History of Dress
The Courtauld provides a unique environment for studying dress and fashion history within its BA and MA degrees.
- Our collections range from paintings, prints and drawings to textiles and fashion magazines. These form a rich visual starting point from which to establish the ways that dress and fashion have developed historically, and the symbolic values and meanings with which they are imbued.
- Art historical methodologies provide the starting point for analysis of dress and fashion, and underpin the interdisciplinary approach taken within both BA and MA level courses.
- Teaching focuses on modern and contemporary dress and fashion, but examples are drawn from a much wider period, and emphasis is placed upon a sound historical understanding of the subject.
- A diverse range of sources, including painting, graphic arts, literature, surviving dress, film and oral history are examined in relation to relevant theoretical ideas to construct a rounded interpretation of themes and case studies.
B.H.Wragge advertisement, 1946
Dr Rebecca Arnold
Currently working on a book and online project entitled: DocumentingFashion: Modernity and Image in America, 1920-45, and on articles about Carole Lombard's costume and performance style, and on Claire McCardell and vernacular modernism.
Examples of courses taught
18th century gold lace, Harris Collection
Sensory Encounters with Dress and Textiles
Dress and Identity in Twentieth-century Britain
Texts and Contexts course:
Re-presenting the Past: Uses of History in Dress, Fashion and Art
Dress, Body, Space and Modernity: Fashion in the City, 1919-1939
This MA examines dress, fashion and textiles as image, object and text, as disseminators of meaning, and as part of an industrial process.
It takes an interdisciplinary, thematic approach, looking at sources including fine and graphic art, photography, surviving dress, fashion journalism, literature, business records and film.
Find out more about this course
Worth's couture salon Gazette du Bon Ton, April 1914 The Courtauld Institute hosts a wide range of research events, which attract distinguished scholars from London and beyond. History of Dress students also benefit from the diversity of events organized by each period section, and by the Research Forum, as well as those designed to relate specifically to dress, fashion and textiles. This creates a lively research environment in which to debate current issues in the study of art and dress history, and enables a critical awareness of their intersecting contexts and meanings.
Vecellio, Venetian lady bleaching hair, 1598
Thayaht Madeleine Vionnet Gazette du Bon Ton 1923
In addition to the excellent resources for the study of dress and textiles provided by the Book Library’s main holdings, we are lucky to have exceptional collections of rare books, fashion magazines and textiles. These provide a rich counterpoint to the prints, drawings and paintings collections of The Courtauld Gallery. We also have Stella Mary Newton’s archives, which contain material connected to her designs for the theatre during the 1930s, as well as to her work in setting up the first History of Dress course at the Courtauld Institute in 1965. Highlights of our collections include:
Rare books, including Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni di tutti il Mondo (1598)
Examples of connections between designers and artists, such as Les Robes de Paul Poiret (1908) and magazines including Gazette du Bon Ton.
The collections also include a range of fashion plates from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.
Students can also study the Harris Collection, a handling collection of textiles, which comprises an overview of different types of fabric technique and design since the Renaissance.
Students are encouraged to use the wide range of resources available for the study of dress and fashion within London, including the National Art Library and the Art and Design Archive. Strong links exist with relevant museum collections in London, and beyond, and regular visits to storerooms enable close analysis of surviving dress and accessories in, for example, the V&A Museum and the Museum of London.