashion, and the ‘Worlding’ of Everyday Life in Contemporary Women’s Writing reads the representation of fashion in a selection of women’s writings as instances of how women writers communicate with their readership, if not constitute an implied readership with those who share an understanding of the complexities of fashion and its various meanings in everyday life. This process of communication constitutes a mode of ‘transactional reading’, a way of reading objects in everyday life in order to negotiate their meanings and values for subjective and aesthetic experience. Such negotiations are intended to elucidate as well as transform the alienation effect of commodities in the advanced capitalist territories of North America and elsewhere. Specifically, the author considers Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, Carolyn Steedman’s materialist autobiography Landscape for a Good Woman, Jamaica Kincaid’s materialist biography Biography of a Dress, Anna Lee Walters’s short story ‘Apparitions’, and Linda Hogan’s ‘New Shoes’. These writers demonstrate that transactional readings are already embedded in their literary work, and that the value of the ‘literary’ lies, perhaps, in its encounters with everyday materialities of desire, change, and signification.
In the Events section this time around, Alla Myzelev offers Fashionality: Dress and Identity in Contemporary Canadian Art — her take on the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario, 3 May — 5 October 2012.
Laura Beltran-Rubio takes a closer look at ‘Denim: Fashion’s Frontier’ at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1 December 2015 — 7 May 2016.
Ksenia Gusarova contributes Elevated Distortions of Nature, her thoughts on ‘Fashioned from Nature’ at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, 21 April 2018 — 27 January 2019.
In ’...A Manuscript, Though, Can Be Sold’: Margiela for Hermès, Ksenia Gusarova reviews ’Margiela, les Années Hermès’ at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 22 March — 2 September 2018.
Ekaterina Kulinicheva offers Where It Is that Frida Came From, her impressions of ’Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up’ at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, 16 June — 4 November 2018.
In this issue’s Books section, Kelly Mohs Gage offers Where We Were Before, a review of Phyllis G. Tortora’s Dress, Fashion and Technology: From Prehistory to the Present, Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.
Laureen Gibson reviews Dress History: New Directions in Theory and Practice edited by Charlotte Nicklas and Annebella Pollen, Bloomsbury, 2015.
 The article is an extended version of a paper presented at the conference ’Passing: Fashion in American Cities’, held by London’s Courtauld Institute of Art on 5 May 2018.