Annebella Pollen introduces a new Bloomsbury publication : The study of dress history has developed exponentially over the past twenty-five years, as members of the RIG special interest group will know well. Once considered marginal and frivolous, a generation of scholars and curators has worked hard to counter these accusations through rigorous research into all aspects of the production, circulation and consumption of clothing. The University of Brighton has played a key role in developing these debates through teaching, conferences and publications. A new title, edited by two of Brighton’s lecturers, provides the latest addition to the field and argues that dress history has now come of age.
Showcasing the newest of research, Dress History: New Directions in Theory and Practice, co-edited by Charlotte Nicklas and Annebella Pollen, brings together twelve essayists who each reflect, through their particular case studies, on the methods and practices for dress research and interpretation, and what the study of dress can contribute to our understanding of the world. Featuring a rich international range of established names and emerging voices, the collection highlights original work that focuses closely on dress artefacts and images. Chapters stretch from the eighteenth century to today, drawing on material from around the world. Much of this scholarship helps to uncover hidden and untold stories as they are articulated through dress. One of the key developments in the recent study of dress is the movement away from a primary focus on the dress of the European and North American elite. Some of the most compelling current research concerns clothing worn by ordinary people, along with those marginalised by mainstream society. Chapters in Dress History address such groups, from nineteenth-century Afro-Brazilian women to mid-twentieth century gay men. The unfashionable socks-and-sandals combination and the clothing choices of rural housewives are as much under scrutiny as celebrated couturiers and collectors, from Norman Hartnell to Isabella Stewart Gardner.
The book also reflects on the legacy of the contribution to the subject made by Professor Lou Taylor. Any discussion of the area must acknowledge her contribution; this collection is no exception. From a background in fashion design to a half-century long career in research, curating, teaching and writing, Taylor’s contributions to dress history scholarship have been hugely influential for several generations of scholars, including those who have benefitted directly from her teaching (Dress History’s editors) and those who have engaged with her many publications (all of the contributors to the collection). Taylor contributed a touching personal preface to the book and the cover image shows articles from the University of Brighton’s Dress History Teaching Collection. This handling resource, compiled by Taylor over decades of assiduous collecting and rescue, is designed to give students first-hand experience of examining dress in the flesh. As the lead image for the book, the 1960s patent pumps and the golden interwar ballroom dancing slippers also encapsulate the book’s concern with dress as worn and lived. The scuffed shoes are inscribed with stories and infused with fantasies, but like the best research, they remain close to the ground.
Dress History: New Directions in Theory and Practice, edited by Charlotte Nicklas and Annebella Pollen, is published by Bloomsbury Academic: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/dress-history-9780857856401/