Introduction to Fashion Studies

Fashion Studies is a new, multidisciplinary field that has emerged alongside the expansion of fashion into a global culture industry, growing popular interest in fashion, and renewed academic attention to the study of dress and material culture. This seminar introduces students to fashion theory and the diverse approaches to its study as a “field” and “practice”: From its expression as identity, a subculture, or a global industry, to its conception as power and phenomenon, we will look at how art historians, cultural theorists, anthropologists, writers, and artists have reflected on fashion through time. Class sessions will be organized around important themes that have emerged in fashion studies: the body, beauty and image, subculture and style, identity and desire, creation and consumption, art and value, etc. Students will be introduced to classic theoretical writings on fashion, draw on contemporary everyday examples for discussion, and apply learned research methods in the development of research questions that critically reflect on fashion.

Our analysis will be guided by three principal thematic contexts:

PART I: Encounters with Fashion

PART II: Culture & industry

PART III: Communicating Meaning

 Some Issues and Questions to keep in mind throughout the course:

The Social Self & The Collective: What role does fashion and clothing play in the construction of individual and collective identities? How are fashion and clothing used to differentiate between people(s)? What role does clothing play in political and cultural resistance and in social movements?

Migration and immigration: How do the movements of people, things, and ideas draw and redraw the map of what we understand to be fashion, who it is worn by, who it is made by, and who it is consumed by? How do the movements of people affect our ideas of work, design styles & aesthetics, practices, the way the global industry works and the mapping of fashion capitals? How does migration shape what we understand to be American fashion, New York fashion, or Global fashion? How does the experience of migration change our ideas of what is fashion?

Work and leisure: How do shifts in people’s work lives and patterns of recreation affect fashion, our notions of fashion, and the fashion industry? What do struggles over the workplace and the market in fashion reveal about our beliefs and social values, and why have they changed or endured?

Class, Race, Ethnicity: How are class, racial, and ethnic categories and ideologies constructed through the performance and display of fashion, clothing, and the body? How are subjects, geographical spaces, forms of work, and material objects racialized and/or ethnically marked? How do subjects use fashion to deconstruct dominant ideologies of racial and cultural difference? How is fashion a form of social and political mobilization or possibilities?

Gender and sexuality: Do men and women practice fashion and dress differently? Do men and women interpret fashion differently? Why has sexuality grown important to the development of the fashion industry in the course of the twentieth century? What can we learn from sexuality and its relationship to those who produce fashion and those who consume fashion?

In addition to the formal subject matter, we will also be working on two key skills that you will need for any class in the humanities and social sciences: critical reading and analytical writing. We will learn about both primary sources–materials produced at the time of the events we are studying–and secondary sources–interpretations after the fact. We will be attentive to different purposes and uses of each, how to approach them, and what questions you can ask of them. A writing workshop and in-class writing sessions will address the art of the persuasive essay, the major kind of paper one writes in college.

Learning Objectives: 

  1. To gain an understanding of the social, cultural, and global dimensions of fashion.
  2. To gain an introduction to the multiple scholarly disciplines that have approached fashion and informed our understanding of fashion as its study.
  3. To identify, explain, explore, and defend different perspectives on fashion critically.
  4. To analyze and practice fashion using a variety of methodological traditions, styles, and practices. To be introduced to ethnographic methods and field research.
  5. To gain the ability to present, lead, and discuss ideas in class and in written work.
  6. To demonstrate the ability to reflect critically on fashion and fashion theory in oral and written form.


Changes to the schedule and/or required readings may occur and will be advised in advance. Please check your newschool email/blackboard regularly for announcements.

Week 1, Aug. 31: Introduction

  • Review Syllabus
    • What is fashion? What makes fashion, fashion?
    • What do you associate with fashion?
    • What does fashion make possible?

Week 2, Sept. 7: Fashion and Its Study

  • Excerpts from Roland Barthes, 1990 (reprint), “Rhetoric of the Signifier,” “Rhetoric of the Signified,” and “Rhetoric of the Sign,” The Fashion System, Berkeley: University of California Press, 235-273.
  • Elizabeth Wilson, 1985, “Introduction,” Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, London: Virago Press, 1-15.
  • Jennifer Craik, 1994, “The Face of Fashion: Technical Bodies and Technologies of the Self,” The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion, New York: Routledge, 1-16.


Week 3, Sept. 14: Subculture & Style Politics

  • Dick Hebdige. Style (from Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Methuen, 1979). In Malcolm Barnard (ed) Fashion Theory: A Reader. Routledge, 2007. Pp. 256-266.
  • Paul Hodkinson. Chapter Three: “Goth as a Subcultural Style.” Goth: Identity, Style, and Subculture. Berg, 2002. Pp. 35-64.
  • Rebecca Schraffenberger. This Modern Goth (Explains Herself). In Lauren M. E. Goodlad and Michael Bibby (eds.). Goth: Undead Subculture. Duke University Press, 2007. Pp. 121-128.

