In an interview in 2018, Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, was asked if his life partner, a professor of urban planning, shared his interest in fashion:When we met in 2007, he had the smallest wardrobe and the largest bookcase I had ever seen in a man. His circle of friends consisted of poets and intellectuals who often used the word 'authentic'. To their 'noblesse oblige' it was to refuse fashion and buy only cheap goods off the rail. When I told them that even anti-fashion was fashion, there was a dispute. For me it's simply false vanity, when someone makes a big effort to look like they've hardly made any effort at all. I think it's only farmers, milking their cows in the cowshed early in the morning, who aren't--in that moment--thinking about their appearance. (Michaelsen and Michele 2018: 23)
Michele's answer illustrates two crucial phenomena: first, it shows that there is no escaping the fact that we must choose our clothes and get dressed every morning--unless we want to go naked--and that consciously or unconsciously we communicate through our choice of clothes. Second, these comments show that the topic of fashion has the ability to provoke strong and ambivalent reactions; what some voices in the public sphere and in academia perceive as superficial and trivial is an innovative research approach to others. As fashion scholar Jennifer Craik formulated concisely: 'While reactions to fashion are ambivalent, there is no doubt that clothes matter' (1994: ix).
Classifying fashion as a social practice and as a category of analysis, scholars in the emerging field of fashion studies began from the 1980s onwards to explore more systematically to what extent clothes matter. Soon, historians--as part of the cultural turn increasingly interested in cultural practices, perception, the creation of meaning, symbols and representations--arted to integrate with some success impulses from fashion studies into their discipline. While historians interested in Medieval and Early Modern History have been less hesitant to explore dress as part of social and cultural history, similar approaches in Modern and Contemporary History are not yet widely established.
In this guest-edited section, we--o cultural historians with backgrounds in British and German academia--sh to take the current state of research as a starting point to reopen and deepen the dialogue between fashion studies and historical studies, thus addressing scholars in both disciplines. However, as this section demonstrates, there are often no clear lines between the two disciplines. This becomes obvious in the interview that we conducted with Christopher Breward, the eminent cultural historian on male dress, who has been contributing significantly to the mutual inspiration and merging of fashion studies and cultural history since the 1990s.
In this special section our aim is twofold:
First, addressing historians, we wish to encourage future research on dress in historical perspective by exploring the potential of such a focus and by presenting possible research agendas, exemplified in the peer-reviewed articles of this guest-edited section. While research on dress in Modern History has mainly...