‘To think is to voyage.’
(Deleuze & Guattari, 1987
Part I: Theorizing Fashion
The role of the veil in the definition of contemporary Muslim identities; the representation of women in fashion magazines; the cultural history of men’s underwear; the rise of fashion blogs; the origins of catwalk shows and their participation in the definition of modernity; the creative economy and globalized circulation of African fashion: these are a few only of the topics the growing academic literature on fashion has covered (see, for instance, respectively, Lewis, 2013
; Jobling, 1999
; Cole, 2009
; Rocamora, 2012
; Evans, 2013
; Rabine, 2002
). Common to all the texts is the desire to make sense of fashion, to unpack, comprehend and analyse the social and cultural dynamics of fashion, dress and appearance. Indeed, the field of fashion has now become a major topic of enquiry in social and cultural theory, with many analyses devoted to an understanding of this complex arena. Numerous enlightening interrogations of its many layers have shown that fashion offers a rich platform from which to reflect on key social and cultural issues, from practices of consumption and production through to identity politics.
Thinking through fashion, like thinking through any cultural processes and experiences, is an exciting and challenging exercise. It is dependent on one’s ability to critically engage with a vast array of theories and concepts, often from thinkers who, unlike in some other fields of cultural criticism, have not themselves written about fashion. The aim of the present book is to accompany readers through the process of thinking through fashion. It seeks to help them grasp both the relevance of social and cultural theory to the fields of fashion, dress and material culture, and, conversely, the relevance of those fields to social and cultural theory. It does so by guiding them through the work of selected major thinkers, introducing key concepts and ideas, discussing, when relevant, how they have been appropriated by other authors to engage with the topic of fashion, and looking at other ways they can be appropriated to reflect on this topic.
Thinking through Fashion
uses the word fashion in the broad sense of the term, that is, as also referring to dress, appearance and style. We understand fashion as both material culture and as symbolic system (Kawamura, 2005
). It is a commercial industry producing and selling material commodities; a socio-cultural force bound up with the dynamics of modernity and post-modernity; and an intangible system of signification. It is thus made of things and signs, as well as individual and collective agents, which all coalesce through practices of production, consumption, distribution and representation. The study of fashion necessarily covers a wide terrain, ranging from production to consumption and systems of meaning and signification, and scholars need an equally wide array of methodologies and theories from many disciplines. Thus whilst the study of dress, appearance and style was dominated by costume historians, art historians and museum curators until the early 1980s, it was also receiving the attention of anthropology, linguistics and cultural studies (Burman and Turbin, 2003
; Mora et al., 2014
). Cultural studies, in particular, was instrumental in the broadening of the field of fashion studies to wider social, cultural and economic concerns (Breward, 2003
). Cultural studies is inherently interdisciplinary and influenced by most of the theorists discussed in the present volume.
Gradually the term ‘fashion studies’ has come to refer to the study of fashion in its broad meaning, covering many areas of research across many disciplines, from history (including costume history), philosophy, sociology, anthropology through to cultural studies, women’s studies and media studies (Mora et al., 2014
). It has brought together a range of approaches, from an object-based approach focused on the materiality of fashion, to a concern with fashion’s more intangible dynamics and underpinnings such as globalization, post-colonialism or its key role as a creative industry (see, for instance, on globalization, Maynard, 2004
; Rabine, 2002
, on post-colonialism, Hendrickson, 1996
; Root, 2013
on fashion and the creative industries, Rantisi, 2004
; Santagata, 2004
Fashion studies, then, is by definition an interdisciplinary field. Even if scholars work in a particular discipline, say art history or material anthropology, they will always need to know or at least be aware of adjacent disciplines. This book helps to orient students and scholars to possible different backgrounds to ‘thinking through fashion’. When researchers choose to focus on a particular dimension of fashion, for example production rather than consumption, or representation in the media rather than the wear and tear of material clothes, they will need to choose the appropriate methodologies and theories to carry out the research effectively and analyse the results. By providing evaluative introductions to key theorists in the context of fashion, the book provides readers with an accessible overview of relevant theories and concepts in order to help them ‘think through fashion’ more deeply and critically.
The underlying premise of Thinking through Fashion
is that theorists provide invaluable tools to ‘think through fashion’, and that engaging with theory is essential in order to understand and analyse fashion. In the Collins Dictionary of Sociology
, David Jary and Julia Jary define theory as: ‘any set of hypotheses or propositions, linked by logical or mathematical arguments, which is advanced to explain an area of empirical reality or type of phenomenon’ (1995
: 686). To theorize fashion means to develop propositions and arguments that advance the understanding of its logic and manifestations. Theory aims to explain the many practices (Williams, 1983
) involved in the making of fashion: practices of representation, of production and of consumption.
