MA in the History of Art

Documenting Fashion: modernity, films and image in America and Europe, 1920-1960

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Course Description

This course comprises two elements – a grounding in key theories, methodologies and approaches to studying dress history and fashion studies, followed by a unique opportunity to analyse American and European fashion and identity during the interwar, war and early Cold War periods. The first section of the course addresses issues including dress as autobiography, sensory and emotional responses to fashion, and the development of the fashion industry and media.  The second section applies these ideas to focus on the role of different types of film and photography as sources for fashion, dress and the body. We will reevaluate the visual history of this key period, by starting from images of the ‘everyday,’ that show dress as it was actually worn, so that we can consider the impact of developments in film and photography on fashion. This will be examined in relation to fashion’s representation in magazines, from Life and Picture Post to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, the work of photographers, including Martin Munkasci and Lee Miller, and designs by Claire McCardell, Jaeger and others.

We will use case studies to consider relationships between looking, seeing and being – as evidenced through the links between and developments in readymade clothes, photography and non-fiction film. We will discuss what these media forms tell us about people’s perceptions of themselves and others, and how clothing can construct and alter appearance.  The course will analyse how these images connect to body image, identity, ways of seeing, and modernity.

The course will focus on America and Europe as sites of rapid developments in fashion, documentary photography, picture-based magazines and non-fiction film clothes during a period of flux – 1920-1960. Extensive online resources will be combined with visits to museums and archives, such as the Museum of London, V&A and the British Film Institute, to study key examples first hand.


Standard entry requirements.