Fashion History Weekly Round-Up 18/11/19

A slightly smaller summary this week – albeit still with a lot of interesting things to tell you about!

# 1 – An interview with Valerie Steele – Director and Chief Curator at The Museum at FIT

This article was posted as part of’s long running series ‘How I’m Making It,’ detailing the success and career evolution of Steele as she transitioned from Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History Ph.D candidate, to fashion historian and curator.

It’s always really useful to discover how some of the individuals you professionally and personally admire ended up in their careers, particularly if you want to follow suit. Steele’s academic interest shifted after reading articles on Victorian corsets during her time studying at Yale, influenced by material culture and art historians such as Jules David Prown.

After completing her doctoral research on fashion, Steele found employment by teaching at universities that offered fashion studies as part of their curriculum; FIT, Parsons, Columbia to name a few. She got her post-doc at the Smithsonian with the costume collection, turning her research into her first book (!).

What I took from Steele’s interview is that history degrees, no matter what discipline they are awarded in, are interdisciplinary and adaptable. Now a post-grad, it is intimidating to think of stepping out into the ‘graduate’ world and deciding where a career in history will take you. Steele’s interview is evidence that it is acceptable and sometime necessary to change research and career pathways, academic journeys will always evolve and transform.

You can read the interview with Steele conducted by Sarah Fielding here:

# 2 – Announcement that How To Read a Suit will be released by Bloomsbury Publishers next year!

Hurray! Fashion historian Lydia Edwards’ second edition in her ‘How To Read a…’ series is now available for pre-order. How To Read a Dress, a seminal text for anyone interested in dress history was a complete success. Edwards broke down and explained the key components of fashion from every decade starting from the 1600s. And now, in How To Read a Suit, she returns to show us how to decipher men’s fashion.

Dress history can be really complex. It can be difficult and a test of skill to remember terminology. Various dress and fashion dictionaries have been published, but Edwards’ differs from the rest since it offers a step-by-step visual guide in breaking down all the parts that make up fashion ensembles.

How To Read a Suit will address the imbalance between the study of menswear and womenswear within dress history. Cannot wait to read it – it will be a refreshing and welcome perspective of men’s fashions.

Pre-order available here:

# 3 – An article on sea silk in The Guardian by Edward Posnett 

Ever heard of sea silk? Me neither. But the luxury material was auctioned off in New York, in the form of a hat, made from the fibres of a Mediterranean mollusc pen shell, Pinna Nobilis. In this article, ‘Sea Silk: The World’s Most Exclusive Textile is Being Auctioned this Week,’ Posnett explains that this precious material is produced by,

‘large bivalves [which] root themselves to the seafloor by emitting hundreds of fibres, known as bosses (think of the grizzled threads you might find on a common mussel). Once extracted from the shell, cleaned and spun, it possesses a beautiful dark chestnut colour, once compared to the “burnished gold of some flies and beetles.”‘

Mind blown. Cleaned bysssus, commonly known as ‘sea silk,’ has been historically used from gloves to cloaks, expensive and highly prized, eventually losing its popularity and lust-value due to the invention of synethics during the twentieth century.

Hauling these fibres from the seabed causes damage to marine ecosystems, as well as being labour intensive. It’s now illegal to harvest the molluscs in the Mediterranean, with biologists working against disease and over-farming.

As ever, I end by saying thank you to everyone for allowing me to mention them in this most recent post!

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