For those looking to add some fashion history to their week after working hours (beyond shows and period films) here are some wonderful free options! As most of the United States is still under strict stay-at-home orders, as well as many other parts of the world, hopefully these virtual experiences can act as a stand-in for actual visits to museums, libraries, or other institutions for the time being.
Delivered straight to your laptop or smart device, this wide range of offerings will provide a way to engage with history from the safety of your home:
1. FIT’s Fashion History Timeline
Peruse the Fashion History Timeline on the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Website: https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/
Contributions made by over 450 authors to the site comprise a wide range of fashion history knowledge. The goal is to “demystify” fashion by providing accessible, well-researched information. The site offers examples of dress, both through physical clothing objects and as depicted in art, from ancient eras to today, a fashion dictionary, designer profiles (although this appears to be a new addition with a single entry so far), and essays on specific topics in fashion.
Free Online Courses at Coursera.org
I love that Coursera’s course offerings feel very much like an online class rather than just a video lecture for anyone who wihes to take their learning engagement to the next level. The interactive component is more of a challenge but I think is ultimately worthwhile for retaining the information. This might range from an online quiz, to a brief written submission, to peer reviews throughout the course.
A couple of courses in particular I would recommend are both offered by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art:
Fashion as Design – a 7 week course based on the Museum’s prior exhibit Items: Is Fashion Modern.
Modern Art & Ideas – this 4 week course focuses on the transition from art as commissioned works to introspective, experimental works based on the personal preferences of the artists.
To sign up and create an online student profile is free. Coursera gives its users the option to purchase a course certificate after completing a course, or to finish for free without a certificate. I personally chose to complete courses without a certificate but you may decide it is worth it to boost your resume.
3. Live National Arts Club Lectures
National Arts Club Lectures with Live @ Home
The National Arts Club, located in New York City, has a variety of art and fashion related lectures and interviews throughout the year and is now offering these to viewers through their Live @ Home series. These interviews are free to join virtually through Zoom.
To View: You can visit the schedule here for upcoming lectures (they also have some “live” music performances on the schedule). Look for “Live @ Home.”
One upcoming lecture that may be of interest is Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse, on Thursday, May 21 at 3pm, which discusses FIT’s latest fashion exhibit with its curator, Patricia Mears.
Previously this month, on April 14, the National Arts Club spoke with the team behind American Duchess. American Duchess is a company that makes historically accurate shoes but also provides historical costumes for all kinds of events and needs, like for the Netflix series Self-Made and Outlander, just to name a couple. You can view their work Here and watch the NAC interview Here.
Another great interview was Fashion Victims — Germ Warfare with Dr. Alison Matthews David. This focused on her recent research and book, Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present. If you’d like to view this fascinating interview, this blog post by Hyperallergic provides a great breakdown and video log.
4. One More Thing
One More Thing short video series by the Bard Graduate Studies Center
The Bard Graduate Studies Center has created a mini video lecture series where professors, students, and alumnus speak about one object for one minute. Check out videos by:
Bard doctoral candidate (and current Chief Conservator of the Cleveland Museum of Art), Sarah Scaturro on a fake “It” bag
2013 alumna, Dr. Sophie Pitman on Brass Pins
The videos are succinct and interesting, like a pop cultural way to digest thoughtful research. You can also view the videos by following @bardgraduatecenter and watching their Instagram stories.
5. Read a Fan Magazine…From the early 1900s
Media History Project’s Historic Magazine and Book Archives: http://mediahistoryproject.org/collections/
Thanks to the archives digitized as part of the Media History Project, you can read a wide variety of historic magazines related to film and recorded sound here. These can provide an important first-hand account from previous eras, but can also be fun to look through.
One group that I often use myself is the Fan Magazine Collections. This includes various magazines that catered to fans of the silver screen like Hollywood Studio Magazine, Modern Screen, Photoplay, and many others!
6. Visit an Online Exhibit
I am saving this suggestion for last as there are so many great options here! Fortunately, many museums have been making their exhibits accessible online, even prior to the stay-at-home orders, and some correspond to the FFF timeline like the examples here:
Palais Galliera, formerly known as Musée de la Mode [Museum of Fashion]
Outside Fashion: Fashion Photography from the Studio to Exotic Lands (1900-1969)– the enormous changes of fashion photography are explored in this exhibit. The exhibit follows the transition from posed fashion photography inside a studio, to the ability to shoot spontaneous photos outdoors with lighter camera technology, to ultimately shooting in faraway exotic locales. The works of photographer Jean Moral for Harper’s Bazaar and Henry Clarke for Vogue are especially highlighted. The website shows images of the exhibit and gives a detailed synopsis.
Fortuny, A Spaniard in Venice – A master of pleating techniques, developing new kinds of fabrics, and inspired by classical Greek dress, Fortuny created a breakthrough in comfortable, “rational” dress for women of the early 20th century. The loose forms of his gowns made in the image of the ancient Greeks were starkly different from the tight, corseted looks of the time. The website offers a brief video and images of the exhibit.
The Museum at FIT – a favorite fashion history museum of mine in New York City
Paris: Capital of Fashion – this exhibit explores the formation of Paris as an epicenter of fashion, the rise of haute couture, and Parisian-based designers. High-resolution images of the exhibit space and didactics help to bring the online version of the exhibit to life.
Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s – The online exhibit provides some beautiful close-up images of resort wear, activewear, liesurewear, formalwear for men and women, and even Hollywood costume pieces from the 1930s. I was especially excited to see Katharine Hepburn’s costume by Adrian in The Philadelphia Story on display! Granted, this piece and some others extend beyond the FFF timeline. As a bonus, there are also two videos that discuss 1930s fashions .
The Cleveland Museum of Art – based in Cleveland, Ohio, this Museum has a great search engine for its collections which is very much appreciated
Gold Needles: Embroidery Arts from Korea – You can see some beautiful embroidery related objects from the FFF time period that were originally made in Korea. These include both objects used in the process of embroidery and embroidered objects.
Remember these institutions when Museums and places of study re-open and consider donating upon your return! Hopefully for now this will satisfy any lingering need for historical content from home. Stay safe and happy virtual exploring!
And just in case you do need some fashion history TV viewing, check out last week’s post, Fashion History on Netflix & Amazon Prime Video: What to Watch While Social Distancing.
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