The conceptual dimension of theory has left it open to the accusation of being abstract, removed from the real world. However, ‘The true difficulty of theory’, as Eagleton notes, ‘springs not from this sophistication, but from exactly the opposite – from its demand that we return to childhood by rejecting what seems natural and refusing to be fobbed off with shifty answers from well-meaning elders’ (1990
: 34–35). In other words, the student or scholar of fashion needs to look at the field of fashion with fresh eyes, clearing her or his mind of preconceived ideas and prejudices. This is why theory can help us better understand the dynamics of fashion. It allows us not to take for granted its many manifestations, but to instead question its obviousness or naturalness and give us the means to achieve the critical distance necessary to a full understanding of its layered complexity. In her chapter on Bruno Latour, Joanne Entwistle, for instance, shows how his notion of ‘actant’ can help us reconsider the role of non-humans in the making of fashion. In Francesca Granata’s discussion of Mikhail Bakhtin, the idea of the grotesque helps us understand the transgressive work of designers. Agnès Rocamora shows how Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of field reminds us that creativity is a collective process; that a fashion collection does not simply originate in the mind of an isolated individual removed from the social world but is the product of various social, economic and cultural forces. And Peter McNeil explains how Georg Simmel’s theorizing of everyday life as informed by dualism helps us understand the logic of fashion, at once fuelled by the desire to be like someone else, but also different from someone else or, to put it differently, fashion is as much about sameness as it is about difference.
Theory also involves the careful attention to and command of concepts in one’s analysis and interpretation of a topic. As Stuart Mills observes, ‘“Theory” has to do, above all, with paying close attention to the words one is using, especially their degree of generality and their logical relations’ (2000 : 120). Indeed, ‘specialized terminologies’ (Hills, 2005
: 40) are involved in one’s practice of theory. These are the terminologies of the disciplines that a theoretical framework belongs to and engages with. This book focuses on social and cultural theory, the type of theory that informs the work of thinkers from the social sciences and humanities, which include disciplines such as history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies and media studies.
The boundaries between disciplines are not always clear cut, and the work of many thinkers straddles one or two disciplines. Michel Foucault, for example, is often referred to as a historian, but also as a philosopher. Pierre Bourdieu’s early career is informed by ethnography, but he later established himself in the field of sociology, and both disciplines underpin his thinking. The practice of theory then often involves engagement with a variety of ‘sister’ disciplines and attendant concepts. The work of all of the thinkers discussed in Thinking through Fashion
can be related to, brought into dialogue with, other theories and ideas, concepts and arguments, which they appropriate to support their point and further the understanding of a particular phenomenon. Theorizing does not happen in a vacuum. It does not consist in one’s formulation of arguments out of the blue, but in critical dialogue with existing works and theories; and ‘with the objective of offering new tools by which to think about our world’ (Barker, 2011
: 37–38). As Michel de Certeau puts it: ‘in spite of a persistent fiction, we never write on a blank page, but always on one that that has already been written on’ (1988
This is also why, as Hills observes, theory ‘always refers the reader to a set of texts beyond what is currently being read, gesturing towards a vast intertextual web of material’ (2005
: 39). This web spreads across space – as in the many journals and books where theories can be found – but also across time. The work of Karl Marx for instance, although developed in the nineteenth century, informs the work of later authors, such as Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Baudrillard, who in his early work also cited that of Michel Foucault but later moved away from it (Best and Kellner, 1991
); the work of Mikhail Bakhtin has influenced that of Gilles Deleuze; Judith Butler’s thought is indebted to psychoanalysis and Foucault’s theory of discourse and truth. The theories and concepts of past authors continue to live in the work of their contemporaries.
Because Thinking through Fashion
is organized around the idea of individual thinkers as historical subjects, we have followed a simple chronological order of date of birth. Although the idea of a linear unfolding of time can allow one to grasp the past and the context and origins of some theories and concepts, it fails to capture the idea that the past and the present always intersect in the practice of theory. Our contributors, therefore, whilst introducing individual theories as historical subjects in their moment in time, also emphasize the cross-fertilization of ideas. The book thus highlights the intellectual proximity of authors distanced by history, an approach that also informs our discussion of strands and developments in theory in the next section
Authors alive at the same time might follow a different timeline to fame and recognition. One has to keep in mind that some authors became known or acknowledged earlier than older authors. Also, there can be a discrepancy between the moment when a piece of work was written by its author and the moment it receives attention by other scholars, and in other languages. For example, the work of Mikhail Bakhtin was written in Russia in the 1930s and 1940s, but only received wider attention in Western Europe in the 1960s. Another example is the work of many French post-structuralist authors – such as Foucault and Derrida – who rose to prominence through the translations of American scholars. This phenomenon has been called the ‘transatlantic connection’ or rather ‘disconnection’ (Stanton, 1980
) and has also been addressed as ‘travelling theories’ (Said, 1982
). Theoretical work can be produced and received at different times in different countries, depending on trends in thinking, the availability of translations or social and cultural influences. These are the sorts of a-synchronicities that run alongside the linear organization by date of birth. As our thematic discussion in the next section
demonstrates, although authors may be separate in time, their theories and ideas and the uses that are made of them can bring them close to each other.
Historical time, as Caroline Evans (2000
: 104) notes, drawing on Walter Benjamin, is not ‘something that flows smoothly from past to present but [is …] a more complex relay of turns and returns, in which the past is activated by injecting the present into it’. This is equally true of theory; there, as in historical time, ‘the old and new interpenetrate’ (Benjamin, cited in Evans, 2000
: 102). Thus, the reader may well decide to read the book from beginning to end but could equally enter it thro...