It is fairly safe to assume that a student or practitioner of fashion has selected the area because he or she believes it to be worthwhile and rewarding, if not in every aspect, at least in part. One might challenge the political, ethical or moral structure of the industry, but in continuing his or her study or practice, would presumably have a vision of some alternative model. No one working within the discipline in a practical capacity would expect to have to continually justify being there. But it seems that writers on fashion cannot, or at least have not, been able to enjoy such security. Elizabeth Wilson has explained that 'because fashion is constantly denigrated, the serious study of fashion has had to repeatedly justify itself. Almost every fashion writer, whether journalist or art historian, insists anew on the importance of fashion both as a cultural barometer and as an expressive art form'.20
In her introduction to the inaugural issue of Fashion Theory Valerie Steele refers to an article she had written several years previously, entitled the 'F word'. Describing the position of fashion within academia at that time she says, 'It was not a pretty picture.' Fashion was regarded as 'frivolous, sexist, bourgeois, "material" (not intellectual) and therefore beneath contempt'. Happily, she reports that by the time of the launch of Fashion Theory, the subject had begun to receive attention 'from artists and intellectuals alike'.21 No matter how dramatic the change in attitude though, traces of the former ambivalence about fashion remain in extant tests still consulted by students. Many carry the defensive, quasi apologetic tone described by Wilson, some a loftiness which hints at the author's desire to be regarded as superior to the subject, and some the undisguised hostility described below.
The upturn in the academic fortunes of fashion welcomed by Steele, its newly acquired attractiveness to 'artists and intellectuals', has had a further
19. Barthes, R., translated from the French by Matthew Ward and Richard Howard, London: Cape, 1985, p. 5.
20. Wilson, E., Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, London: Virago, 1985, p. 47.
21. Steele, V., 'Letter from the Editor', Fashion Theory, vo1, issue 1, Oxford: Berg, 1997, p. 1.
effect, namely the sometimes bewildering and clumsy intellectualization of the subject, a tendency to depart from the real into the realm of the abstract, and a desire to reposition it in closer proximity to art.
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