U nderstanding Fashion History is a book about a subject on which everyone has an opinion. Contemporary fashion is big business and is international in its power and scope. This emphasis on what is happening now often overlooks the fact that fashion has a long and complex history. Its history is now being taught in many colleges and universities around the world but repositioned to fit into new theories about the body, feminism, gender and postmodernism. A divide has developed between collections of dress and textiles in museums and the new academic interpreters of the subject.

This book looks again at the evolution of fashion history, the changes that have taken place in how and why it is studied and makes a strong case for the significance of public collections, many of which are now at risk.

It is not a traditional history of fashion but a book intended to make the reader think about how the subject has been and is being written about, the collections which are still, in many instances, under-used, and the ways in which knowledge of the subject can be applied to traditional and new methods of study – dress in art, uniformity and disguise, and the theatrical links. What has been included and excluded from the book opens up the subject to the widest audience of readers and allows them to think afresh about fashion past and present.

Like fashion itself, it is a synthetic compilation, drawing upon readily available information but reinterpreting such evidence to offer the reader a variety of ways of understanding an ephemeral but joyously subversive aspect of artistic, cultural and social history.

8 ½ x 10 in.


Valerie Cumming is a dress historian with over 30 years experience in museums, initially as a costume curator, then as a senior administrator and now as the chairman of the Olive Matthews Collection at Chertsey Museum. She is the newly elected chairman of the Costume Society and has written and lectured extensively on the subject of dress and fashion history.