- The Practice of Theorizing Fashion
Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists, a volume edited by fashion scholars Agnès Rocamora and Anneke Smelik, is an important contribution to the establishment and canonization of the major theoretical perspectives that have arisen in the last thirty years in fashion studies. Rather than proposing innovative theoretical perspectives on the study of fashion, this book solidifies a preliminary canon for fashion theory and, more specifically, for those theorists—philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, and psychoanalysts—who have been seminal in the study of the mechanisms of production and consumption of fashion or have been adopted by fashion scholars to unlock the practices of fashion. Here, fashion is not reduced to just the study of dress and the appearance of style in society but, as Rocamora and Smelik stress, is intended as a "material and symbolic system . . . made of things and signs, as well as individual and collective agents, which all coalesce through practices of production, consumption, distribution and representation" (2). In this sense, the text adopts an inclusive vision of the phenomenon, perpetuating theoretical patterns that have emerged in fashion studies until today and that helped to critically look at fashion in relation to issues of value and labor, discipline of bodies, construction of identity and gender issues, and construction of elitist and popular aesthetics through design practices. At the same time, Thinking through Fashion differs from previous fashion readers, since it is the first book to focus exclusively on the role played by critical theory (and theorists) in constructing critical thinking in/about [End Page 125] the culture of fashion. The urgency of the book, as the editors explain, is to "grasp both the relevance of social and cultural theory to the fields of fashion, dress and material culture, and, conversely, the relevance of those fields to social and cultural theory" (2).
In more concrete terms, the volume consists of a collection of sixteen original texts by a vast range of expert and emergent fashion scholars, who sum up, discuss, and deepen the legacy of celebrated nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers in the understanding of fashion. The book begins with an effective and clear presentation of the theoretical origins and recent dérive of the field that the editors identify in "the linguistic turn," "the politics of post-structuralism," and the "new materialism." The following chapters are organized via a chronological criteria, and each chapter is dedicated to a specific theorist. The first chapter by Anthony Sullivan presents the role of Karl Marx's idea of capitalism in understanding the mechanics of fashion as an industry, while the final chapter, written by Elizabeth Wissinger, is dedicated to Judith Butler's legacy in explaining the performativity of fashion as both a force of disciplinization and disruption of bodies and gender in society. Particularly worthy of mention are the chapter on Walter Benjamin by Adam Geczy and Vicky Karaminas, who explain the bound between fashion, modernity, and time; and the chapter on Roland Barthes by Paul Jobling, who not only maps the central contribution of this writer in the understanding of fashion as discourse but also challenges some misconceptions on his interest toward fashion as industry.
The selection of the thinkers and topics mirrors a Western predominance in the field. It reflects the tendency to adopt canonical figures in Western critical theory instead of proposing other thinkers who have been, more or less outspokenly, relevant in the study of fashion. For example, it could have been interesting to explore the overlooked legacy of Michel de Certeau in the understanding of fashion practices or even explore the legacy of Arjun Appadurai, who has been crucial in opening up issues of consumption and biography of objects in fashion studies. Furthermore, the book also interestingly shows a male predominance. Only one chapter is dedicated to a female theorist, although other writers could have been included, like, for example, Simone de Beauvoir, who has highly influenced the discussion on the role of fashion in discourses on feminism and gender...