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Istituto per i Beni Culturali Emilia-Romagna

Memoria e Ricerca

Fashion studies as an emerging historiographical sector

di Emanuela Scarpellini
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 50 (2015), p. 11

The article outlines the studies of the history of fashion in Italy and abroad. It takes its cue from the tradition of the history of customs, widespread since the mid-twentieth century and strongly influenced by the history of art and museum practices, focusing on fashion as an aesthetic object and document of an era, and traditionally dealing with the periods of ancient and modern history. A profound change in the field occurred in the 1980s with the advent of Fashion studies, concentrating instead on fashion not as an object but as a social and cultural practice, and particularly interested in the theoretical contributions from semiology, anthropology, sociology and cultural studies. After presenting a concise picture of recent studies published in Italy, the article highlights some potential areas for future historiographical research. It starts with the relationship between fashion and politics, showing how the symbolism of clothes and colours is crucial not only to symbolize a party or faction, but also for the cultural construction of new forms of politics, and to emphasize how clothes, representing a kind of materialization of social roles, are fundamental for the study of gender history. Finally mention is made of some studies on colonialism and globalization, to show how the analysis of fashion helps us to understand the long-term dynamics underlying the spread of Western cultural practices. Keywords: fashion historiography, fashion studies, politics, gender, colonialism, globalization.