CSA forum:(Re)defining fashion

Abby Lillethun, Montclair State University
Linda Welters, University of Rhode Island
Joanne B. Eicher, University of Minnesota Twin Cities


Originally presented as a panel at the Costume Society of America 2011 Symposium, this essay advocates incorporation of a new paradigm in fashion scholarship, teaching, and learning that acknowledges fashion's global and diverse dimensions and occurrences. A brief historiography describes the underpinnings of the dominant perspective used in theorizing fashion. The rationale for the new perspective includes examination of the previous view's inherent limitations - that fashion originated in fourteenthcentury Europe and that fashion is Western - which have affected the entire conceptualization of dress history. Examples of continually changing styles for women's hair in Imperial Rome and in Chinese lip coloring demonstrate temporal and spatial contexts of fashion outside of the Western capitalist arena. A general definition of fashion is presented. The essay concludes with discussion of contemporary world dress and world fashion, review of recent research, and strategies for the academy in scholarship and teaching of fashion and dress history.© Costume Society of America 2012.