Spring Reading List: Fashion History and Clothing as Discourse

March 10th, 2010 § 29 comments

We have received several reader comments asking for book recommendations on the history of fashion or fashion theory writings. We all have varying experiences with these topics, from working with writings on clothing, performativity, and self-representation in our gender and feminist studies readings to researching drag or the semiotics of clothing for course papers or our dissertation work. The spectrum is broad and the contributions to this domain vast. In response to your questions, we have compiled some of our favorite  readings on these topics in the bibliography below.

As always, please add any sources or reading recommendations of your own in the comments section of this post.


Arnold, Rebecca. “Fashion.” Feminist Visual Culture. Ed. Fiona Carson and Claire Pajaczkowska. New York: Routledge, 2001. 207-22.

Ash, Juliet. “The tie: presence and absence.” The Gendered Object. Ed. Pat Kirkham. New York: Manchester University Press, 1996. 162-171.

Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. Trans. Matthew Ward and Richard Howard. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Boydell, Christine. “The training shoe: ‘pump up the power’” The Gendered Object. Ed. Pat Kirkham. New York: Manchester University Press, 1996. 121-132

Crane, Diane. Fashion and Its Social Agendas. Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Hanson, Karen. “Dressing Down Dressing Up: The Philosophic Fear of Fashion.” Aesthetics in Feminist Perspective. Ed. Hilde Hein and Carolyn Korsmeyer. Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1993.

Hollander, Anne. Seeing through Clothes. NewYork: Viking Press, 1978.

Luck, Kate. “Trousers: feminism in nineteenth-century America.” The Gendered Object. Ed. Pat Kirkham. New York: Manchester University Press, 1996. 141-152.

Perrot, Philippe. Fashioning the Bourgeoisie. A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century. Trans. Richard Bienvenu. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Stern, Radu. Against Fashion: Clothing as Art, 1850-1930. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.

Summers, Leigh. Bound to Please: A History of the Victorian Corset. New York: Berg, 2001.

Wright, Lee. “The suit: a common bond or defeated purpose?” The Gendered Object. Ed. Pat Kirkham. New York: Manchester University Press, 1996. 153-161.

§ 29 Responses to Spring Reading List: Fashion History and Clothing as Discourse"

  1. Leigh says:

    Thanks for the list of resources! I’m writing my thesis (on ethos and portraits of 19th century women speakers) and have found Carol Mattingly’s Appropriate[ing] Dress: Women’s Rhetorical Style in Nineteenth-Century America (Southern Illinois UP) to be extraordinarily helpful, and also fun.

  2. Cara says:

    Has anyone else read Tina Fey’s interview in March’s Vogue. There is a part in the middle where she talks about clothing, feminism and power. It was very insightful without trying to be.


  3. Linda says:

    I was afraid Hollander’s “Seeing through Clothes” wouldn’t make the cut because it was too old (like me…).

    Glad it was on your list – I loved it. And I enjoy the blog very much too, despite probably being a fair amount older than your median average reader.

  4. Miranda says:

    I do a lot of work in material culture, and Peter Stallybrass and Ann Rosalind Jones’s _Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory_ has been really useful.

  5. admin says:

    Leigh – as a nineteenth-centurist, thanks for the book tip! Didn’t know that one and although I focus on Germany and France, it still sounds like something I should check out, so thank you! :)

    Linda – I love Hollander’s book, there was no way I wasn’t going to add that one! ;)

    Cara – thanks for the link, I am a huge Tina Fey fan and actually saw the Vogue with her on the cover but haven’t read it yet, looking forward to making it my next work break reading material :)


  6. Jamie says:

    I *love* Anne Hollander, and I’m a (relative) young’un. Her SEX AND SUITS (the first of hers I read, and still my favorite) redefined the way I look at clothing, and challenged my views on gender identity. Like Linda, I’m so glad to see her on the list!

  7. WendyB says:

    Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber about Marie Antoinette
    Subculture: The Meaning of Style by Dick Hebdige

  8. Sally says:

    Fantastic! I know a lot of folks wanted some suggestions from your recent guest post, so I’ll be sure to point them here.

