The academic field of fashion studies first emerged in the 1980s, coinciding with the publishing of Elizabeth Wilson's canonical text Adorned in Dreams (1985). Today, we are witnessing a veritable explosion of fashion studies with the emergence of a number of new courses and programs both in the United States and abroad. In the intervening years, the field has been defined and redefined ad nauseam by scholars and practitioners; less acknowledged, however, is how fashion studies extends beyond disciplinary boundaries and into the industry. Indeed, while its historical and theoretical underpinnings have been addressed within traditional academic contexts, the potentialities of fashion studies and its practical applications are still in a nascent form. This begs the question, how do we define fashion studies?
The words in and of themselves offer some guidance. Fashion acts as both a noun and a verb, referring to a way of dressing, a way of doing things, and a way of making things. Studies is similarly flexible with both the practice and the result incorporated into its meaning. Herein lies a combined challenge and benefit of this field.
Beyond defining fashion studies, however, we must now ask ourselves, what does it mean to work in the field of fashion studies? As anyone who has tried to explain what it is we do to an outsider, the nature of our work can be equally ambiguous. We don’t do one thing one way. We study the history and theory of fashion. We design the clothing you wear. We preserve that clothing and related objects in museums, archives, and libraries. We curate ideas into exhibitions. We explain the subject in articles, books, and essays. We teach all of these practices in institutions, organizations and corporations, both big and small. We are professionals with experience and expertise who want to see fashion studies become a highly valued and sought after resource outside of the academy.
At times, it can seem as if this field is developing as rapidly as the pace of clothing manufacturing. New programs, majors and concentrations are forming and there are a growing number of academic journals and networking and research organizations emerging. In the midst of this expansion, considerations of best practices and long-term growth seem to be increasingly left out of the conversation. As individuals we felt lost. Our discussions on the topic repeated themselves, and we went in circles. We debated how to address our quest for mentors and in return foster true mentorship and diversity. We questioned if and when to share intellectual property for free and how to advance our skills after our coursework ended. We pondered the ethics of a field that demands participants make do with impossibly low wages and peers who inadvertently maintain this system because we don’t talk openly about what we earn, what we charge and why. We struggled to make sense of what work is available to our skills and how to ensure monopolies are not in place. In a moment when so many other movements are emerging to question the accepted standards, fashion studies should also undergo scrutiny. But instead of focusing exclusively on our frustration, we decided to establish a collective with the aim of fostering improvement on all fronts.
Fashion Studies Alliance (FSA) is a peer-to-peer, New York-based organization that is first and foremost created to foster collaboration, growth, support and the development of individuals and our community. We believe that there is value in diverse perspectives and practices, so we open this community to anyone who identifies themselves as working under the umbrella of fashion studies. Furthermore, FSA aims to unite these groups and promote critical fashion thinking.
We are in partnership with The Fashion Studies Journal (FSJ), an established, international media platform for fashion scholars, writers and enthusiasts with whom we will collaborate to host and promote events, publish content relevant to our overlapping communities and develop other special projects. FSJ advocates for a critical, curious and joyful approach to fashion writing and scholarship, and we see our missions as being aligned with one another as both organizations continue to grow and evolve.
We believe that professional organizations dedicated to disciplines like conservation, design, dress studies, and library sciences are vital for individual and focused development. However, the directed focus of these networks may limit full participation by non-practitioners, which does not speak to the true collaborative reality of the field. FSA strives to become an ally to these groups, creating a space for true interdisciplinary approaches. Our organization advocates for all voices within our field to have a space for honest critique and acceptance. We find inspiration in similar organizations created by our international peers and aspire to partner with them to further expand our conversations.
In order to provide a forum for regular peer review of research and facilitate project development within the community, we are creating workshops for new ideas and professional skill training. Our networking events are more than just drinks. They are opportunities to celebrate the accomplishments of our community and foster connections with intention. Future conferences and symposia will also push progressive topics to center stage and relate information beyond the ivory towers of academia. We also recognize that our skills are valuable and so we are developing a professional directory to connect consultants with industry.
We are excited to launch this organization and put these ideas into action. FSA is a space for improvement and our members are critical to that mission. We hope that you will find a connection to our goals and a desire to help achieve them by joining this community. And even if you decide not to become part of our organization, we hope that you will find our contributions a benefit to your experiences within the field of American fashion studies.