Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Advantages and Ethics of Museum Technology

Museums have always struggled to compete with the draw of emerging technology. Prior to the internet explosion, objects found in museum collections were once only accessible in two forms: viewed in person, or in print publications. Yet people no longer have to rely on these mediums when websites like Artstor and Wikipedia hold in-depth information at their fingertips. Technology, as always, rapidly changes the ways in which people learn. Is its implementation in exhibitions vital to the survival of museums as we know it?

Many institutions are slow to take on new technology for several reasons. Funding is the main issue, but older administrations wish to preserve the traditional sense of museum collections - their physical selves put behind glass or secured displays, to educate and entertain the public. The installation of technology into this arena is a scary feat for those who take care of the same exhibition displays their grandparents enjoyed (a la the American Museum of Natural History). This ethical dilemma, although valid, is hurting arts-related industries around the world.

Luckily, visionaries like Valerie Steele at the Museum at FIT have begun to change the way exhibitions serve the public. The latest installment at the New York facility, Japan Fashion Now, holds contemporary pieces from Japanese designers ranging from haute couture to streetwear - a brilliant move diversifying the Western sense of Japanese dress. The exhibition design is overwhelming as well. Actual photos taken by Steele's husband on their trip to Japan run floor to ceiling, and are meant to convey a feeling that one is standing in Tokyo's busy metropolis.

The most eye-catching feature however, is undoubtedly several high-definition television screens separating each section of the exhibition. These act as didactic labels, inter-spliced with cultural subjects such as language, music videos, interviews and more photos of Japanese fashion. This clear, fast-paced display holds the viewer's interest and allows a plethora of information to be introduced without cluttering the exhibition area.

MFIT has also undertaken several web advancements to generate interest and study. Their newest endeavor, an interactive website in collaboration with Synthescape Art Imaging, creates a competitive edge in the museum PR world. Web surfers can view three objects from the exhibition more intimately than if they were to visit the actual locale. The amazing photographic technology allows visitors to zoom-in incredibly close to view object details (an important aspect of Japanese fashion), both front and back (provided by the rotation button). Not only is the site fun and interesting, but fashion students around the world get a chance to study every stitch, knit and detail of these objects whenever, wherever.

Several museums have introduced items like interactive television displays, phone-based audio tours, high-definition films, video/computerized labels and PC education stations, but none that I have been to thus far have melded the relationship together as well as MFIT has. Perhaps it is because technology and Japanese Fashion share the common concept of "cutting edge," but I believe MFIT is on to something here. The needs of museum-goers are quickly changing with every instantaneous internet application that is developed. If they can't compete with home-based art and science education, they might as well join 'em.

What are some other examples of the interesting and effective uses of technology in museums? Is this sort of technology suitable for all kinds of exhibitions, or just contemporary-based ones? Should institutions work harder to cater to this age of technology, or are the objects still enough of a draw on their own? I'm highly interested in hearing your thoughts and relevant examples.

Photos courtesy of DNAinfo: Manhattan Local News.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Job Opp: Textile Analyst for the US Government

Although fashion studies may seem like a limited career field, if you are willing to look outside of the box you will find many unique and applicable opportunities. I'm posting this one because I know many people would qualify for it and the benefits are really good.

Job Title: Textile Analyst

Department: Department Of Homeland Security

Agency: Customs and Border Protection

Location: Newark, NJ

Job Announcement Number: IHC-376345 BWS DE

Salary Range: $43,738.00 - $84,146.00 /year.

Job Description: You will analyze and test samples of imported textiles, natural and synthetic fibrous products (e.g., flax, polyester) non-fibrous products (e.g., fur, hair, feathers, footwear), and related items submitted in conjunction with regulatory and enforcement activities of the agency. Specifically, you determine the proper approach to the analysis; perform assigned tests on identified samples using wet laboratory procedures or advanced analytical instrumentation; and write reports of findings, interpretations, and conclusions. You will also provide expert advice to other analysts and officials on sampling and instruct other laboratory personnel in analysis techniques. You will attend technical meetings, read relevant reports and publications and may provide technical assistance to U.S. Attorneys preparing court cases. Finally, you may participate in mobile laboratory field operations.

Basic Requirements:

A) Successful completion of a full 4-year course of study in an accredited college or university leading to a bachelor's or higher degree that included a major field of study in textile technology.


B) Combination of education and experience -- courses equivalent to a major in textile technology that included at least 20 semester hours in textile technology and closely related subjects, plus appropriate experience or additional education.

The quality of the combination of education and experience must be sufficient to demonstrate that the applicant possesses the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform work in the occupation, and is comparable to that normally acquired through the successful completion of a full 4-year course of study with a major in the appropriate field. In addition to courses in the major and related fields, a typical college degree would have included courses that involved analysis, writing, critical thinking, research, etc. These courses would have provided an applicant with skills and abilities sufficient to perform progressively more responsible work in the occupation. Therefore, creditable experience should have demonstrated similarly appropriate skills or abilities needed to perform the work of the occupation.


Click here for more information.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Facial Hair and Hairstyle Evolutions of The Beatles

A friend of mine sent me this cute little time line about the Beatles and their changes in hairstyles over the span of their career. It's accurate for the most part, and incredibly fun to analyze. Enjoy!

