The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object‑Based Research in Fashion PDF by Alexandra Kim and Ingrid E. Mida


The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object‑Based Research in Fashion
by Alexandra Kim and Ingrid E. Mida

The Dress Detective A Practical Guide to Object Based Research in Fashion


6 Foreword
Jean Druesedow
9 Acknowledgments
10 Introduction
14 Chapter 1
A Brief History of Object-based
Research with Dress Artifacts
24 Chapter 2
How to Read a Dress Artifact
38 Chapter 3
60 Chapter 4
74 Chapter 5
82 Chapter 6
Case Study of a Yellow Woolen Pelisse
102 Chapter 7
Case Study of a Gray-blue
Sateen Corset
118 Chapter 8
Case Study of a Brown Velveteen
and Wool Bodice
138 Chapter 9
Case study of a Man’s Evening Suit
Tailcoat and Trousers
158 Chapter 10
Case Study of a Lanvin Wedding
Dress and Headpiece
180 Chapter 11
Case Study of a Ruby Red
Velvet Jacket by Christian Dior
196 Chapter 12
Case study of a Kimono-style
Jacket by Kenzo
216 Appendix 1
Checklist for Observation
220 Appendix 2
Checklist for Reflection
222 Index

It takes a cadre of people to produce a book. The authors would like to acknowledge all the staff at Bloomsbury involved in the production, especially editor Emily Ardizzone, who initially suggested that we take on this project. There are many people that facilitated the research and photography of garments used in the case studies: Katherine Cleaver, Charlotte Fenton, Lexy Fogel, Lu Ann Lafrenz, Jazmin Welch, and especially Robert Ott, Chair of the School of Fashion at Ryerson University. We wish to express our appreciation to those that assisted with our research, including Neil Brochu, Hilary Davidson, Sophie Grossiord, Laure Harivel, Patience Nauta, and Catherine Orman. We also give sincere thanks to our friends and colleagues, who supported the need for this book, including Jean Druesedow, Edwina Ehrman, Amy de la Haye, Alison Matthews David, and Lou Taylor.

We are very grateful to the Society of Antiquaries of London for choosing us as recipients of the 2014 grant from the Janet Arnold Fund, to facilitate the purchase of images for this book. We would also like to express our thanks to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate for permission to include the extract from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.

Finally, we would like to extend our deepest thanks to our families who cheered us on through the most difficult moments, including Dan Mida, and the late Magdalene Masak, as well as Henry Kim, Sheena and Patrick MacCulloch, and Laura MacCulloch.

In this scene between Sherlock Holmes and Watson from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Watson struggles to read the clues in an ordinary black hat (Figure 0.1). For Sherlock Holmes, its appearance— discolored red silk lining, the initials, the dust, the spots—tell a story of a man who was an intellectual, was once well-off, but who had fallen upon hard times, recently had his hair cut, and whose wife had ceased to love him. Unlocking the personal and cultural narratives hidden in the folds of a garment is a little bit like being Sherlock Holmes. A dress detective looks for and interprets the clues, including the details of cut, construction and embellishment, evidence of how the garment was worn, used or altered over time, as well as the relationship of the garment and its materials relative to the body and the period from which it came (Figure 0.2). The close analysis of dress artifacts can enhance and enrich research, providing primary evidence for studies that consider fashion and clothing from perspectives such as history, sociology, psychology, and economics.

Material culture analysis is a research methodology that considers the relationship between objects and the “ways in which we view the past and produce our narratives of what happened in the past” (Pearce 1992: 192). Clothing and accessories, including hats, footwear, jewelry, hairstyles, tattoos, and other forms of body adornment (hereafter referred to as “dress”), are objects created by man and thus reflect the cultural milieu in which they were designed, created and worn. Unlike the textual accounts of history, ordinary objects such as clothing can be seen as “less self-conscious and potentially more truthful” about a culture (Prown 1982: 4).

The study of material culture has a long history as a discipline, especially in the fields of anthropology and art history. In fashion studies, some scholars do not appreciate the value of examining actual garments, dismissing such work as no more than a cataloguing exercise. In 1998, curator Valerie Steele wrote: “Because intellectuals live by the word, many scholars tend to ignore the important role that objects can play in the creation of knowledge. Even many fashion historians spend little or no time examining actual garments, preferring to rely exclusively on written sources and visual representations” (1998: 327). In 2013, curator Alexandra Palmer echoed this sentiment when she wrote: “The seemingly old-fashioned museum-based approach of fashion studies, which begins with a description of the object, is a complex and underutilized approach for new scholars” (2013: 268).

This book aims to serve the scholar who is unfamiliar or new to objectbased research in fashion, and includes checklists and case studies to articulate a skillset that has, until now, largely been passed on informally, typically from curator to assistant. Written in plain language, this book can also be used by anyone with a family heirloom or dress artifact to help discover the biography of the object. The book begins with a brief history of object-based research in fashion studies, highlighting the work of some key players who have advocated for this type of research over the last century; for example, Doris Langley Moore, Jules David Prown, and Alexandra Palmer. Chapter 2, “How to Read a Dress Artifact,” introduces a Slow Approach to Seeing as the praxis to yield optimal results from an examination of dress artifacts. Subsequent chapters reveal and explain the steps of Observation, Reflection, and Interpretation. The selected case studies in the latter half of the book illustrate how this approach can be used with a variety of different types of Western dress artifacts, dating from the early nineteenth century to the present day, and are ones that might typically be encountered when using a museum or study collection. These case studies articulate the methodological framework for the process, illustrate the use of the checklists, and show how evidence from the garment itself can be used to corroborate theories of dress or fashion. The “Checklist for Observation” and the “Checklist for Reflection” are included as appendices.

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