Period Band B/C
Curatorial Rating: 1

Interwoven: Fashion and Clothing Cultures in Art History

Tutor: Cordula Van Wyhe


This course looks at the many complex messages conveyed by fashion. It deliberately defies traditional categorization, as it does not focus uniquely on fashion as clothing industry. Rather, it cuts trans-historically to foreground the various extraordinary ways by which communities approached clothing and textiles. What is fashion after all? How did people adorn their bodies and wear clothes to project ideas of belonging and identity? As luxury objects, clothing and jewelry were often not made to be worn at all, but, similarly to art, existed for a variety of purposes that went beyond mere practicality. This module addresses these and many other questions by moving beyond the traditional linear narrative that presents clothing as evolving from ethnographic costumes to expression of modern individuality. For this reason it does not unfold chronologically but thematically around large topics that deal with issues relating to the representation, exchange, making, and conceptualization of fashion.

The representation of textiles and costumes in images is never a neutral visualisation of cultural practices, but visual artefacts with their own subjectivity. How do artists ‘stage’ the cut and fit of clothing? By examining this question with regard to the very basic confluence of pigment and thread, this module also aims to further students’ understanding of how artistic strategies create realities. This module therefore encourages the interdisciplinary study of the history of art and dress/textile history in the humanities. It aims at furthering students’ ability to look at clothes as well as art while forcing them to think in more nuanced ways about the material world and people’s relationship to it.

Parisian clothing communities from the later part of the nineteenth-century to the middle of the twentieth century will be the focus of this module. There will also be seminars on specially selected case studies of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century European sartorial culture and the contemporary fashion world we live in. So, contemporary fashion provides a part, but not the majority of material covered in this module. Any students with a strong interest in contemporary fashion, however, are free to work on objects and images of their choice as part of their essay and exam questions as the general ideas and frameworks at the heart of this module will provide a conceptual lens for any aspect of fashion you wish to study. The tutor will support and supervise students on all spectra of European fashion and clothing communities.




By the end of the module, students should have acquired:

  • an understanding of the interdisciplinary exchange between the history of art and the history of dress/textiles and their methodologies
  • familiarity with the cultural practices relating to the making, marketing, wearing and representation of clothing in specific communities
  • an ability to analyse the medium-specific issues of representing dress and textiles and visual material which transcends the pictorial

Preliminary Reading

  • Roland Barthes, The Language of Fashion
  • Lars Svedsen, Fashion: A Philosophy
  • Nancy J. Troy, Couture Culture: A Study in Modern Art and Fashion
  • Anne Hollander: Seeing Through Clothes
  • Ulinka Rublack, Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe
  • Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste
  • T.W. Adorno and  Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment
  • Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
  • Aileen Ribeiro, The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France, 1750-1820
  • Richard Sennett, The Craftsman
  • Michel Pastoureau, The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes
  • Dorothy Ko, Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding
  • Valerie Steele: The Corset, a Cultural History

Gerard ter Boch

Module Code HOA00041H