For a History of Fashion
Concepts, Objects and Material Culture
This paper considers the role of artefacts in the historical study of dress and fashion and suggests the existence of three different approaches. The field of history of dress and costume has a long tradition going back to the nineteenth century. It adopts the methodologies of art history and considers artefacts as central to the analysis of different periods and themes. In the last few decades the emergence of fashion studies has been interpreted as distancing from artefacts. It is here claimed that fashion studies brought theoretical rigour and embraced a deductive methodology of analysis in which artefacts still played an important function. The final part of this paper introduces the reader to what can be called ‘the material culture of fashion’, a hybrid methodology borrowed from anthropology and archeology in which the object is central to the study of social, cultural and economic practices that are time specific. In particular, it shows the challenges and paybacks of such an approach.