Philosophy of Fashion

Instructor: Rebecca Ariel Porte
Textile Arts Center
505 Carroll St
Brooklyn NY , 11215

“For the philosopher,” writes Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project, “the most interesting thing about fashion is its extraordinary anticipations.” In other words, fashion is, in itself, an avant-garde: it shows us what the world will be like before that world has fully arrived. Its uncanny relation to the new is by no means the only philosophically interesting thing about fashion. And yet, philosophy (often coded masculine, serious, enduring) has often rejected or dismissed fashion (often coded feminine, frivolous, ephemeral) as a site of legitimate inquiry. What does it mean to philosophize about fashion? What does it mean to have or practice a philosophy of fashion?

This course concentrates on fashion as a vital, luxuriant case study for major intellectual questions. With an emphasis on the 20th and 21st century, the syllabus combines readings in the philosophy, theory, and history of fashion with a wide range of visual examples. Some of our central inquiries will include: When was fashion “invented”? And what does fashion have to tell us about significant problems in aesthetics? How is fashion historical and what kind of questions about novelty and futurity does it open? What does fashion have to do with modernity, with political economy, with commodity fetishism, with the saturations of media, with climate change? How does philosophy of fashion intersect with ideas about gender, class, identity, morality, politics, and sex? What are the social uses and abuses of fashion? What kinds of ideas are available through different kinds of dress materials and immaterials: patterns, fabrics, forms, garments, shoes, hats, perfumes, cosmetics, and jewelry? To whom does fashion belong and how? What do figures like the flaneur, the dandy, the flapper, or the Teddy Girl have to tell us about what kinds of person it’s possible to be in a quickly modernizing world? What do we make of additions like “cool,” “cute,” and “glamour” to the categories of classical aesthetics? Is an interest in fashion evidence of vain, shallow, false consciousness? And, if it’s not, what does fashion, with its fondness for surfaces, reveal about the depths of things? Readings are likely to draw on some or all of the following figures: Shahidha Bari, Benjamin, Barthes, Judith C. Brown, Butler, Carlyle, Darwin, Foucault, Yuniya Kawamura, Marx, Monica L. Miller, Ngai, Lars Svendsen, and Simmel.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
April 08 — April 29, 2020
4 weeks


Registration Open

SKU: APR20-NY-FASHION Categories: ,