The History of the Beatles by Hair
From the blog, Alligator Sunglasses.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Textile Science and Friendship Bracelets

Arrived home from a trip to Canada on Friday, and although I don't have time for an in-depth post this week, I thought I'd give you all some nice summer "fluff" which, interestingly enough, is quite relevant to my studies in the most fun of ways.

Friendship bracelets are a traditional summer camp past time. On long bus trips, I usually break out the string box, have the kids pick their colors and either teach them the patterns, or macrame them myself. If it had been any other summer, I wouldn't have regarded the bracelets with any sense of wonder other than "wow, those colors look cool together." A summer after my first year of grad school however, has caused me to examine even something as simple as a Chinese Staircase - how would the great textile scholars classify this adolescent form of art?

Looking back on my notes and materials, I discovered that these patterns are not woven or knit structures. According to Irene Emery's The Primary Structures of Fabrics: An Illustrated Classification, macrame consists of "...inter-working the free-hanging elements of a single set into a fabric" it is considered to be inter-knotting, not inter-looping (as in knitting or crochet, which uses a continuous element) or regular weaving. Macrame is also different because it is formed " knotting elements round adjacent elements, first to one side and then to the other."

For those unfamiliar with Emery's work, elements are objects used in the process of weaving, knitting or knotting. Typically these are threads, but can be anything - hair, metals, plants, etc. These often form the base of textiles; things like beads, sequins, and embroidery are considered "applied elements" because they are added post-process and are not integral to the weave, knit or knot structure.

The pattern I use the most often is the Cobra, which happens to be your typical macrame knot all the way through. From this closeup, it is clear how this pattern is inter-knotted, not just looped (as many often think).

Friendship bracelet enthusiasts have developed their own patterns very similar to those Emery and her contemporaries use to visually describe structures. Again, knotted and woven patterns should not be confused; rather, these are examples of how people interpret these techniques.
Todd's Knitting Blog

Fiber to Fabric (Potter and Corbman).

This is why I love grad school; I readily apply knowledge from the classroom to simple, everyday activities such as making bracelets for campers. I never call them out if I over hear them say "and then you weave it like this" - they are too young to really comprehend the difference. But it does make me feel intelligent to know and recognize the difference (insert smiley emoticon).

Further Reading

Alderman, Sharon. Mastering Weave Structures: Transforming Ideas into Great Cloth.

Earnshaw, Pat. Identification of Lace.

Watson, William. Advanced Textile Design. (just for fun!).

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fashion as Art: Footwear Designs of Marloes ten Bhömer

It's been a busy summer so far! I've been non-stop working since the school year ended, with the CSA conference and some of my own independent research churning along (yes, I'm still on the Czech denim kick). It's been a while since I've had the luxury to write a post however, so here is a little something to mull over until I can get back on a normal schedule.

One of the reasons I became interested in fashion studies is so that I could explore the divide (or is there one?) between fashion and art. Growing up, I recognized that fashion was a form of art - after all, the methodologies of designers are similar to those of artists. They have inspirations, they sketch or conceptualize their craft and most of all, they create. Yet despite the increase of fashion, dress and textile exhibitions in museums both art historical and non, many people deny fashion as an art form in favor of its capitalistic, seemingly vapid industry image.

Guilty as charged, there was a time when I criticized the work of runway couturiers. I couldn't fathom why someone would create an ensemble that couldn't - and wouldn't - be worn by the average person, or even the celebrity at that. But when I looked at each piece like it was a painting or sculpture, it made more sense. Fashion doesn't necessarily have to be worn - it has to be seen, it has to be innovative, and it has to make the viewer think, just like any other work of art.

I'm sure I could dedicate another post to theorizing about "what is couture?" - but I won't do that now. However, I would love to bring to light the designs of Marloes ten Bhömer, who's pieces blew me away. I'll be the first to admit that I am not "up" on the fashion couture fashion scene, but Bhömer is clearly a woman who can be understood by fashionistas and art enthusiasts alike.

Her collection consists mainly of unique shoe designs that challenge the viewer to process the design and wonder, "can people really wear those?" Not to the same extent as Alexander McQueen's outlandishly gawdy chopine-like footwear - Bhömer uses geometry, physics and utilitarian materials like paper, fiberglass and steel to create shoes that are actually functional and visually captivating. She is constantly experimenting with technology, producing unconventional accessories without overwhelming buyers, curators and the common person.

Bhömer, in my opinion, has successfully straddled the line between what makes fashion, fashion, and what makes fashion, art. Below are some of my favorites; I'd love to find more designers like her, so if you know of any good ones, please comment below.
Rotationalmouldedshoe. Materials: Polyurethane rubber and stainless steel.
Noheelsleathershoe. Materials: Leather.
Carbonfibreshoe #1. Materials: Carbon fibreShoes constructed from carbon fibre.
The heels are placed on the side of the shoe, forcing the weight of the body to distribute of from side to side when walking.

All photos courtesy of

Thursday, June 17, 2010

CSA Symposium 2010 Criticisms - Do You Agree?

I've been non-stop traveling since getting back from the the Costume Society of America's National Symposium, so pardon my erratic posting schedule. Future posts will include inspirations from these trips, but I wanted to address some things I hope will help those interested in attending next year's symposium. I've been in talks with many of the CSA big-wigs so improvements are definitely in the works. And despite these little criticisms, I am actually very much looking forward to next year's conference.