  9. Emily says:

    These are great recommendations! Also worth checking out is:

    Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Eiland and McLaughlin

    Benjamin uses fashion as a method of engaging history and the construction of time, which is fascinating. The Arcades Project went unfinished, but it’s still well worth a read (or two or twelve!).

    Thanks for the awesome list!

  10. Mrs.M in MI says:

    I have to recommend “The Language of Clothes” by Alison Lurie. It’s about the history of fashion as a symbol. There’s also an absolutely fascinating section on how certain women’s fashions are essentially children’s clothes and then over time fashion grows “older”.

  11. liz says:

    I just found this blog, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE your point of view!

    I’d also like to add a contribution from a showstopper in my field (literary studies): Elaine Showalter. In 1997 she wrote an article for Vogue called “The Professor Wore Prada.” I’m late to the game on this blog, so forgive me if you’ve already written about it.

  12. Z says:

    I’m in the same boat as Liz, I’m late to hop aboard the academichic but thrilled to be reading!

    Can I add: Roland Barthes’ delightful works The Fashion System and his later book The Language of Fashion?

  13. Lisa says:

    I’d like to add:

    “Consuming Fashion: Adorning the Transnational Body” Edited by Anne Brydon and Sandra Niessen.

  14. meg says:

    so great to find this today, as i’m compiling bibliography on late nineteenth century european fashion & paintings. things that i’m into right now:

    Finch, Casey. “’Hooked and Buttoned Together’: Victorian Underwear and Representations of the Female Body.” Victorian Studies. Volume 34, no. 3. 1991. 337-363.

    Montague, Ken. “The Aesthetics of Hygiene: Aesthetic Dress, Modernity, and the Body as Sign.” Journal of Design History Volume 7, no. 2. 1994. 91-112.

  15. Wow! Each one of these sounds even more interesting than the last – I may just have to check them all out!! :)

  16. It’s focused on 18th and 19th century England, but I really loved The Dress of the People by John Stiles. There is much discussion of class identity, the concept of gentility, and social change.

    This list looks great! I will definitely look up some of the titles and pass the list on to classmates who are interested in clothing history.

  17. Luinae says:

    “A History of the Victorian Corset” looks so fascinating- thanks for the reccomendations!

  18. Shulamit says:

    Thanks for the resources! I can’t wait to go to Powell’s and check some of these out. I’d like to add “Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety” by Marjorie Garber.

  19. admin says:

    I just want to thank you all who have added your awesome suggestions, I can’t wait to take that list to the library and check all of those out! I’m working intimately with fashion history and clothing as discourse for my dissertation so this is really helpful and wonderful, thanks for sharing those sources with me! S

  20. I second the recommendation of Marjorie Garber’s “Vested Interests.” I think I’ve mentioned this study to you before. I would also add Stephen Greenblatt’s “Renaissance Self-Fashioning” (1983).

  21. JAM says:

    Georg Simmel’s “Fashion” is a brief essay that defines what fashion is and why it’s important to the individual. It’s in his book On Individuality and Social Forms, translated by Donald Levine. Probably not as interesting as some of these suggestions but an important work nonetheless.

  22. [...] *the brains and beauty of Academichic put together a fantastic reading list: Fashion History and Clothing as Discourse [...]

  23. Laura says:

    Thanks to S and everyone else for the book recommendations. I am going to pick up The Gendered Object first, in honor of the fact that I wore a tie to work the other day.

  24. EmilyKennedy says:

    This is so great! Thank you so much for this post!

  25. [...] me of something I’ve been wanting to bring to your attention. A while back, we put together a bibliography on fashion history and theory for you and you were so awesome in adding a bunch more great titles to that list. (Some of those [...]

  26. [...] on fashion theory and the discourse of clothing in general, check out our Spring Reading List here. 3 May 2010, originally uploaded by academichic. Category: Beltless, Dresses for Day, Layers Upon [...]

  27. Elyssa says:

    I just found your blog today and love the academic perspective! I have a book to add to your list:
    Grant, Linda. The Thoughtful Dresser : The Art of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter. New York: Scribner, 2009.
    I found the book to be a nice mix of historical fact combined with Grant’s own observations about her own fashion/dressing habits. She includes lots of citations throughout the book for further reading on fashion!

  28. Cole Sival says:

    I think so. This is good post for newbie as me. I have bookmarked your website. I will come back later.

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