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EN2M1/EN3M1 Text/Styles: Fashion and Literature

Derek Zoolander and Hansel (he's so hot right now) on the runway

Module Convenor: Dr Michael Meeuwis

What does it mean to narrate a garment, itself possessing a narrative, within a text? How do these narratives clothe us, and how do these narratives sell? We’ll start with theories of fashion drawn from the last two hundred years before considering three different case studies. Examples might include fashion in Victorian literature (Brontë, James, and Wilde), fashion in literature from and about postwar Britain (Spark, Selvon, and McInnes), garments in mythology from Sumerian myth to the present day, a study of runway collections inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novels Orlando and Mrs. Dalloway, an analysis of a particular designer’s work across a variety of international media, etcetera etcetera. Delivery will vary year to year in response to museum shows offered by regional institutions such as the Herbert Art Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Six lectures will furnish historical and visual context, allowing our focus to remain on close literary analysis. Economics will be a focus throughout: we’ll learn to be critical of fashion narratives, to engage with them emotionally, and to ponder them as career skills. This module should be of particular interest to students considering careers in fashion and other defining British industries—but will ultimately interest anyone with a mindful interest in how we narrate how humans get dressed.

Pusha T in Tom Brown at NY Fashion Week


Two papers, 40% each (second-year students 3,000 words, third-year 3,500 words)

One individual presentation on a garment in literature, 20%; presentations may be recorded in advance to be shown in class. Students with concerns about presentations are encouraged to contact the instructor.


Fashion and Literature – Sampl

I've used ebooks wherever possible. The only books not available as ebooks are:

1. Rhys, Hello, Midnight (1939)

2. Spark, The Girls of Slender Means (1963)

3. Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (1956)

4. McInnes, Absolute Beginners (1959)

5. William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003)

These are all heavily available on second-hand sites--I'd encourage you to shop there first. I'm not fussed about editions. They also should be available as ebooks on the library website.


Term one: systems

1: theories – economics



Gogol, "The Overcoat"


Karl Marx, "The Commodity"

Peter Stallybras, "Marx's Coat"

(Protip: for anyone struggling with the Marx, have a look at; you'll want to listen up to "The Money Form," which is ca. 15:00 in this video)

Baudelaire, "The Painter of Modern Life"

Ulrich Lehmann, Tigersprung: Fashion in Modernity, "Baudelaire, Gautier, and the Origins of Fashion in Modernity"

2: theories – gender and the fashion system



Virginia Woolf, "The New Dress"

Roland Barthes, The Language of Fashion, all chapters except for chapters 5 and the Stafford Afterword

Taylor, Lou. “Fashion and Dress History: Theoretical and Methodological approaches,” in The Handbook of Fashion Studies

3: theories - desire and modernity



Colette, "The Hidden Woman"

Sigmund Freud, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”

Jacques Lacan, "The Mirror Stage"

J. Entwistle, "Addressing the Body," in Fashion Theory: A Reader

Lehmann, Tigersprung, "Benjamin and the Revolution of Fashion in Modernity"

4: theories - textiles



Thackeray, Vanity Fair, chapter 4, "The Green Silk Purse"

Fashion Theory: A Reader section 1 (Vinken and Bourdieu) and section 2 (Simmel, Sapir, Davis)

Sukanya Banerjee, "Ecologies of Cotton"

Lisa Lowe, "A Fetishism of Colonial Commodities"

5: Victorian era



Jane Eyre (1847) 

Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Restartus, Chapter V: "The World in Clothes""

Herbert Spencer, "On Manners and Fashion"




7: Victorian era



Jane Eyre (1847)

Madeline Seys, "Tweed and Wool"

Houghton, Eleanor. "Unravelling the Mystery: Charlotte Bronte's 1850 Thackeray Dress"

8: Victorian era


Henry James, "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes" (1868)

JSTOR Daily, "The Dressy Ghosts of Victorian Literature"

9: Victorian era



The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

Wilde, "The Philosophy of Dress"

10: Victoria era

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

Abigail Joseph, Exquisite Materials, "Oscar Wilde and the Trials of Transmission"

Term two: cases and scenes

1: New Looks – Postwar Britain and Thereabouts

Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight (1939)

Clancy, Costume Since 1945, "1945-50: Peace and the New Look"

2: 1950s

Spark, The Girls of Slender Means (1963)

Judith Butler, "Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions"

3: 1950s

Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (1956)


4: 1950s

The Lonely Londoners (1956)


5: 1950s

McInnes, Absolute Beginners (1959)

Dick Hebdige, Subculture: "Introduction: The Meaning of Style"; "Ideology: a lived relation"




7: 1950s

Absolute Beginners (1959)

Hebdige, Subculture: ""Hipsters, beats and teddy boys"; "Home-grown cool: the style of the mods"

8: The Case of Virginia Woolf

Woolf, Orlando (1928)

Lucky McKeon, "Virginia Woolf: Fashion Influencer?"

Jessica Berman, "Is the Trans in Transnational the Trans in Transgender?"


Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues (1993)

Derek Guy, "Straight Copying: How Gay Fashion Goes Mainstream"

10: The End of History and After

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003)

The Aesthetics Wiki