Things I learned:

-I found it very hard to locate and socialize with fellow students. There is so much we can learn from each other - ways to improve existing programs, exchanging current research interests, even discovering the specialties of their university collections. I also know that student attendance was lower than normal, not only for the symposium but for CSA membership as a whole. This was a concern addressed to me by several CSA members, so it is good to know that they recognize the problem and are working on a solution.
  • How to fix this: there needs to be a student committee of some sort. One of the CSA's main goals is to garner new student membership. This can only be done if there is a proactive group dedicated to recruitment and student-related events. Most other organizations have student liasons, and CSA should be no exception. It would be great for next year's conference to have some more student meet-and-greets and excursions. It would also be a great place to mediate student's concerns and needs.
-The cost of this conference was inappropriate for these economic times, and definitely not student friendly. This was a major deterrent for many people, who wanted to come to the conference but could not justify the price tag.
  • How to fix this: the cost of the conference basically pays for the use of the venue, along with breakfasts, two lunches, your chance to hear wonderful research and some additional activities. It did NOT include transportation to/from the venue, additional meals, and accommodations, or cultural activities. So it is easy to see why people would decline attending, especially if they are struggling to make ends meet as it is. This can be remedied with a few changes in comfort - find a cheaper venue, with cheaper catering, in a location that is accessible and close to a cultural center. The perfect combination of all these things? A college campus. Housing could be offered in the dorms (most make their students vacate by the time the conference is scheduled) or at a nearby hotel with a shuttle service (for those who seek comfort over quality). Not to mention, it would be a great way to see the campuses and collections of sponsoring cities, because many of the presenters are professors and local museum curators.
-In my opinion, it is only worth investing in this conference if you are presenting a paper. Although the research exhibition component is important, participants get hardly any face time because they are placed at the end of the conference, when most people are either leaving or attending concurrent sessions. Also, the annual meeting ran late, giving us only about an hour to discuss our work with those few who were interested in checking out the research exhibitions. I'm glad I got the opportunity to "present" but the amount of time and effort spent on putting it all together didn't feel worth it without criticism from attendees.
  • How to fix this: have the posters up for the entire conference, with special discussion times throughout the schedule. Most events ended at 6pm, there is definitely a lot of time for short chats. The few people who came to the research exhibitions seemed to enjoy the content, and I'm sure that the ones who left would have liked an opportunity to see and discuss them as well.
-I could do without Kansas City. The city's layout was very disjointed and there is virtually no public transportation, making outside excursions costly and time-consuming to plan.
  • How to fix this: although regional fairness must be considered, it would have been helpful to have had a tour of the city as an activity, or even a packet of notable sites, places to eat, go dancing, etc. The next two conferences will be in Boston and Atlanta, so attaining these goals will be a little easier. This is not merely a youthful response, either; I ran into many older attendees who wanted to go out, but had no idea as to where to go.
For those of you who attended the conference, do you agree/disagree with any of my statements? What do you think were the highs/lows of this year's conference? The members I have been talking to are very concerned with how to improve future symposiums, and all questions and comments are welcome!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Brief Course of Events - CSA National Symposium 2010

I wanted to give a brief write-up of the Costume Society of American's Annual Symposium, for those of you who were unable to attend. Overall, I'm very pleased to have been in Kansas City for the conference; I met a lot of great people, and had a lot of stimulating conversations with professors, curators and dress enthusiasts. You can read more about who presented and the topics discussed here.

Wednesday, May 26th:
My first taste of the symposium began with the opening reception. I recognized very few people, but was able to meet and greet the likes of Anne Bissonette and the legendary June Burns Bove, as well as chat with some first timers about their goals, schooling, job offers, etc. I met up with Monica Sklar (editor of the blog WornThrough) after the award ceremony, and talked fashion studies with some really cool ladies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who run the Fashion Resource Center. I was inspired by their school's promotion of contemporary fashion and encouragement of their students to touch, drape, and interact with their extensive collection. Something to think about, for future endeavors...

Thursday, May 27th: After breakfast, the juried paper sessions began. I especially liked seeing Monica Sklar's (University of Minnesota) presentation of her research on punk dress in the workplace. She provided a great model for future dress studies, and her presentation layout was also eye-catching and effective. I also really enjoyed an analysis by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) on a French Revolutionary-era gilet (vest/waistcoat). She presented a lot of interesting research on the fascinating tongue-and-cheek designs of bourgeois fashion.

I also attended a professional development seminar based on utilizing primary sources other than extant garments for research purposes. I was interested in this seminar particularly because I do not have access to many existing garments pertaining to my interests. It turned out to be a really enlightening seminar, where attendees shared their knowledge as well as their desire to have researchers come to their institutions. I was glad to hear this, because I've been a bit jaded by the near impossible access to collections in New York City. The fact that there are museums and historic societies that are dying to have people come research their garments makes me feel better about my chosen professional (aka I thought we had to keep our treasures under lock-and-key).

Friday, May 28th: Although I missed out on the Teaching Dress History discussion panel, I was able to catch a few more paper sessions such as Nadine L. Stewart's (FIT) Master's thesis on Millinery life and Clarissa Esguerra's extremely thorough analysis of a dress in LACMA's collection that had been made in the 1830s and then refashioned in the 1840s. I was very impressed by how she was able to recognize the patterns and cuts of the dress and draw her conclusions based on its construction.

