When I started the blog two years ago one of the things people asked me was “How do you learn about fashion history?”
It sure is a good question.
Because the answer is not so conventional as you think. And a little bit longer than: “I’ve learned that in school”.
I did start to learn fashion history during college. I developed this passion for costumes during the last year of high school and I was so thrilled to begin the course that my curiosity for this subject reached the highest peak. But when I finished college and started my teaching experience, I’ve discovered that all my knowledge was just enough to scrub the surface of my beloved fashion history.
So I started collecting information. How?
If you’re just like me, a wanna-be fashion historian or simply an amateur of this wonderful subject, follow this list of ideas on how to become a fine connoisseur of fashion history and I hope you’ll find them helpful as they’re for me.
Reading books is the first step to achieve a good knowledge about the subject and you can both read or consult them.
The most accurate editions (if you’re searching for mono-thematic books, encyclopedia about fashion) are those from the past, because the information are detailed and precise. However modern books are really well worth it, if they show wonderful pictures and close-up details of clothing and accessories. Because fashion history is a subject to study not only with your memory, but also with your eyes.
Museums’ bookstores (my favorites) are the best places to look for a special book, because they have a selection selection for people like us! And sometimes also art galleries are the perfect spots to buy outstanding and rare publications.
So good luck with your treasure hunt!
Read my previous article about some of my favorite fashion history publications: 5 fashion history books you should read now
Going to fashion museums or fashion exhibitions is one of a kind experience, almost better if you share it with your friends!
You can immerse yourself in an incredible atmosphere (most of the exhibitions are real works of art as the items they’re displaying), which can make us feel completely surrounded by beauty and culture. And of course exhibitions are an excellent way to learn.
If you want to remember every single aspect of the display and you can’t take pictures, you can bring with you a notepad and write down everything you need to relive the experience at home. Or you can sketch the clothes and the accessories, if you’re able to do that!
But the first thing you need to visit a museum it’s time. Time is precious. Time gives you the chance to observe and fix in your memory the stunning pieces displayed. So my suggestion is take your time and enjoy it!
Read my post about fashion museums all around Europe: Travel guide to the best fashion museums in Europe, the story of Armani, which I explored after visiting his newly opened fashion archive: Revealing Armani’s crative life in his outstanding museum, as well as my posts on the museums of Gucci Inside the luxurious world of Gucci and Ferragamo Walking through the history of Ferragamo’s shoes in Florence
Vintage stores are an amazing way to learn about XX century fashion habits and maybe something older than that.
Vintage is a phenomenon started during the 70′s, when people felt the urgency to recollect old fashion habits to give new meanings to their outfits and now can be considered a big business trend.
Vintage stores are sometimes like museums, the only difference is that you can buy the clothes and accessories displayed. But even if you’re not interested in buying anything for yourself, you can learn asking the owners.
As a vintage store manager, I was frequently asked: “What’s the story behind this?”.
I was pleased to tell it.
And I was able to answer because I asked the same questions to the original owners, too. And that’s the way you can learn about old forgot ateliers, great unknown tailors or rare and precious labels and be sure to recognize when that gorgeous dress you’re holding was made.
I assure you, that if the owner has a real passion for vintage, you will enjoy an explanation that won’t just take a couple minutes.
You can’t appreciate the feeling of being a student, until you become yourself a teacher or just grow up.
That’s why I simply love to be a student sometimes!!
Being a student is a benefit. And you can attend courses related to fashion history, held by schools, museums, private cultural foundations. You can fully enjoy your being student of workshops and lectures. You can meet new people, share and discover new informations, open your mind, think ahead.
I often take part to lectures and workshops that always add something to my knowledge, something that I’ve missed, that I haven’t heard about or that I wished to know better.
If you happen to be in Florence and want to learn more about the history of Italian fashion and visit with me the major fashion museums of the city check out my Italian Fashion History Experience.
Blogs about fashion history are an incredible source of information.
You can consult blogs of museums and cultural institution to increase your knowledge’s level. Personal blogs also offer a unique point of view about several aspects of fashion history.
As you’re reading this post you already know how to be curious and explore the web in search of interesting articles about fashion history.
If you need some suggestions to start I compiled a list of some of my favorite blogs about fashion history in this quora answer.
Movies set in in the past offer lots of costumes to admire and they’re my favorite during chilly winter nights.
Old movies from past decades of the 20th century can also be considered a rich encyclopedia about fashion. It’s really interesting to oberserve the evolution of fashion. Movies can express the zeitgeist (spirit of time) of their present, and they can fix the essence of fashion, becuase they are the most important witness of a certain decade or year.
