Ruffles, tailored suits and raw meat dresses have all been fashion statements within the past couple of centuries. As people progressed through time, so did their fashion styles and statements.
Last Wednesday, Heather Belnap Jensen, an assistant professor of art history and curatorial studies, and Rory Scanlon, professor of costume design, presented “From Gaga to Ghirlandaio.” The presentation, which is part of the Kennedy Center’s Cafe CSE presentations, addressed students on the empire of modern fashion in Europe.
Jensen, who specializes in modern European culture with an emphasis on gender, art and fashion, is working on a book focusing on the modern woman in early 19th-century France. Scanlon, an expert in costume design, has worked on multiple design projects, including his current project of redesigning the production of the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra, N.Y.
“You all are in fashion, whether or not you realize it because you wear clothes,” Scanlon said. “You’re influenced by somebody or something in your life that has helped you make those choices.”
The presentation focused on how fashion evolved through European history. Scanlon said they focused on how fashion changed the society and the moments in history when fashion made a difference. They used historical and present fashion icons to illustrate how fashion has made an impact on society.
When it comes to fashion, they said people are put into two different categories; those who follow fashion and those who lead fashion. Lady Gaga is an example of someone who impacts the fashion industry with her cutting edge outfits, while the painter Ghirlandaio is and example of someone who painted people’s portraits and followed fashion trends.
Throughout the presentation, they focused on different historical figures who inspired fashion statements and trends. Jensen used Marie Antoinette for a fashion icon.
“[Marie Antoinette] was always pushing boundaries in fashion, ” Jensen said. “She is going to go to the guillotine fighting for her fashion rights.”
Both men and women used fashion to express their status, individuality and rebellion. Many leaders used fashion to enforce power and status over the people. One such ruler was Napoleon. With the Napoleonic Code, he restricted the use of clothing in certain ways. He even went so far as to close textile imports from England, forcing his people to purchase clothing from France.
According to Jensen and Scanlon, as history progressed, fashion statements continued to evolve as well. In the 20th century, the need for comfort became a huge concern for men and women. Women such as Coco Chanel changed the fashion world forever with her simple designs in the industry. Men’s streamline suits also became a staple for every working man. These fashions enhancements are still apparent in today’s society.
Fashion today is still highly influenced by what inspires society. Industry leaders and fashion icons take notice of the world around them and incorporate trends in their designs.
“The world of fashion changes dramatically and very quickly,” Scanlon said. “What you know today, your children will only laugh at … but that’s what fashion is all about, who leads and who follows.”