Fashion is a rich and powerful field that opens up onto the study of culture, aesthetics, material culture; it shows how human beings communicate, craft their identity, care for their self, body and the environment. It is also a very powerful tool with which to study labor and globalization, social movements and to understand mechanisms of desire and creativity. In my teaching, I have introduced courses on fashion that focus on just such a wide variety of topics, with various readings, each time specifying the domain with which fashion intersected: for example film and media, or space/globalization, law. Most of the times these were courses that appealed not only to students interested in fashionbut also to students from a wide range of disciplines spanning the arts and humanities to social sciences.
Academically, my interest in studying fashion dates back to when I was a graduate student in the PhD program of French and Italian at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In one of my classes, French Critical Theory, I asked my professor, the late Steven Winspur, if I could write my final paper on fashion. Not only did he agree, but he also proved to be a great source of encouragement offering me advice and feedback that pushed me to clarify and refine my argument. This paper became my first essay on fashion, published in a collected anthology titled Feminine Feminists.Cultural Practice in Italy (University of Minnesota Press: 1994). I mention this episode because it illustrates the importance of the dialogue between students and teachers and of encouragement for students’ seeking to build their academic voice.
In the last few years, I have gone even further in introducing questions of methodology to my teaching with and through fashion and material culture. For example, in my courses I encourage students to interrogate the methods of archiving objects and how they tell stories linked not only to elites but also to ordinary people and communities, and how it is possible to give them voice and identity.
This experiment in teaching and learning, collective and participatory in nature, is the foundation for my future research, which aims both to understand fashion and material culture in depth, and to prove how fashion can be studied not only in programs in fashion, textile etc. but also as part of general education courses in a variety of disciplines and fields. It has been and will be my goal to make sure that students who take my classes are left with questions that open up their understanding of themselves, their world and the people around them: in other words, an understanding that we are the makers of culture and social change.