Do you remember that moment when you realized you really liked fashion? That transition when your interest in dress, adornment and clothing went from a passive form of enjoyment to an unquenchable curiousity?
Perhaps it happened with an article that gave you the history and context of a particular style, a detail on a pair of pants that you knew must be modeled on something rather old but couldn’t quite place, a list of required classes for a fashion degree, obscure titles cited in the pages of magazines (including, ahem, Worn Fashion Journal). You found questions you never knew you could ask. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to put on the dress; you needed to know its conceptual and cultural story. There are the questions you start to obsessively ask:
Did fashion play a part in any of the suffragist movements? Why does the human brain like repeating patterns, and why do we put them on our clothing? What are the socioeconomic demographics behind modern hipster fashion? How many shoes would your average Victorian lady have owned in her lifetime? What about her maid? And why? And where did we get that rule that horizontal stripes are not slimming?
These are the questions that have been plaguing many of the fashion students, journalists, history majors, artists, and other individuals amongst you. What are your research options? Who are the gatekeepers to the information you might be interested in? How far could you take your search? With this series, we aim to help you find the next steps, to get your vintage brogue-clad foot into the door of fashion research opportunities.
Part 1: Fashion and Research
Mapping Your Path
Before jumping into a fashion research project, focus and develop your search. Knowing precisely what you’re asking will give your research direction and give you confidence when asking for help. Sometimes, what seems like the obvious is often the most overlooked. We all know how exciting geeking out over fashion research is, but make sure you don’t skip the first steps.
Ask the smart questions
Let’s say you’ve been wondering about hosiery. What about it compels you? Are you asking about its invention? Modern production? Cultural implications in one decade or another? Those seams up the back of the leg in the 1940s? All of the above? Keep a list of synonymous keywords for your search (when there is nothing to be found on cravats, you’ll be reminded to broaden your search to ties or neckties).
Know the type of information that’s out there
You are fascinated by designer Madeleine Vionnet, but want to find more beyond the first page of Google results. The next step depends on how far along you are in your research. Keep an open mind to types of first and second-hand documents out there: book-length biographies, short encyclopedia entries on her life, personal papers and sketches, academic articles on the designer’s greater impact on 20th century design, and photographs of her work are all great resources to keep an eye out for.
Figure out where you’re going
Depending on your question, fields like anthropology, sociology, history, art history, literature, and even some of the sciences might be your best hope for the information you seek. Typing the word “fashion” into your keyword search could derail you from a wealth of information. If your question involves fabric dye, for example, your search might meander through field studies of indigenous cultures, a review of colours depicted in 18th century portraiture, the chemistry of tannins used to cure leather, or a study of D.I.Y. social networking sites instructing on dye techniques today.
Keep your audience in mind
Is the purpose of your research personal, professional, or academic? Will you keep track of sources to refer to later, or possibly cite them in your writing? In an academic or professional setting, the validity of your findings is key. Even if not required to cite sources, a wise researcher is able to on request. If using images for publication, remember that you may need copyright permission.
Documenting your search also serves as a trail of breadcrumbs: should your search peter out in one direction, you can go back and take it in another. If you write a blog entry on the topic but later decide to write a full-length dissertation, your notes should be thorough enough that you don’t have to repeat your search. Keep in mind that quality resources do not only inform, but also direct you elsewhere for further information. Internet resources, academic papers and reference books are often valuable not for their content, but for the content they direct you to. The very question you are working on has probably been asked before, in one way or another. What did this author find, and where? Become a master of bookmarking your web results, whether in a web browser folder or on a bookmarking site like Delicious.com.
In asking these questions about your question, you will be adding some depth and breadth to it. Giving yourself some options, and plenty of room for creative searching. Keep notes of everything you can, and return to them if your search is frustrating. Treat your question as an equation: concise and deliberate. Next you’ll determine where to start looking!
Keep posted on www.wornjournal.com for part 2, coming soon!