In Class Film: Goth Cruise The Movie by Jeanie Finlay

Assignment: Have you ever been a part of a subculture? Do you have a style? Bring to class an image of a person on the street who demonstrates what Dick Hebdige calls “bricolage,” subculture and style. Please beware – you must ask and gain permission from this person in taking their photograph. Use your cell phone camera or just a regular camera. If you do not have access to a camera, pair up with someone who does. Print out the image and bring it to class.

Week 4, Sept. 21: Imaging and Imagining Fashion

  • Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida. Hill and Wang, 1982. Pp. 1-28.
  • Rabine, Leslie. 2010. Fashionable Photography in Mid-Twentieth Century Senegal. Fashion Theory. Volume 14, No. 3, September. Pp. 305-330.
  • Liz Wells, “Fashion Photography,” in Photography: A Critical Introduction, Routledge, 2002. Pp.193-244; 115-158.
  • Stephanie Sadre-Orafai. Chapter One and Two. Casting “Difference”: Visual Anxiety and the New York Fashion Industry. Dissertation. 2010. Introduction
  • Take a brief look at Juergen Teller’s Go-Sees. Scalo Publishers. 1999.

Assignment: Bring in images of ‘New York Fashion.’ There haven been a number of films, documentaries, television shows, ad campaigns, books, etc. which have featured fashion and the city of New York.

Week 5, Sept. 28: No Class, Rosh Hashanah


Week 6, Oct. 4: Shopping & Public Life

  • Sharon Zukin. Introduction, Chapter One & Two. Point of Purchase: How Shopping Changed American Culture. Psychology Press. Pp. 1-62.
  • Sze Tsung Leong. “…And Then There Was Shopping The last remaining form of public life” in The Harvard School of Design Guide to Shopping, Project on the City. Edited by Chuihua Judy Chung, Jeffrey Inaba, Rem Koolhaas, Sze Tsung Leong. Köln: Taschen, 2002.
  • Marianne Conroy, 1998, “Discount Dreams: Factory Outlet Malls, Consumption, and the Performance of Middle-Class Identity,” Social Text 54, 63-83.

 Week 7, Oct. 12: Waste and Value / The Knock-off & Copy

  • Karen Tranberg Hansen. Chapter Five, The Sourcing of Secondhand Clothing. Saluala: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia. The University of Chicago Press, 2000. Pp. 99-126.
  • Paul Stoller. Chapter Four. “African/Asian/Uptown/Downtown.” Money Has No Smell: The Africanization of New York City. University of Chicago Press, 2002. Pp. 45-63.
  • Larissa MacFarquhar. “Bag Man.” The New Yorker. 19 March 2007. Pp. 126-

 Assignment: Bring to class one object/item of clothing that demonstrates both notions of “waste” and “value.” A vintage piece that was once discarded but now you cherish or own? A keepsake that means something to you but nothing to someone else? A fake logo bag you own? A tattered shirt that looks like a rag, but your lucky or favorite t-shirt?

 Week 8, Oct. 19: Mid-Term / Workshop on Writing

  • Writing Workshop
  • Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird. Pp. 3-39
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings with me on my sign-up sheet.

Week 9, Oct. 26: Work It

  • Elizabeth Currid. Chapter One “Art, Culture, and New York City” in The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art, and Music Drive New York City. Princeton University Press, 2007. Pp. 1-17.
  • Nancy L. Green, 1997, “Fashion and Flexibility: The Garment Industry between Haute Couture and Jeans,” Ready-to-Wear, Ready-to-Work: A Century of Industry and Immigrants in Paris and New York, Durham: Duke University Press, 15-43.
  • Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu, 2010, “Crossing the Assembly Line,” in Beautiful Generation, Durham: Duke University Press, 31-98.
  • Andrew Ross. “Strike a Pose for Justice: The Barneys Union Campaign of 1996.” in Low Pay, High Profile: The Global Push for Fair Labor. The New Press, 2004. 175-189.

In Class Film: Made in L.A. directed by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, Semilla Verde Productions, Inc, 2007.

Assignment: Interview one person who works in the fashion industry. Take Analytical Interview Notes. Who is this person? How did you meet him or her? What kind of work does he/she do for the industry? What practices are involved? In what way is it work? What is the end result of this work? What is the final successful outcome or product?