After lunch I sat in on a concurrent paper session, where I was able to hear Katalin Medvedev's (University of Georgia) field research on grassroots fashion development in Cambodia. It was wonderful to meet her because she has done similar work regarding Communist dress in Hungary. Also during this session were enlightening presentations on progressive fashion photography of the 1930s and 1940s, wardrobe stylists who use original craft techniques for period films, and a biographical "introduction" of Muriel King, a 20th century designer that had been the focus of a senior exhibition at FIT in 2009.

Saturday, May 29th: The day started out with the Stella Blum Student Grant awardee's paper presentation. Katie Knowles, a PhD student at Rice University, did extensive research pertaining to slave clothing in the United States. I was very impressed by her knowledge and the amount of research she was able to uncover because there are so few slave garments available. It was also nice to hear that many of her items came from the Charleston Museum (thanks for helping her out, Jan Hiester!). This grant was definitely well deserved, as "plain" clothing is vastly under researched and hard to find in museum collections.

Then came the research exhibitions. I must admit, this was probably the most disappointing part of the entire symposium, even though I was presenting. First of all, the annual meeting ran 15 minutes over schedule, and we only originally had about an hour an a half to display our work. Secondly, they placed the session on the last day, when many people leave the conference. The session also ran concurrently during a seminar hosted by June Burns Bove on dressing mannequins, and come on, you can't compete with Ms. Bove! She's just so fabulous. I was able to interact with a few members who graciously stopped by, but in the end I felt like I had put in a lot of effort for very little face time.

Attending this year's symposium made me excited for future CSA events. I look forward to next year's conference in Boston, where I plan on presenting a paper on Douglas Millings, as well as possibly hosting a professional development seminar. My next post will discuss specific critiques of the symposium, as well as new suggestions (from both peers and myself) that may benefit the promotion of the CSA's goals and future endeavors.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Follow me on Twitter!

For those of you on Twitter, I'll be tweeting from the Costume Society of America's National Symposium starting tomorrow, May 26th. Although it's been somewhat taxing these past few weeks, I think overall it's going to be a worthwhile experience.

So look out for my updates! You can follow me here. I'll also be updating for the blog, WornThrough. Check out their Twitter here.

See you in Kansas City!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The New Curatorial Generation: What Do We Need to Know?

Exhibition case from the 2010 Graduate exhibition, "Scandal Sandals and Lady Slippers: A History of Delman Shoes"

At FIT, upper level graduate students get the chance to develop and execute an actual exhibition, staged in the graduate galleries at MFIT. This has always been a challenging but rewarding experience, mainly because it is the first time (for many) that students get to put their studies into practice. Students act as curators, conservators, registrars, public relations people, and many other positions that are meant to emulate those available in any given museum setting.

I'm excited to see who will serve in each position, because I know our class is strong. I have a few inklings as to who will get what, and I think that those people are very appropriate choices. There are certain jobs which I know I'd be good at because I've done them before, but I'm compelled to apply for a position that would broaden my skill set and make me a more well-rounded job candidate upon graduation.

Museums were particularly hit hard by the recession, but employment progress is slowly starting to regain strength. Still, many over qualified people have to fight for small positions that require more responsibility, experience and skill requirements than probably are needed. For example, I've worked in museums before where several jobs were crunched down into one because of budgetary reasons. Having a lot of experience in one field is, of course, beneficial, but anyone who's worked in a museum before can tell you that unless you're at the Met or a Smithsonian institution, a curator is never just a curator.

I've interned at the Charleston Museum and the New York City Police Museum and can tell you first hand how many hats a curator can wear. The curator of textiles at the Charleston Museum was also the registrar, and was responsible for designing and installing her own exhibition layouts, ordering supplies, handling and conserving the objects. The collections manager at the NYCPM also worked on the museum's development, archival materials and collections database entries. Most museums don't even have area-specific curators. With this ever shrinking field, we need to be prepared for any task that comes our way.

For those of you who currently work or have worked in museums before, what has been your most valuable work-related experience? Are there any positions you particularly enjoyed? And what kinds of new and interesting positions do you foresee developing in the near future? Post your thoughts and advice!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who Dressed The Beatles?: Pierre Cardin, Douglas Millings and the Collarless Suit of the 1960s

Below is a little snippet from a paper I just wrote for my History of 20th Century Fashion class. The paper is a comparison of the collarless suits created by Pierre Cardin and Douglas Millings, tailor for The Beatles. In my research I've often come across statements like "Pierre Cardin designed the iconic suits of The Beatles" and that "The Beatles made Pierre Cardin's suit fashionable in the 1960s" but I don't believe that Cardin deserves so much credit for this accomplishment. Although Millings is well known to Beatles fans, he is often only an afterthought when it comes to analysis of Beatles fashion.

I've included a section which compares the historical context and designs of the two suits. They are very similar, but I think their differences allot enough distinctive qualities. Let me know what you think...


It is important to realize that the collarless suits of Pierre Cardin and those rendered by Douglas Millings are similar, but not identical. It is highly likely that Millings drew his inspiration from Cardin's initial design. However, careful research reveals that the Cylinder style and the suits worn by The Beatles are unique enough to distinguish themselves apart.

Cardin's design of the 1960s are the epitome of simplicity. Part of the reason his designs were not favored by the fashion press initially was because they lacked the familiar features of menswear from that time – boxy, rigid jackets, stiff white shirts with angular collars, and broad trousers that were pressed so hard, they gave off the appearance of finely sharpened razor blades.[i] These suits of the 1940s and 1950s made young men look old, and old men look even older. This made for an even more apparent contrast between youth dress influenced by the edginess of Rock 'n Roll, and their fathers and grandfathers who still abided by a very formal style of dress.

