in the groove

History and Culture of Fashion Blog

My long-standing interest in the theory of fashion is centred around studies of bodily practice and feminism, and how these correlate with the histories and cultures of fashion, including the dynamic social implications they pose. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s (cited in Negrin, 2016) writing defines the undeniable links between fashion and the body, as experiential vehicles of our environment. Fashion is more than the aesthetic; the practice and history of fashion is concerned with how our bodies function in space.

We articulate our sense of self and use visual readings to understand other’s presentations through dress. Judith Butler (cited in Wissinger, 2016) writes that interactions constrained by existing power structures give the body and dress meaning which transcends the visual. This can surpass binaries of all kinds and challenge heteronormative critiques, which are utilised to other those outside of the accepted rules of dress which form and enforce our identities.

My work on bodily practices and the feminine form, as a site for the presentation of femininity as an expression of empowerment, has developed since my photographic project Am I Your Muse (2019). The work presented contorted and non-sexualised imagery of the feminine form in order to question the ways in which viewers perceive them. This has integral links to the politics of fashion and dress, and how women are expected to present.

I developed strong enthusiasm for theoretical work when writing my Batchelor’s Dissertation entitled Class and Gender in Richard Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh (2019).Within this I studied notions of the feminine-grotesque and signifiers of taste and shame, with links to material culture including women’s fashion.

The history of fashion is a fundamental area of study in material culture and bodily politics. This gives us a background with which we can form social understanding of those around us today, including ourselves – our class, gender, culture and sense of self – our reasons for being as we are. Fashion historians such as Amber Butchart and Raissa Bretaña provide information with which we can understand dress of the past, and how this influences contemporary culture.

Feminist readings of dress have formed the background of my main area of interest, mid-century fashion, mainly 1940s-1970s. These crucial and formative years in the development of feminism informed fashion in a multitude of juxtaposing ways over the decades. In my personal life I find fashions from these decades allow me to express my every mood (including the hyper-feminine, the empowered woman, the post-gender idealist, and any mix of these). This is why they form the inspiration for my own style. My enthusiasm for vintage styling has developed my interest in second-hand shopping and slow-fashion, a term popularised by Grace Beverly, founder of sustainable fashion brand, Tala. Dana Thomas’ book Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion & The Future of Clothes details visionary designers who are breaking away from fast-fashion, through use of 3-D printing, smart manufacturing and lab-grown material methodology. In concurrence with anti-fast fashion learning, I enjoy dressmaking and creating garments for myself, friends…and sometimes my dog.

I was born in the late nineties, when fashion underwent a radicalisation that other academic fields were not yet involved in. Third-wave feminism looked at fashion with fresh eyes and understood the reappropriation of dress as an empowering and emancipating bodily practice, that did not have to be dictated by patriarchal standards. Essentially, women can wear what they want when they want, to feel however they want to feel. It is beneficial to retrace history with this viewpoint, which can be uncovered in many epochs of fashion, including Mary Quant’s design of the miniskirt and the bodily autonomy it granted early pioneers of the trend in the 1960s.

I am interested in the history of London’s fashion, designers and pioneers, including Mary Quant, Ossie Clark, David Bowie, Zandra Rhodes and more. I am currently reading about the cultural science of dress, how clothes ‘speak’, and what makes them fashion, in Fred Davis’ book Fashion, Culture and Identity. I enjoy research and writing on the subject, as well as making and styling fashion items; a skill I have developed since studying A-Level Textiles, in which I created an outfit for a drag artist. I will start to share my writing online via this blog, and my own styling through my Instagram account @in.the.groove. I hope to use these platforms to make connections with others to share theories on fashion history.

I engage with feminist discourse on this subject due to my personal experience of fashion as a tool of self-expression, and the ways in which society can condemn you as quickly as they will praise you for this, dependant on your adherence to ideal feminine standards of presentation and respectability.

Érin Hanlon

Reference List:

Negrin, L., 2016. Thinking Through Fashion. London: Bloomsbury, pp.115-131.

Wissinger, E., 2016. Thinking Through Fashion. London: Bloomsbury, pp.285-300.

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