 Week 10, Nov. 2: Performance and Identity

  • Erving Goffman. Performances: belief in the part one is playing. In Performance Studies Reader. Henry Bial (ed). Performance Studies Reader. Psychology Press, 2004. Pp. 59-63.
  • Monica Miller. Introduction. Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity. Duke University Press, 2009. Pp. 1-25.
  • Ian Condry. Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Duke University Press, 2006. Pp. 24-48.
  • Martin F. Manalansan IV. Chapter 5, To Play with the World: The Pageantry of Identities, Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. Pp. 126-151.

 In Class Film: Paris is Burning Dir. Jennie Livingston. Miramax Films, 1990.

Week 11, Nov. 9: The Body

  • Terrence Turner, “The Social Skin” in Beyond the Body Proper: Reading the Anthropology of Material Life, by Margaret M. Lock, Judith Farquhar, eds. Duke University Press, 2007. 83-106.
  • Joanne Entwistle. “The Dressed Body.” In Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun (ed.). The Fashion Reader. Oxford, New York, 2007. Pp. 93-104.
  • Timothy Burke. “Sunlight Soap has Changed My Life: Hygiene,
    Commodification, and the Body in Colonial Zimbabwe.” In Clothing and
    Difference: Embodied Identities in Colonial and Post Colonial Africa.
    Hendrickson, H. (ed). Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. Pp. 189-212.
  • Katherine Zane, 2001, “Reflections on a Yellow Eye: Asian I(\Eye/)Cons and Cosmetic Surgery,” in Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, ed. Ella Shohat, Boston: MIT Press, 161-192.

 In Class Film: Beautiful Sisters by Connie Chung

 Week 12, Nov 16: Beauty

  • Wendy Steiner “Modeling Beauty.” Venus In Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in the Twentieth Century. Free Press, 2001.
  • Naomi Wolf. “The Beauty Myth.” The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. Perennial, 2002. Pp. 1-19.
  • Alexander Edmonds. Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil. Durham and London: Duke University Press.  2010. 1-34.

In Class Film: The Beauty School of Kabul (2006, dir. Liz Merkin)


Week 14, Nov. 30: Fashion + Art = Satire

  • Yinka Shonibare
  • Marilyn Minter
  • Cindy Sherman
  • Coco Fusco
  • Sebastiao Salgado

 In Class Film:         Transformation, Art in the Twenty-First Century documentary, PBS (2009)

 Week 15, Dec. 7: Final Exam Summary & Study Session / Wrap-up & Conclusions

Week 16, Dec. 14: Final Exam

Course Requirements & Assessable Tasks

Students will be evaluated for the course based on the following:

1.     Class Participation & Preparedness: (15%)

This class meets once a week. Classes will be mixture of seminar-style discussion, lecture, in-class activities, and films. The principal requirement for this class is respectful, reflective attention to the ideas offered by the texts and by your fellow colleagues. Your presence and participation in class are essential to your success. You are required to attend all class meetings including discussions, possible/tentative field trips, guest speakers, and films.

Please bring your texts and lecture notes to each of our meetings. You are required to complete and reflect upon your reading assignments before coming to class, so that you are prepared to meaningfully contribute to the discussion in an intelligent manner. Preparation for class discussion also includes asking and responding to questions and building on comments already made. For those of you on the shy side, this class will require you to make an effort to speak. For those who are more comfortable with talking, this class will require you to make an effort to listen to your fellow classmates and colleagues. Class participation may also include in-class assignments, quizzes, and note-taking of in-class screenings of films.

You are required to arrive on time for class. Arriving ten minutes after class time begins counts as an automatic absence. Please Note: Parsons Attendance Policy as listed in your student handbook. Absences are only excused in case of an emergency (medical with doctor’s note) and affect this portion of your grade. Three absences will result in the automatic failure of the course. Please contact me in case of an emergency or well in advance if an absence is anticipated.

2.     Short Assignments: (10%)

These short assignments will get you to apply the toolkit concepts learned from the readings into your everyday life and reality. These assignments are important, as they will be used for various activities in class.

  • Week 3, Sept. 14: Image of a subculture & style
  • Week 4, Sept. 21: Images of New York fashion
  • Week 7, Oct. 12: Bring to class an object/item that demonstrates waste and value.
  • Week 9, Oct. 26: Notes from an interview of someone working in the industry.
  • Week 11, Nov. 9: Bring to class interesting images of the body.

3.     Lead Discussion: (10%)

You will be partnered with a classmate to lead one class through a discussion point. A discussion point can take the form of a critical question, news article, advertisement, image, song, video clip, et cetera, that elaborates upon a key concept from the readings. Your partner/group will be asked to discuss the point in class – this means discussing the reading without summarizing it– and make the discussion point accessible to the other students (this means showing the clip, making copies of the image or article, powerpoint/slides, etc.).

