Design History and Material Culture Research Group
Developments in Dress History
Over the last twenty years, dress history has moved from the margins of academic debate to the centre of interdisciplinary analysis in the arts and humanities. Dress and its meanings are matters of significance for social and cultural historians; the circuits of clothing across the globe are used to explain patterns of globalisation; its exchange between people is essential to understandings of consumer culture; everything we wear is understood as a crucial component identities and rituals. Once denigrated by design reformers, fashionable dress is integrated into histories of design and western clothing is considered alongside traditional textiles within studies of material culture.
The conference, Developments in Dress History, held at the University of Brighton from 8 to 10 December 2011 examined the discipline’s most recent empirical findings and discussed its recent engagements with fashion theory. It also reflected upon the most the pivotal role Professor Lou Taylor played in the in the ‘establishment’ of dress history, to borrow a title phrase from one of her books. A long-standing advocate of the importance dress as an object and of the use of garments as historical evidence, Lou Taylor has extended the curatorial methods of analysis of dress as well as provided a critique of the practices its collection and exhibition in museums. In particular, her scholarship has been devoted to understanding the relationships between dress and gender, clothing and class, fashion and the patterns of colonial trade.
Seventy speakers from fourteen countries and four continents addressed an audience of hundred and fifty delegates. Emerging researchers shared panels with established scholars including Amy de la Haye, Lesley Miller, Alex Palmer, Verity Wilson and Dominique Veillon. Thus, the conference was able to present a great depth of scholarship, particularly in the interpretation of museum collections, alongside exciting new work directed at the close reading of garments. The importance of Lou Taylor’s writings was most evident in the work of a new generation of dress historians and global reach of dress history methods of inquiry. The Developments in Dress History conference encompassed the analysis of the tailoring workshops of the seventeenth century Swedish court (Aneer), the clothing worn in nineteenth century Brazil (Monteiro), twentieth century western Algeria (Belkaïd), contemporary Chennai, India, (Shreen) and European practices everyday dress (Boydell, Mackinney-Valentin, Ritchie) and haute couture in Britain (Hattrick, Ness).
“Over just two days, I listened to, learnt from and was inspired by the 18 speakers I saw present research. This meant I also sat next to dozens of others involved in the field and heard at least a hundred questions answered. These people included curators from the V&A, Design Museum Danmark Copenhagen, the Royal Ontario Musuem, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and the Worthing Museum; students from Dublin, Toronto, London, Glasgow; researchers investigating national identity, class and gender through dress... And so on, and so on. It is impossible to relay the diversity of inquisition and the fundamental importance of these inquiries. The findings were often nothing short of being actual revelations: historical keys that unlocked social meaning, many of which had been hidden.”
E.J. Scott, student
“The dress history conference was an inspiring and useful insight into what is being researched and written about now in the academic world of dress. There was a vast range of topics covered from all different countries throughout modern history in western and non-western cultures, which proved to be invaluable in broadening my knowledge in dress history. Interpreting 17th Century French fashion engravings, exploring the collecting world of Doris Langley Moore and making sense of the Saggy Pant culture were but a few of the deeply interesting talks I attended. The conference was a rare opportunity to hear curators, lecturers and post-graduate students from across the world talking about their work and areas of study.”
Phoebe Hoare, student
“The conference was amazing, truly. There was such a buzz about the whole event and the incredible range of papers. It will be seen as a landmark conference.”
Carol Tulloch, Reader in Dress and the African Disapora, V&A and Chelsea College of Art and Design.
“I would like to express my thanks and the thanks of my students for an exceptional conference. This was, without unquestionably the best conference I have ever attended. Many, many congratulations.”
Jo Turney, Senior Lecturer in History and Design, Bath Spa University.