Cardin’s final product was a slim, sleek design which had never been seen before from a menswear couturier. Cardin's models buttoned all five jacket buttons to the neckline, displaying just a peek of their tucked-in shirt collars and straight-form ties. Autumn ensembles were made of corduroy, with one breast pocket and two hip pockets on the jacket, and the spring ensembles were made of cotton, without pockets. The sleeves were purposely cut short to reveal the cuffs of the shirts underneath, highlighting Cardin's penchant for cufflinks.[ii] The trousers were pressed, but hung loosely on the hips of the student models.

Cardin's designs created a balance between the worlds of old and new. Still honoring the art of the tailored suit, he utilized his skills to soften the overall appearance of the male form. By removing bulky embellishments like lapels, tails, collars and cuffs, and tapering the trousers, Cardin created an outfit that literally “suited” a younger, hipper and burgeoning intellectual type of man. By using materials like corduroy and cotton, he also revoked the stereotype that men's clothing should be uncomfortable and stiff – Cardin, always looking to the future, knew that his suit was designed for a progressive generation.

Cardin's "Cylinder Style" suit (left) and Millings' Beatle suit (right). Notice the differences in design and construction.

Millings too could see this shift in the way the younger generation responded to fashion. Whether or not he studied Cardin's designs intently - or even followed the fashion press at all – is unknown, but he must have been somewhat in-touch with fashion enough to realize that his suits would truly set the standard for menswear of the time. An employee of Millings by the name of Tom Gilbey once remarked, “I think it’s fair to say that they [The Beatles] did steal that look fro Pierre Cardin. But their look did evolve from that.”

Millings never (publicly) admitted to where his inspiration came from regarding his collarless suits. In an interview he once said, “…I dreamed up the round-neck collar. I make no claims I invented it, but we did add individual touches - the bell-shaped cuff with the link button; this strange collar with the four buttons.”[iii] Indeed, Millings' design was strikingly similar to that of Cardin's. But obvious details make the collarless suit of 1963 different from the collarless suit of 1960.

The original suits from DA Millings and Son were made of gray wool mixed with mohair and came in several colors, some of which The Beatles never wore.[iv] This material was luxurious but comfortable, durable but flattering and the design proved easy to replicate for Millings once public demand for “Beatle suits” arose. The original suits also had mother-of-pearl buttons, which changed to more conventional materials after Epstein ordered several other sets for the band.[v]

Millings varied his construction from that of Cardin's suit. The most obvious detail was that he outlined the edges in black piping. The jackets have slit pockets angled at the hips – only some of Cardin’s suits had pockets, and when they did, they were patch-style. Millings’ suits also only have three buttons, which are buttoned to the neck in the same fashion that the Cylinder suits are shown. But the neck of Millings’ suits have an opening that slightly wider in circumference than Cardin's.[vi]

Millings also beveled the sleeves and added working buttonholes. The back of Millings’ jackets have 2 small, vertical slits that allow for comfort and ease of movement during performances – also a non-constrictive benefit when running from crowds of teenage girls. Scrutinizing these unique details shows that Millings created a “variation on a theme” that proved to be more successful than Cardin’s original designs.

[i] Joshua Sims, Rock Fashion, (London: Omnibus, 1999), 22-23.

[ii] Richard Morais. Pierre Cardin: The Man Who Became a Label, (Bantam Transworld LTD, 1991), 96-97.

[iii] Paul Gorman, The Look: Adventures in Pop and Rock Fashion. (London: Sanctuary, 2001).

[iv] "Liverpool Museums - Beatles Suit." Liverpool Museums - National Museums Liverpool. Web. 12 April 2010. .

[v] Douglas Martin, “Dougie Millings, 88, the Tailor for the Beatles,” New York Times, October 8, 2001, Obituary section.

[vi] Russ W, Lease, "Cardin vs. Millings Paper." Telephone interview. 29 Mar. 2010.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Americans in Paris: FIT's Graduate Student Symposium

No new post for this week, I've got two papers to write this weekend: one on traditional Czech dress under Communism, the other comparing the collarless suits of Pierre Cardin and DA Millings. I've got a good start, but I still have a lot of work to do...

Anyway, for those of you in the Tri-State area, please come out and support the graduating MA students from FIT! A few of them are presenting some really cool papers pertaining to fashion correlations between America and Paris. I'll be there, and you should be too!

Check out the lineup here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

CSA Conference 2010 - Anyone Going?

As a cross-reference to Worn Through, who is planning on attending the Costume Society of America's National Symposium this year?

This is my first year as a member, and my first year presenting as well (I'm doing a research exhibition on Blue Jean Culture and Transformation in 20th Century Czech History). I know a lot of people who usually attend are not going this year, and to be honest, I'm not very surprised. The location is new for me but doesn't have the same kind of "vacation" attraction appeal that some larger cities do. The overall conference price - even at the discounted student rate - is also a bit of a reach for those suffering from the economic downturn.

I plan on tweeting during the conference, so be on the lookout for those updates. I'll be there from Wednesday, May 26th to Saturday, May 29th (my birthday!), presenting that Saturday morning. I'm excited to meet the other members and hopefully stir things up a bit. I've heard from many people that they are looking for ways to build up younger membership, and I've got a few ideas...