4.     Blog Posts: (20%)


Our course blog is: Please sign up for WordPress: by Week 2. I will collect the emails you signed up under during class session to add you as authors to the blog. To write a blog post, sign in at:


You will be required to post three 400-word reading responses. Each is worth 4% of your final grade. You must post by11:00AM the day we are to discuss the reading. Please do not provide me with a summary of the text. Instead, explore one particular question, concept, theme, or idea from the text, and critically analyze it along with adding 3-5 discussion questions.


You will also post three 200-word comments to your classmates’ reading responses on which you yourself have not posted a response. These comments must be timely, occurring within one week of the original post, and will only count for credit once per post. Each comment is worth 2% of your final grade.

Both posts and comments will be graded in terms of quality, clarity, and critical insight, not just completion. No late assignments will be accepted.

5.     Midterm Exam (20%)

The midterm exam will consist of short essay questions and the identification of key terms. This exam will comprehensively cover the material learned over the course of the first half of the semester. There will be no make-up exams.

6.     Final Exam (30%)

The final exam will consist of long essay questions that comprehensively cover the material learned over the course of the entire semester. There will be no make-up exams.

 Final Grade Calculation:

Class Participation and Preparedness: 10%

Short Assignments (5 total): 10%

Lead Discussion: 10%

Blog Posts (3 Posts/3 Comments): 20%

Midterm 20%

Final Exam: 30%

Total: 100%

Reading and Resources:

All readings will eventually become available through e-reserves. In the first few weeks, I will email you pdf versions of the readings. I also have pdf versions of all readings in case you are unable to access e-reserves in the future. The majority of books are also on reserve at the Gimbel library.

Divisional, Department, and Class Policies:

For detailed information, please refer to the Parson’s Student Handbook and also


Regular, on-time class attendance is required. Attendance will be taken at the start of class. Students with repeated absences and/or lateness for any reason risk a substantial negative impact to their grade including failure. Missing 10 minutes of class will count as half an absence. Missing 20 minutes of a class will count as a full absence. Three absences or more will result in the failure of the course. In the case of lateness, it is your responsibility to make sure that I record your attendance so that you are not listed as fully absent on that day.

Academic Integrity and Honesty:

The following is directly cited from the Parsons Catalog on Processes and Policies.

“Academic honesty, the duty of every member of an academic community to claim authorship of his or her own work and only for that work and to recognize the contributions of others accurately and completely, is fundamental to the integrity of intellectual debate and creative and academic pursuits. All members of the university community are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the standards of academic honesty. Students are responsible for knowing and making use of proper procedures for writing papers, presenting and performing their work, taking examinations, and doing research. Instructors are equally responsible for informing students of their policies with respect to the limits within which students may collaborate with or seek help from others on specific assignments. Instructors are expected to educate students about the legal and ethical restrictions placed upon creative work and about the consequences of dishonesty in the professional world. At Parsons, all students are required to sign an Academic Integrity Statement declaring that they understand and agree to comply with this policy.

(From the University Policies Governing Student Conduct) “Academic honesty includes accurate use of quotations, as well as appropriate and explicit citation of sources in instances of paraphrasing and describing ideas, or reporting on research findings or any aspect of the work of others (including that of instructors and other students). The standards of academic honesty and citation of sources apply to all forms of academic work (examinations, essay theses, dissertations, computer work, art and design work, oral presentations and other projects). The standards also include responsibility for meeting the requirements of particular courses of study.“ The New School recognizes that the different nature of work across the divisions of the University may entail different procedures for citing sources and referring to the work of others. Particular academic procedures, however, are based in universal principles valid in all divisions of The New School and institutions of higher education in general.”

Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to

  • cheating on examinations, either by copying another student’s work or by utilizing unauthorized materials
  • any act of plagiarism, that is, the fraudulent presentation of the written, oral, or visual work of others as original
  • theft of another student’s work
  • purchase of another student’s work
  • submitting the same work for more than one course
  • destruction or defacement of the work of others
  • aiding or abetting any act of dishonesty
  • any attempt to gain academic advantage by presenting misleading information, making deceptive statements or falsifying documents


Plagiarism is the use of another person’s words or ideas in any academic work using books, journals, Internet postings, or other student papers without proper acknowledgment. For further information on proper acknowledgment and plagiarism, including expectations for paraphrasing source material and proper forms of citation in research and writing, students should consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (second edition), chapter 6, on documentation or other texts as recommended by their school. The New School Writing Center also provides useful online resources to help students understand and avoid plagiarism. Go to and navigate to Virtual Handout Drawer. Students must receive prior permission from instructors to submit the same or substantially overlapping material for two assignments. Submission of the same work for two different assignments without the prior permission of instructors is plagiarism.”