#CSFashionhour, Costume Society  |  January 4, 2016

#CSFashionHour: Fashion Writing, Past and Present

Despite the obvious benefits of communicating about fashion using visual methods, the appeal of fashion writing is perhaps greater than ever. From detailed descriptions of clothing in classic literature and the early fashion magazines of eighteenth century France, through to today’s academic writing and fashion blogging, the insight offered by fashion writers is invaluable to anyone with more than a passing interest in what we wear and why.

For those that love fashion and dress history as we do, descriptions of clothing can really bring novels to life. When an author takes the time to describe the tactile and decorative details of an outfit it enhances our understanding of that character, and provides information on their taste, their expectations, their social background and professional, political or religious affiliations. In novels such as Dorothy Whipple's High Wages, clothes can take a starring role and help drive the plot, while also forming a visual world with which the reader can engage.

The description of clothing doesn’t just take place in novels, but also in early fashion magazines which printed ‘descriptions of fashion drawings which are invaluable to the costume historian, providing not only an accurate pictorial record but also very fine details of construction, fabrics, colors, and trim’ (1). This still happens on some of today’s best fashion blogs. Anyone who thinks that these sites are simply filled with images and little else has clearly never read Susie Lau’s beautiful descriptions of catwalk shows on her blog Style Bubble.

Of course, fashion writing isn’t just about describing the feel of a fabric or the details of a seam’s construction, it is also a medium for looking at the whys and hows of an industry and system that affects people the world over. The growth of the internet and popularity of fashion blogging has resulted in ‘a decentering of the voice of traditional fashion experts, print fashion journalists, whose authority has been displaced’ (2). Now analysis of fashion takes place on blogs big and small - from Disney Roller Girl to [In]Tangible - as well as in magazines and newspapers, plus in academic books, journals and conference papers.

In the January Twitter #CSFashionHour discussion, we won’t just be covering academic books written by the likes of Elizabeth Wilson or Christopher Breward, we'll be discussing fashion in novels in all guises - from Jane Austen to Bridget Jones - and we'd love to hear from you about your favourite fashionable novels. Tell us how your views on fashion have been shaped by magazines - from teen titles like Jackie and Just Seventeen, to i-D or Vogue - fashion editors in newspapers, and share with us your favourite fashion bloggers.

This month's #CSFashionHour will be hosted by the Costume Society's Blog Editor, Lorraine Smith (@LHamiltonSmith) and one of the current team of Ambassadors, Bethan Bide (@bethanbide), on Friday 8th January between 1-2pm GMT. Please join in on Twitter by using the hashtag, and follow @costume_society for a chance to win copies of some fascinating fashion books, including Art Nouveau Fashion by Clare Rose.

REFERENCES: (1) Evolving Influence, Evolution and History of Fashion Communications, 2010. (2) ‘How New are New Media? The Case of Fashion Blogs’ by Agnès Rocamora, in Fashion Media: Past and Present, 2013.

Lorraine Smith, Costume Society Blog Editor
Lucie Whitmore, #CSFashionHour Coordinator

  • Academic fashion books. Image by Lorraine Smith
  • Magazines in WH Smith. Image by Lorraine Smith