Books for the News, Economics

Fashion in the crisis

jacketAs coverage of New York Fashion Week shifts to coverage of London’s week in the fashion spotlight, some of the stories reflect a debate over whether attending fashion shows in the midst of global economic turmoil is “something you shouldn’t be doing” (as one fashion editor told the New York Times) or something that provides needed support for a struggling yet important global industry.
Diana Crane’s Fashion and Its Social Agendas examines fashion in the context of this global marketplace. Trendsetters, she shows, are no longer confined to elites but instead are drawn from many social groups. Drawing a contrast with nineteenth-century France, where designers created fashions that suited lifestyles of Paris elites but that were also widely adopted outside France, Crane argues that lifestyle, gender, sexual orientation, age, and ethnicity took on more meaning in twentieth-century America.
In Fashion, Culture, and Identity, Fred Davis delves into related ideas, addressing such questions as what our clothes say about who we are or who we think we are, how the way we dress communicates our identity, and how fashions change.
And in Ready-Made Democracy, Michael Zakim studies one such change in particular by tracing the evolution of homespun nineteenth-century American clothing into its ostensible opposite—the woolen coats, vests, and pantaloons that were “ready-made” for sale and wear across the country. In doing so, he demonstrates how traditional notions of work and property actually helped give birth to the modern industrial order. For Zakim, the history of men’s dress in America mirrored this transformation of the nation’s social and material landscape: profit-seeking in newly expanded markets, organizing a waged labor system in the city, shopping at “single-prices,” and standardizing a business persona. From several different angles, then, fashion and economics appear to go hand in hand.