MA in the History of Art

Documenting Fashion: modernity, films and image in America and Europe, 1920-1945

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Course Description

This course comprises a unique analysis of American and European fashion and identity during the interwar and war period. Focusing on the role of non-fiction film and documentary photography as a source for fashion, dress and the body, we will seek to reevaluate the visual history of this key period. By starting from images of the ‘everyday,’ that show dress as it was actually worn, we can begin to consider the impact of developments in film and photography on fashion. This connects with 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.

Non-fiction film, including home movies, documentary footage and newsreels, represents a rich and exciting resource for fashion history, especially when looked at alongside contemporary photography and garments in museum collections. It reveals the relationship between sight and touch and connects to memories and sensations beyond the visual. It also exposes movement, gesture and styling and enables us to consider how such imagery impacts on fashion design.

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 non-fiction film, documentary photography, picture-based magazines and readymade clothes during a period of flux – 1920-1945. Extensive online resources will be combined with visits to museums and archives, such as the Museum of London, V&A and BFI, to study key examples first hand.


Standard entry requirements.