So, who is going? If you're not going, what has prevented you? I'm willing to address any issues or concerns - from both members and non - with the higher-ups of the CSA. They are no-doubt concerned about this year's low attendance and would welcome any feedback or ideas you have.

See you there!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shameless Plug: Americans in Paris: Designers, Buyers, Editors, Photographers, Models and Clients in Paris Fashion

The MA program in Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory and Museum Practice is hosting their annual Graduate Studies symposium on May 8th, 2010. Each year, the Advanced Professional Seminar class spends a semester researching, writing and planning this unique Fashion Studies event, learning the skills needed to write and present a professional paper in front of an audience. The symposium's theme is generated by exhibitions held at The Museum at FIT; this year, the theme centers around Americans in Paris, coinciding with MFIT's latest exhibition, American Beauty.

Many of the presenters are accomplished students at FIT. All have previously worked on the Graduate Studies exhibition on Delman shoes, and many hold internships in costume or conservation institutions around New York.

If you are in the New York area, I encourage you to come out on Saturday afternoon for what will be a most enlightening event. The schedule is listed below (click to enlarge it):

Hope to see you there!!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fashion and Field Work: An Effective Case Study

I often have conversations with peers about how to garner more credibility for fashion studies. The difficulty lies mainly in the fact that there is little to no "defined" methodology for our field - I've run up against this wall several times during my experiences at school. For example, my approach to fashion studies as an anthropologist is different than, say, a historian, a chemist, even a designer's own approach. Of course, a set methodology takes years to develop and until collaboration between disciplines is more concrete, this goal may be even farther out of reach.

In my case, the future of anthropology relies on practicing field work, generally set up within two categories - archaeological, and ethnographic. The latter concerns cultural anthropology, for it is developed based on interactions with and observations of people, not just things and places.

Much ethnographic research within the field of fashion studies pertain to indigenous cultures, who's traditional uses of dress are still practiced today. Although intriguing, this research only benefits our understanding of a specific cultural practice, not fashion studies as a whole. In order to legitimize our field, there needs to be a reform in the way ethnographic fashion research is carried out.

Frances Ross' field research on the "bespoke" and "demi-bespoke" tailoring industry in present day London is an excellent example of progressive ethnographic research in the field of fashion studies. Utilizing such research approaches as participant observation and qualitative interviewing, Ross (Course Director at the London College of Fashion) investigated "what is currently happening in the industry in terms of textiles, colour, style and manufacture" (Ross, 281). Her article published in The Journal of the Textile Institute (2007:i. 98:n. 3) maps out a perfect methodology for future studies that would be taken seriously by any anthropological expert.

Ross introduces her topic with a brief history of the London tailoring districts, many of which became subjects of her study. She continues with a list of publications concerning "Men's bespoke and ready-made tailoring texts" to support her project (Ross, 283). Her study rationale explores the concept of "phenomenological research," her decisions to use qualitative over statistical data and a relative definition of ethnography which may not be so easily understood by those outside of the field of anthropology (Ross, 283). She includes her sampling and interview methodology, and provides a chart of participating establishments, their location, date and time of interview and other establishments that were subsequently recommended to her by each interviewee.

A lengthy section is dedicated to actual interview snippets which support her research. The tailors featured discuss topics such as definitions of "New English Tailoring," fabric choice innovations, technological advancements and how they are implemented within the tailoring industry, and stylistic influences upheld by current tailors.

Ross' study is intriguing and incredibly well put together. Other similar studies have been attempted but none have resulted in such a smooth presentation as "Refashioning London's Bespoke and Demi-Bespoke Tailors." I'll keep Ross' methodology and approach in mind for future studies. I'm also interested in finding similar studies to keep on hand as examples. I'll be applying for a Fulbright fellowship soon and will need all the polished ethnographic field research I can get!

Breward, Christopher. "Cultures, Identities, Histories: Fashioning a Cultural Approach to Dress." Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 2.4

Browne, Ray B. and Pat Browne, Eds. Methodologies in Archeology, Anthropology and other Fields.

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Culture: Selected Essays.

Gott, Suzanne. "Asante High-timers and the Fashionable Display of Women's Wealth in Contemporary Ghana" Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture,13.2

Prown, Jules David. “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Methodology.” Winterthur Portfolio 17 (Spring 1982).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Responsible Fashion: Africa
Global Mamas employees pose for a picture during batiking.

Since entering into the world of fashion studies, I have longed to combine my love for dress with another passion of mine - community outreach. If academic fashion fails me in the end, my backup plan is to establish sustainable, responsible fashion production centers around the world.

Time Magazine predicts that "green" technology and various related occupations will pull the world out of this economic rut. But of course, not everyone has the background or capital to start a non-profit from the ground up. That's okay - this is the perfect time to begin supporting fair-trade fashion organizations. Part of contributing to a green economy is by purchasing its products. It is only until people start buying sustainable and fair-trade fashion that it'll make an impact on the entire industry (aka it will get cheaper).

To create awareness, I'm going to produce a series of posts dedicated to various geographical regions hosting fair-trade or sustainable fashion and textile production centers. In light of a recent grant I proposed, I'm going to start with Africa.

