Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Early Modern Dress and Fashion
This introductory course is designed to sensitize students to discourses on dress and fashion in early modern Europe. First coined in England in 1529, the term “fashion,” as a modern concept, gained currency only in the mid-1670s during the reign of Louis XIV, when the first printed representations of fashion began to circulate throughout Europe. Examining gravures de mode, portraiture, as well as key texts from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries that define fashion as a mode of transformation and modernity, we will explore the ways in which fashionable dress came to be understood in the early modern period and how it impacted cultural concepts of identity, class, gender, and social legibility. How was fashion visualized and disseminated? What anxieties about status emulation, conspicuous consumption, and hyper-sexuality emerged with the development of fashion as an industry? We will also discuss the transhistorical nature of fashion and its continuous appropriation and reuse of past modes of dress. We will explore the ways in which the anachronistic and aesthetically (a)temporal appropriation of historical fashion betrays the collective imagination’s desire to simultaneously preserve and redefine history. Finally, we will discuss how the representation of early modern fashion and dress in period films function not only as a mode of historicization but also as a mode of modernization, rendering that which is incomprehensible or obscure, i.e. the past, more relevant.