Friday, August 26, 2016

Fashion History... For Free!

Episode 1 of John Knight's wonderful series on fashion history

Fashion History is one of my favorite topics because it covers two things I dearly love: fashion and history!  When I was in college, I took several costume history classes which ignited a passion for learning about fashion through the ages...

Seriously.  How did she sit down?
(I still can't believe the bustle was ever popular.  I get it: it's the "baby got back"/junk-in-the-trunk of the mid to late 1800s.  But how did those ladies ever sit down?)

Back in my high school and college days, I performed in a lot of plays and student films.  I loved to be able to wear the styles of many different eras: the Elizabethan gown of Ophelia in Hamlet, the grey, buttoned-up 1901 dress of Mrs. Gibbs in Our Town, Lilly Moffat's almost unbearable 19th century corset from The Corn is Green, Maggie's undeniably sexy lace slip in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...

We talk about how cool it would be to walk in someone else's shoes from the past, right?  Wearing the styles of a bygone era is a close approximation.

As a film student, I found that I loved the clothing in old movies much more than anything I could find at the mall.  (I've already written about my high school attempt at copying Lauren Bacall's look.)  
High School me & pal Delsie in thrifted clothes.(Don't judge.)
This led me to spend many Saturday afternoons prowling through thrift stores, looking for vintage fashion goodies.  I was convinced I'd eventually find an original Chanel.  (It still might happen!) When Ebay came around, it was like the entire world's thrift stores were within my grasp. I'm not even going to get started on the amazing things I've found at Tradesy!  Yes, I've had to restrain myself from going overboard looking for vintage art deco jewelry and original Pucci prints.
I have no will power.  Here's my latest vintage Pucci scarf.

At any rate, I'm always on the lookout for more ways to learn about fashion history without having to go back to school, or travel to a distant museum.

Recently, I stumbled across some great resources.

John Knight of Vintage2Versace has a wonderful series on YouTube highlighting fashion from 1900-present day with gorgeous examples of vintage outfits worn by models, and explained in expert detail.  Episode 1 is at the top of this post, and you can find the rest in the details of John's page.

Another fantastic series is called The Ultimate Fashion History, hosted by Amanda Hallay, a college professor specializing in fashion, costume and cultural history.  This is the most unique series I've ever seen, and Professor Hallay's cheeky approach is as fun as it is informative.  The scope of this series is incredible, covering the stone age to present day, with all kinds of detours into fashion minutiae. Honestly, who else has done an entire show on fashion of the Weimer Republic?!

Watch Dr. Hallay's introduction to the series below:

Learn everything you ever wanted to know about fashion history right here.

We all know that fashion's evolution has always been influenced by developments in politics, art, culture, technology and media.  I found a comprehensive discussion of these things in a fascinating 2 hour video from NYU with the authors of  The History of Modern Fashion.  It is presented in its entirety here:

Culture, change and 150 years of global fashion presented by NYU Humanities 

For my fellow fashion book lovers, I recently learned that the Metropolitan Museum of Art uploaded over five decades of publications on art and fashion history, and made them available to download for free.  If any of you have browsed the Met bookstore, you'll know that these publications are the glossy coffee table books that usually sell for over $50.  You can download them in full-color splendor to your computer or smartphone reader.  You can also read them online.  The topics range from obscure costume history to iconic designers.  Warning: this is a deep rabbit hole for fashion lovers!  (I already have 5 books on my phone.)

Check out some of the titles:


Christian Dior
Cubism and Fashion
Haute Couture
High Style: Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
Find all the fashion books here.  Find the complete list of all available Met art history books here

For those of you who really want to own a great fashion history book, my favorites are 100 Years of Fashion and Fashion, A History from the 18th to 20th Century (a two volume set.)  I am also going to purchase the book mentioned in the video above, The History of Modern Fashion.  All of these books are incredible resources for the study of fashion -- and they're affordably priced, too!

Want to leave a comment?  Head over to the Chic Contraire Community Forum to start a conversation!

Video by Vintage2Versace, Amanda Hallay and NYUHumanities.