December. After years, I once again pay attention to how I dress, coordinating colors, accessories, sometimes I even wear make-up. Everyone remarks on it: "You look so elegant." For me, it's a way of demonstrating a femininity, a way of being like my mother.—Luisa Passerini, Autobiography of a Generation: Italy 1968
"You look so elegant." Such a comment can be a double-edged sword—is it a compliment? Or is it a criticism? As Simone de Beauvoir reminds us, "Elegance is also a bondage," and elegance in the academy, particularly for women, can be fraught. Can a woman who loves clothing and cares about the way she looks still be politically and intellectually engaged and, most important, taken seriously? Are fashion and feminism a contradiction in terms?
In this issue, we have collected pieces that attempt to see through clothes to the politics of power they materialize, in order to consider how the study of fashion examines not only costume or dress but also questions of gender and racial identity, representation, the geopolitical concerns of globalization, and technologies of self that push the boundaries of what we mean by gender and embodiment toward the realm of virtuality. These questions animate both fashion and women's studies, and to grasp their relationship, we first must ask: How has fashion, so often associated with frivolity and negative views of femininity, come to be a topic of serious study? [End Page 14]
Fashion studies' growth as a field was born of the cultural revolutions of the 1960s-1980s that deeply affected the academy. Its establishment in academia as a field of study emerged from the same kinds of intellectual work and the profound upheaval of the status quo that gave us women's studies. Women's studies emerged from the global feminist movements and political protests of the 1960s to answer a demand to transform the lively debates on the history of difference and translate them into disciplinary practice. Women with access to education and the opportunity to enroll in women's studies courses saw their lives, their ways of thinking, and their individual practices changed. Responding to demands to rewrite past, present, and future history from a gendered and feminist perspective inevitably brought to light new areas of inquiry, such as the lived experience of dress and appearance, formerly considered to be outside of academia's purview. Scholarly inquiry into these aspects of everyday life created a new urgency for linking theory with practice, discourse with embodiment and the body, and the personal with the political. These unavoidable nexuses significantly inform not only feminist thought and the study of women, gender, and sexuality but also the study of fashion. Work in each area has further demonstrated the ways in which the reorganization and expansion of existing disciplines is a phenomenon that is transformative and fundamentally political in nature.
In fashion studies, this reorganization and boundary crossing has been relatively recent. It was only in the 1990s that U.S. institutions began to take the academic treatment of fashion seriously. By that time, with London leading the way, graduate programs had become well established in the United Kingdom and, much later, in other European countries such as Italy, Sweden, and Denmark. Building on growing interest in the field, the seminal journal Fashion Theory, founded by Valerie Steele in the early 1990s, was met with a ready and eager audience and played a crucial role, along with Steele's scholarly work, in the establishment of fashion as an academic field of study.
As interest and participation in the field grew in the early 2000s, the City University of New York (CUNY) became an early adopter of fashion studies in the United States, along with several other New York-based institutions. Organizing one of the first international academic conferences in fashion studies on American soil in 2002 brought CUNY to the forefront of fashion studies in both the United States and abroad.1 In the wake of this conference, a CUNY Fashion Studies Forum was established, [End Page 15] strongly supported by the Women's Studies Certificate Program at the Graduate Center, which...