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Borrowing the title of the infamous 1966 movie by Jean Luc Godard, this month the Europeana Fashion blog will keep on interrogating the archives on the intricate relationship between fashion and identity, telling the stories of those objects that, for their appearance, history and use, are linked to the theme of gender.

Daniel Hechter fashion show, autumn-winter 1982-1983 women's ready-to-wear collection, Courtesy Paul Van Riel

Although greatly debatable, the binary relationship between the genders has been used to analyse both society and culture within many disciplines. Masculinity and femininity have both been defined by theorists as both a ‘social construct’ and a ‘performance’, opening up the interpretation of gender roles to various approaches and also to the individuation of other, more open and ‘queer’ definitions. From the perspectives of both design history and material culture – two areas in which fashion and clothing have been widely used as focus – the understanding of the meaning of dress and accessories in the definition of gender is central. Museums archives hold many testimonies of what men and women have used to form and perform their identity; these objects also tell stories about how people have interpreted them and, in many cases, made them symbols of their take on the so-called ‘gender quest’.

Fashion plate from "Incroyable et Merveilleuse", engraved by George Jacques Gatine, Paris, 1814, Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum CC BY SA

This month, the blog entries will unpack the complexity of the theme showcasing the myriad of possibilities in which fashion has either followed the ‘normal’ definition of gender roles – abiding by what has been commonly interpreted as precisely masculine or feminine – or the many ways in which fashion has exercised its power to subvert the social order and ‘change the rules of the game.’

We will look at what are considered the ‘stables’ of men and women’s wardrobes – the more blatant being trousers and skirts, at least from our western-biased point of view – presenting notable and sometimes unnoticed exceptions; we will deal with fashion designers and creative minds who have based their aesthetic and practices on the constant redefinition of what is masculine and what is feminine, in the design and production of their pieces as well as in their representation in ads and campaign; we will look at performativity, and more precisely, at performance, as a way to visually define a ‘stage identity’ which sometimes ends up merging with the ‘real’ self (if such thing exists anyway).

Male headdress, early twentieth Century, Courtesy The Israel Museum

Follow us in our journey to find out if, how and in which ways objects have helped men and women in their definition and representation, ultimately acquiring a gender for themselves.

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