On the other hand costumes are the quintessence of fashion history knowledge. They are like piece of art. A perfect mix of artisanal craft and design. That’s why being a costume designer is not easy at all!
I’ve watched a lot of documentaries about the fabulous work of Italian costume designers, Gabriella Pescucci, Piero Tosi, Milena Canonero and Maurizio Millenotti. They say that being a costume designer is not just about reproducing an ancient costume.
The costume is the result of a fine aesthetic and cultural researches, an important tool for the actor, which makes him able to communicate his character, through his body’s shape and movements. Costumes must achieve perfection. They must interact with the facial features of the character, creating an harmonious ensemble, which have to please the eyes of the audience.
A true love for cinema and a strong passion for beauty are the main characteristics of those costume designers. You can learn from the best, watching unforgettable and extremely beautiful movies with costumes designed by those masters.
Below are some of the movies that I really love. Enjoy!!
- Il nome della rosa, Jean-Jacques Annaud (1986)
- L’età dell’innocenza, Martin Scorsese (1993)
- The Importance of Being Earnest (2003)
- Senso, Luchino Visconti (1954)
- Il Gattopardo, Luchino Visconti (1963)
- Storia di una capinera, Franco Zeffirelli (1993)
- Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick (1975)
- Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola (2006)
Read also my article about the behind the scenes creation of a movie’s costumes: “Far from the madding crowd”, the making of a movie’s costumes; and my post about the most fashionable movies you can’t miss: The guide to the wonderful world of fashion in the movies
How can you test your knowledge about costume history? Start by observing old masters’ paintings.
When I find myself in front of a portrait, I always play this game. I try to guess the exact century and decade when it was made, analyzing the outfit of the people in the paintings. It’s funny because I pretend to be a detective, gathering all the details to go straight to the final result! In the meantime, observing paintings is one interesting way to discover new images to match to fashion historic terms, which you often find in books and encyclopedias and sometimes they’re not specifically tied to visual examples.
I put particular attention to details, embroidery, jewels, fabrics, laces to capture the essence of a lost and fascinating past.
Maybe the first time won’t be so easy, but I assure you that it’s a game that will give you a lot of satisfaction. You just need to practice!
Read also my post about the relation between art and fashion through history: Steal like an artist: 11 stories of art and fashion collaborations
Vintage magazines are simply adorable.
The best way to find them is in flea markets. Most of them have cheap prices, but they’re rich of incredible information.
Old advertisments are my favorites. And also issues with trend reports about new colors and futuristic silhouettes.
1950s and 1960s are the two most interesting decades because they’re characterized by a glossy perfection, which aimed to teach women how to developed their good taste. Fashion wasn’t democratic at all during those two decades and advertisments seemed to threaten, rather than suggest, you should try new products.
Vintage magazines are the reflection of a past not so far from our present and it’s always interesting to know how everything started.
Digital archives are a precious resource to collect information and to study. Internet offers a wide range of free digital archives where you can find an infinite amount of pictures about fashion history. For example europeanafashion.ue provides artifacts for the online project which features 100,000 digital elements.
Users are be able to search the archives by date, designer, item or keyword to find a particular image, accompanied by information about the respective item – whether a catwalk shot, a museum exhibition, a show invitation, a magazine clipping or biography. This is awesome!
Some achieves are also monothematic. Think about the Valentino online museum, www.valentinogaravanimuseum.com, which presents a brand new idea in terms of exhibition and display pr the newly opened digital archive of Armani Silos.
Life and Flickr are smart tools to search for the right picture and to dig into our past, made by an amazing collection of institutional and private pictures.
It’s easy and you can go hunting for the right picture simply staying behind your laptop, enjoying a cup of coffee…so what are you’re waiting for?
Even if you’re not interested in buying anything, it’s always worth taking a look at the catalogues. There’s something new to learn every time. New labels, new designs and if you’re a collector or you would like to become one, updated prices are the most important thing to keep in mind when buying.
Augusta Auction, Kerry Taylor, Sotheby’s, Hotel Drouot in Paris are my favorites. You can consult the online catalogues, you can download them and try to create your own archive.
A word of warning, unless you’re ready to spend, you should not fall in love with any items published…at the end for me it’s almost inevitable!!
Grandparents are an incredible source of inspiration and informations as well!! Maybe we are not used to think about them as young people, following fashion trends and concerned with their outfits, but yes! They were young and fashionable as we are now!!
Or at least if they weren’t that trendy they sure had the eyes to watch others.
You’ll be surprised to hear what they have to say.
I hope these tips will be useful in your quest to enrich your knowledge of fashion history and of course if you like to know more about it and you’ve enjoyed my post, you can subscribe to my blog and learn more with all my stories!