Global Mamas
Interns accepted? Yes
Can you visit? Yes. They have workshops in Ghana, including a retail store in Cape Coast. Many fair-trade shops in America host their products.

Global Mamas is a subdivision of the Ghanaian non-profit organization, Women in Progress. Founded by Peace Corps volunteers Renea Adam and Kristin Johnson in 2002, Global Mamas has provided opportunities for women to increase their personal revenue and create localized, woman-owned businesses across Africa. Adams and Johnson believe that “helping women gain economic independence is the most effective way to reduce dependence on foreign aid and steadily create a prosperous society.”

All Global Mamas products are created by Ghanaian residents in workshops across the country. Traditional methods such as batik, bead making, weaving and soap production are used to create clothing, home goods, jewelry and bath items which are then shipped to fair-trade distributors in Europe and America. (Click to expand post)

Interns accepted? Unknown.
Can you visit? Generally, yes. Send an inquiry to Max and he can let you know.

The success of SUNO is proof that fashion, sustainability, responsibility and fair-trade can work together to create competitive products in a global fashion economy. Max Osterweis, an American designer and film maker, created SUNO after realizing that the textiles he collected on various trips to Kenya could be used to create marketable clothing in the Western fashion industry. Osterweis took into account the political and economic situation in Kenya when he began his company, employing locals at workshops in Nairobi and Nakuru. SUNO allows employees to not only showcase their talents and artistry, but provides them with a chance to rebuild themselves financially after recent political unrest decreased capital from foreign tourism.

SUNO also utilizes locality on the domestic front as well. All design concepts are conceived in New York City's garment district, where patterns and sample pieces are drawn up and sent back to Kenya for their final construction. NYC's garment district has seen a revival in recent years, with many designers returning back to the area's warehouses to produce clothing and accessories, instead of outsourcing. Osterweis connects charity and couture, spreading awareness of fair-trade practices through his high-end designs.

Interns accepted? Unknown.
Can you visit? Unknown. Their collection can be purchased online or in stores in the UK.

Amana's initial philosophy is "to make beautiful clothes with ethical origins and to illustrate that environmentally and socially responsible fashion can equate to exquisite design and quality." Launching their first collection in 2007, London designers Helen Wood and Erin Tabrar employ the services of women from a village called Ain Leuh in the mountains of Morocco to manufacture their designs. They source materials such as organic cottons and silks, and work with companies in the United Kingdom to produce low-impact dyes for their gorgeous collections.

The word "Amana" is Arabic for "delivered in trust," a trust that can be upheld through the company's choice of eco-friendly materials and methods of production. They even provide a list of their credentials on their website, to prove their legitimacy and commitment to responsible fashion. They also offer their products at competitive prices, acknowledging the fact that sustainable fashion can only do its job if it is available to the masses, not a privileged few.

Please check out these companies, and the role they play in supporting fair-trade practices within the fashion industry. If there are some other companies working in Africa that you know about, please pass them along! I'd love to take a look at them and possibly work with them in the future.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NYC Fashion Studies Symposiums - A Chance for Collaboration?

Graduate programs across the 5 boroughs have sent out invitations for their end-of-the-year symposiums. It is my goal to attend as many of these as possible, to see what others in the field of costume, fashion and textile studies are up to. Many of these symposiums consist of final-semester student papers, but it does get me wondering - if all of these schools promote their own symposia, is there any chance there could be a city-wide collaboration? It seems silly that I should have to schlep all over town just to hear a few relevant papers at each institution.

Presenting papers or projects at conferences is vital for scholars of fashion studies. The field's visual nature warrants exposure of intriguing topics. These events build up academic credibility and look fabulous on resumes and CVs. They also allow established experts to provide feedback and/or collaboration, which means support for your research. These experts may also lead you in new directions, such as further education and even occupational opportunities.

Of course, academic calendars vary institution to institution, and not every graduate program emphasizes fashion and textiles in their curricula. Even so, there are enough people out there - professors included - that could benefit from mutual exposure in a setting such as a symposium. NYU had four presentations (which were really well done and enlightening!), and there will be six presentations for the symposium at FIT. There are at least three relevant presentations from the Bard Graduate Center's symposium and one from the Cooper-Hewitt/Parsons consortium - and I'm only referring to student works here. That's more than enough people to represent a full-day fashion studies symposium.

Time and dedication to organization is most likely the culprit. Any event consumes personal time - something many scholars have little of to begin with. People need enough time to solicit participation, review submissions, find a space, schedule a keynote speaker and formulate some kind of entertainment. There also needs to be a significant budget for renting a space, advertising, publications and refreshments. All of these factors I'm sure have contributed to lack of city-wide university collaboration.

Clear notification of events open to public submissions must be established as well. Although the CH/P conference was open to outside participants, I received the invitation two weeks prior to the deadline - whereas those graduate students had about a semester or so to work on their submissions, it gave myself little time to formulate a topic relevant to the theme. Part of the work I do for Worn Through is to sift through websites like H-Net for relevant conferences, and CH/P never appeared until a CH insider sent me the criteria.

There has been a lot of animosity between graduate programs lately, which may contribute to the separation of events (although that seems like an immature notion on the academic system's part). Professors wish to exhibit their students in the highest way possible - it looks bad if student representation ratios are uneven, not to mention the intellectual content structures of one institution may be totally different from another. I don't really buy MA-program competition as an excuse for non-collaboration, but I also don't rule it out.

