The Study of Dress History, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002, ISBN 0 7190 4064 7, pp284.
This book, drawing on detailed research into Euro-American and ethnographical dress history, synthesises a range of methodological approaches into a distinct transdisciplinary analysis. It develops object-based historical analysis, as well as drawing on an extensive range of primary archival resources. It is confirms the intellectual status of an emerging discipline, not least by fusing the priorities of curatorship with insights from critical theory and the study of material culture.
The Study of Dress History evidences my concern as a researcher to develop and promote the use of close object-based material culture approaches to the study of surviving dress from all periods and cultures and to promote transdisciplinary research across the divide between museum curator and university ’academic’ in my field. It also reflects my aim to open up knowledge of the function, collection and display of European regional/peasant dress from the mid 19th century and to probe its use within national identity design across Europe from the mid 19th century, this being undertaken through the study of genre paintings, analysis of period publications on ‘Folk Art,’ research in open air museums and museum dress collections in Poland, Hungary, Sweden, France, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The ideas developed in The Study of Dress History (2002) and in Establishing Dress History (2004) were put into practice in the 2005 exhibition and book Fashion and Fancy Dress, The Messel Dress Collection, 1865-2005. Offering a material culture approach to displaying and interpreting the key garments from this collection, the intent was always, as reviewers recognised, to offer far more than a chronological presentation of beautiful garments worn by the ‘Messel women’. Themes demonstrated through garment display, labels, panels, and in the book, included the wearers’ upward mobility (finally through Lord Snowdon’s marriage to Princess Margaret int Royal circles) and their specific gently artistic but always fashionable taste. We showed the links between the garments of the women’s choice of London and Irish couturiers, their passions for travel, for the decorative arts of the 16th - 18th centuries, rare plant collecting, the theatre (via Oliver Messel) and involvement in founding the Georgian and Victorian Societies. We illustrated how, consciously, each generation ensured the survival of the memory of the one before, through their preservation of garments and how, through stains, wear, photographs, and oral testimony, these beautiful clothes retained the shadows and even emotions of the women who wore them.
Citations for The Study of Dress History
Fashion Theory, vol 7/2/2003: the author takes us beyond old schisms buy identifying many fine examples of innovative [dress history] work. …In mapping the routes from other branches of history that brought methodological benefits and new agendas, even new purpose to dress history, this book makes a timely case for inter-disciplinarity.
Textile History, 34, (1), 2003: Self reflective about the discipline, critical of its detractors. … Never before has there been a book which charts so comprehensively the historiography of the many writers on dress, and on the subjects methodological approaches…. Equally significant is her unequivocal respect for diversity in source materials, as well as acknowledgements of the relatively recent impact of cultural studies, feminist approaches, anthropology and studies of consumption, on the discipline.
The text has also been cited, for example, by Kûchler and Miller, Clothing as Material Culture, (2005: 4); Perry, Oral History , Spring 2005: 88-92; and Sandino, Design History, 2006: 19.