Accessories in Fashion Studies

Lifetime Television, in hopes of capitalizing on the success of Project Runway, is to begin a new series in November “Project Accessory” with Molly Sims as host. This got me thinking about the role that accessories have really played in the history and study of fashion. It’s not a foreign concept to me. This time last year, I asked a dear friend to write a book review of Accessories to Modernity: Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France.

While that book was through-written, a new publication from University of Minnesota Press plays directly into the zeitgeist and the newest recognition of the accessory in fashion. Released in August, Accesorizing the Body (edited by Cristina Giorcelli and Paula Rabinowitz ) is the first in a four-part series Habits of Being.  The seires consists of extracts of the “best essays from the ongoing editions of Abito e Identita: ricerche de sortia letteraria e cultrurale, edited by Cristina Giocelli and published since 1995” now being published in English for the first time.

The first volume in the series, is wide ranging, and contributes research and theoretical discussions on various types of accessories-hats, shoes, vests, anklets, etc – but it is also deeply analytical, and for those who don’t speak Italian, will become a valuable resource for the analysis of accessories in a larger context. The essayists come from a variety of scholarly backgrounds – art history, semiotics literary studies, history fashion and even psychoanalysis. It is something I want to take my time in reading.

Zora Neale Hurston, photo by Carl Van Vechten (1938)

The essay “Coco, Zelda, Sara, Daisy, and Nicole: Accessories for new ways of being a woman” by Martha Banta, professor emeritus of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, is of particular interest and suggests connections between major figures in 1920s culture. Another essay on the poet Laura (Riding) Jackson, titled , “Precious Objects: Laura Riding, her tiara, and the petrarchan muse” is written by Becky Peterson – herself a poet and an alumni of the MFA program in English at Mills College (and now a graduate of the University of Minnesota). She looks at the role jewelry (and other precious objects) played in Riding’s poems. The essay, “Black Hattitude” looks at African American hat-wearing and attitude (specifically Zola Neale Hurston) and is written by Jeffrey C. Stewart, professor and chair of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Cover of Report for a Corpse by Henry kane (New York: Dell Publishing Company Inc., 1949. Cover by Gerald Gregg.)

Still more essays intrigue: one looks at Spanish women’s clothing after the civil war, while another explores the image of the yellow Jewish star, and still another looks at the use of women’s shoes and anklets in images and film. There are more–on metaphysical sandals, cinematic jewels and futurist vests.

These are all relatively short essays, but extremely well written and thought provoking.  The book covers a lot of ground and packs some pretty heavy hitting theory along with it, referencing Jacques Derrida, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, but also Ann Hollander, Joanne Entwistle, Colin McDowell, and James Laver.

It’s marvelous to read in such a digestible format, and I’m looking forward to the next volumes in the series.

 

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