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THE EDITOR’S COLUMN: BOUNDARIES

In fashion, as in many other disciplines, the expression ‘pushing the boundaries’ is often used to indicate the strive for newness necessary to allow its very existence. Everyone seems so preoccupied with what is beyond the fence, that the liminal spaces are often overseen. This month we will try to prove how incredibly interesting it is, instead, to linger on the edges.

Pelerine made of cotton and feathers from peacock and domestic fowl, Britain, 1830s, Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum CC BY

Using the idea of boundaries as leitmotiv, this month we will explore the many ways in which clothes and accessories can inform our understanding of limits. Boundaries are a tough issue to tackle, maybe because the very concept of boundary seem to call for its direct opposites: resistance, rejection, revolution. looking at the material hold in the Europeana Fashion collection, it is possible to see how objects often function as tools to break the boundaries; some other times, though, objects are the ones tracing the limits and setting the limits.

Historically, fashion has been used by the political power to set the boundaries between different strata of society, and also to sedate anxiety and safeguard morality. However, fashion is not only affected by boundaries in a passive way; it often uses boundaries to delimitate its area of influence, its reign; many times it is the very weapon that can break the barriers.

Detail of the embroidered edge of a Skirt, Crete, Greece, 18th century, Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum CC BY

The global dimension in which materials an people interact today has affected the very definition of boundaries. digital data are accessible virtually everywhere and every time, forcing us to reconsider the given notions of space, time and distances. This had and continues to have an impact on fashion, and also in fashion heritage: the very idea of archive is dematerialised, connections are fostered, and accessibility has become a key term – and a more obtainable goal – in many realms of culture.

Boundaries as a visual statement; boundaries as positive constraints; boundaries as security, order, discipline; boundaries as limit; boundaries as freedom; boundaries as no-boundaries. listing some of the themes that will be addressed, it is clear how boundaries are at the same time also their contrary. We are interested in understanding how fashion responds to this dichotomy, using what the archives hold to tell these stories.

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