For those of you who study/teach in the NYC area, what do you think about the possibility of a combined symposium for those involved in academic fashion studies? This could eliminate the need for separate events, or occur on top of curriculum-based ones. Are there any points I might have left out concerning this topic (aka is this an unrealistic goal?), and most importantly, are there people out there who would be interested in organizing, presenting and attending an event like this?

Those from out of state with relevant advice, please chime in as well! I am definitely interested in collaborating a more consistent exposure setting for fashion studies work and a conference - even a small one - sounds like a good idea to me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scholarly Writing: Primary Sources

Sketch by Madame Gres for Bergdorff Goodman, from FIT Special Collections

In light of my recent Midterm assignments and spring break hiatus, I think it's appropriate to dedicate this post to scholarly writing for fashion studies. It's also a personal reminder that I have two research papers due at the end of May...oops.

Once you've developed your thesis, finding evidence to support your claims is necessary. You may have a brief list of titles or inspirations used to define your topic, but most research papers typically benefit from bibliographies of five pages or more. Seem like a lot? You'd be surprised how much you can find.

The easiest way to define a primary source is to figure out the context from which it was written. Is it in first person? Does its words or construction define a time period? Is it a commentary or written from a modern viewpoint?

Examples pertinent to the field of fashion studies include:
  • Tangible objects - fashion scholars have the advantage of studying surviving objects in order to support their research in a way that, say, a war historian or a medical anthropologist can not. Looking closely at the cut and construction of an object, analyzing its materials, and researching any distinguishing stamps or labels provides excellent evidence for our field.
  • Photographs - these provide pictorial evidence of garments and accessories as they were meant to be worn. We visually see how a dress falls on the body, the kind of event it would have been worn at, and what types of people it was worn by. They can also be helpful with dating - other objects featured provide clues. Photograph technology - daguerreotypes, Polaroids, glossy, etc. - help narrow down time-frames as well.
  • Sketches and Fashion Plates - A sketch or fashion plate can reveal oodles of information. If you are lucky, you'll find a signature of the illustrator, a date, the name of the object, technical notes, etc. Fashion plates, the precursor of fashion magazines, are abundant in many collections. Although human features are often exaggerated, they provide insight as to what was fashionable at the time.
  • Newspaper and Magazine Articles - these usually have dates attached to them. Useful for charting the progress of designers, style changes and important events in fashion history.
  • Advertisements - ads are great for placing research contextually. Trends, constructions and designs can be dated if they are found within newspapers, magazines, even commercials. You can tell by an ad what kind of audience it is trying to reach, what companies were producing certain styles and who endorsed them.
  • Historic Documents - these are most useful for scholars interested in pre-modern dress (when actual objects are scarce and photographic evidence does not exist). Many personal accounts, such as Antoine Furetière's descriptions of 17th century court dress in Dictionnaire Universel, help historians and theorists "visualize" clothing and accessories. (Click to expand post)

  • Paintings - although they are the "photographs of the past," paintings are not always historically accurate. This is especially true for commissioned paintings, where the artist was at the mercy of the patron's requests. Many portraits, for example, depict elaborately rendered textile patterns that may have never existed (ie: the portrait of Eleonara di Toledo and her son, painted by Bronzino, features a dress fabric that was probably inspired by a panel or curtain).
  • Diaries/Autobiographies - while these provide wonderful personal insights into the minds of, say, fashion designers and enthusiasts, they have the problem of being biased and/or exaggerated. Personal quotations are better sought out from newspapers or magazines to ensure accuracy of statements and opinions.
  • Film - some people use movies to study costume, but documentaries because feature real-life representations of how clothing sits on a body, and how it is used in action. Films can be tricky; costumes can be exaggerated or designed with an artistic "vision" in mind. Some costumes are also used based upon what will work for the film, as opposed to what is actually fashionable or regularly worn. Also keep in mind, a film released in 1961 does not necessarily represent 1961 fashions - larger gaps may exist between film production and when it's released to the public.
  • Novels, poems and songs - although generally fictional, inspiration for these works are can be drawn from feelings for or during a certain time period. However, the way in which an author, poet or song writer uses aesthetic imagery may be allegorical or used to emphasize character qualities, not illustrating what might have actually be worn in the time and place of the literary work. Some descriptions of dress and fashion are sensory and help readers visualize how a garment or accessory would sound, feel, smell, but scholars should always proceed with caution when using them to support a thesis.
  • Museums - most (if not all) museums have some kind of costume or textile collection. If you'd like to look at a garment or accessory up-close, make an appointment. Most museum staff members are happy to accommodate these requests and provide any other information you may need.
  • Archives - Photographs, documents, sketches and advertisements (basically anything paper-based) can be found within the archives of a museum, company or private collection. These too are usually appointment-based, however more and more institutions are willing to scan items and send them via email if you know exactly what you are looking for.
  • Libraries - many museum, university and local library collections can be accessed by the public. Places like the Library of Congress or the New York Public Library have facsimiles of rare books, manuscripts and scholarly publications that may aid in your research.
  • Historic/Personal interest societies - members of these are knowledgeable about their specific topics. You'd be surprised how willing they are to help out! For example, a film society may point you in the right direction when in search of documentaries featuring daywear from the 1950s. An easy internet search will bring up this information.
The Ohio State University's History program has compiled a list of institutions with significant costume and textile collections. I suggest bookmarking it for future reference!