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Using Books, Audiobooks, and More to Learn About Fashion History

Using Books, Audiobooks, and More to Learn About Fashion History

Fashion has always been a powerful force in shaping cultural narratives. In our previous article on The Role of Fashion in Popular Culture, we elaborated on how fashion played a major role in setting the tone for the hit television show Mad Men, set in the 1960s, and how the incorporation of hip-hop and streetwear elements, such as baggy clothing and oversized accessories, into mainstream fashion in the 1980s and 90s reflected the dynamic interplay between different cultural spheres. These examples show that the evolution of fashion is intertwined with the fabric of our collective past. This can be examined further through the use of various resources, from books and audiobooks to specialized libraries, contributing to a richer understanding of fashion history. Let's take a closer look below.

Studying fashion through books

Books serve as timeless gateways into the world of fashion history. Two notable works, The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair and The Impossible Collection of Fashion by Assouline, offer distinct perspectives. The former, a vivid exploration of the histories behind various colors, showcases the cultural significance of hues throughout time. The latter, a luxurious publication and curation of 100 iconic dresses provides a visual journey through the evolution of fashion. For those seeking a more immersive experience, the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library is a fantastic source of knowledge. With over thirty thousand volumes related to the history of fashion and dress, this library caters to researchers and creatives alike. Recent acquisitions, including Todd Oldham's fashion and design archive and Thomas Uwin's nineteenth-century fashion illustrations, add depth and richness to the collection. Peer through the assortment of lookbooks while visiting the upcoming Women Dressing Women fall exhibition in December 2023, which promises a unique opportunity to engage with the critical histories of innovative women designers, from Vivienne Westwood to Miuccia Prada.

Using audiobooks for a multisensory approach

Audiobooks provide a dynamic alternative to traditional reading, allowing individuals to absorb fashion history through sound. The accessibility of resources like The Costume Institute Library's materials via Watsonline enhances this experience, and users can easily access the French Fashions, 1898–1915 digital photograph collection in Watson Library's Digital Collections. For a more convenient listening experience, audiobook subscription services offer a vast collection that can be enjoyed online and offline. Everand’s library of audiobooks includes titles like House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival by Deborah Ball and Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, each contributing to a deeper understanding of fashion history. The former unravels the tales of glamor and tragedy surrounding the iconic fashion house, while the latter sheds light on the often-overlooked role of women in the textile arts throughout history, from when women were making the first clothing created from spun fibers twenty thousand years ago. These provide a multisensory experience, allowing listeners to absorb information while on the go.

Exploring with digital archives, podcasts, and magazines

The digital age brings forth an abundance of online resources, including fashion websites, magazines, and podcasts. Exploring websites that visually catalog street styles or perusing digital archives of iconic fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar provides a contemporary perspective on fashion history. Meanwhile, niche publications and online platforms, such as Ebony magazine or theGrio's Writing Black podcast, play a pivotal role in uncovering and celebrating Black fashion history. The insightful discussions on the life and career of Ann Lowe, former model Pat Cleveland, and the late André Leon Talley offer unique narratives, shedding light on the often-overlooked contributions of Black creatives in shaping the fashion landscape. By embracing these diverse resources, individuals can gain a holistic understanding of how fashion has shaped and been shaped by the historical narratives that define our collective identity. For more fashion history, check out our other blogs on Fashionista Spot.

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