edited by Djurdja Bartlett. Yale University Press, September 2019. 240 p. ill. ISBN 9780300238860 (h/c), $45.00.
Reviewed March 2020
Alyssa Vincent, Digital Scholarship Librarian, Northeastern Illinois University, firstname.lastname@example.org
The introduction of Fashion and Politics outlines a bold goal: to cast fashion as a reparative and instructive tool for our politically fractured world. The initially defensive tone of the book – the first essay is simply titled “Can Fashion Be Defended?” – may seem tiresome and dated at first. Must the study of fashion and its effects continue to have to prove itself as a valuable practice? The book’s decidedly economical bent quickly establishes itself, though, and assuages anyone who wants to dismiss it as another defense of fashion studies as an academic practice. Rather, this wide-ranging edited collection provides readers with both a crash course in Marxism and insights into global political vignettes where fashion played or plays a key role.
The book is organized into four sections: “Political Fashion, Fashionable Politics;” “Reform or Revolution;” “Bodies and Borders;” and “Resistance or Recuperation.” Two of the ten essays are photo essays which are welcome in this dense text. Thematically, the essays all work to engage older or ongoing political history, ranging from China’s Cultural Revolution to today’s Syrian refugee crisis. This global focus is a welcome one, though each essay raises so many questions that readers will likely find each essay ending too soon. In aiming for both breadth and depth, Fashion and Politics sometimes comes up short.
This is a visually engaging book, from the bold runway photograph spanning the entire cover and binding to the black and white and color photographs that accompany every essay. The images are utilized to particularly stunning effect in the book’s photo essays. Each essay is extensively footnoted, making this a valuable resource for researchers wanting to engage more deeply with each essay’s highly specific focus.
While the book’s breadth is not expertly executed, it does make it a unique offering. There appear to be few books that cover this range of topics related to fashion and politics. Instead, readers can often find fashion books about specific moments in history, such as Fashion under Fascism: Beyond the Black Shirt by Eugenia Paulicelli (Berg, 2004) or Dressing for the Culture Wars: Style and the Politics of Self-Presentation in the 1960s and 1970s by Betty Luther Hillman (University of Nebraska Press, 2015).
Though the broad title could suggest that this is a general interest text, readers seeking a straightforward primer on the ways that fashion influences political climates and communicates political actions will be left wanting, given each essay’s specialized topic. Fashion and Politics would serve upper-division undergraduate students and graduate students in history, anthropology, and fashion studies well.