The Politics of a “Wardrobe Malfunction”


I have a dream this Super Bowl season. Now, to be quite honest, I do not follow American football at all, but I do follow the halftime performances. This year, Justin Timberlake performed at the Super Bowl LII halftime show over a decade after his infamous performance with Janet Jackson. While I am a big fan of the “Prince of Pop” and can honestly say that Justified was the catalyst for my sexual awakening, the way in which Janet Jackson (and the female body for that matter) was chastised after Nipplegate is not only telling of America’s ongoing “fear” of the of the female body entering the public sphere, specifically the black female body, but also the legitimization of rape culture’s place in the public sphere.  Nipplegate became a discursive event in that it affirmed the existence of rape culture within the public sphere. After the alleged “wardrobe malfunction”, topics regarding broadcasting censorship and free speech came into question. The Federal Communications Commission fined CBS over half a million dollars for the incident to set a precedent for this type of overexposure.

The performance wardrobe of both Jackson and Timberlake aided in the cementing of their public image as popstars, but in different ways. At the time of the performance, the public image of Janet Jackson was arguably branded as a sexualized, mature, political, divorcée. Wayne Scot Lukas, Janet Jackson’s stylist for the show, said in an interview with Channel Guide Magazine that, “For the Super Bowl we had to really have a special, big outfit to create some kind of look that was going to be really magical. I told you the war had started, so we were thinking it had to be semi-military, but it had to still be a little bit sexy and fun.”[1] The semi-military inspired look was appropriate for the show because the public was still coming to terms with the United States’ decision to invade Iraq. Instead of the militarization of armed bodies, Janet’s performance wanted to inspire the militarization of the youth voice. The use of military outfits in music performances was popularized by Jackson’s brother, Michael, and has become a symbol of resistance towards hegemonic forms of power when used by minorities. Justin Timberlake was only 23 at the time of the performance, he had recently released his first solo album Justified (2003) after his split from the boy-band, NSYNC. His public image rested on his youth, his looks, and also his new bachelor status after Britney Spears cheated on him, ending their three-year relationship together. Timberlake, was branded as the heartbroken and tortured artist trying to find his way after he was scorned by love. Justin’s outfit lacks a political motivation. He is dressed casually in baggy jeans paired with an oversized shirt and jacket—a precursor to the f*c@boy image and style.

Timberlake joins Jackson on the stage to perform his single Rock Your Body. In their performance, Janet plays the love interest. Both playfully dance with each across the stage. Timberlake chases Jackson as she coquettishly plays “hard to get”. At the end of the performance, Timberlake finally catches Jackson in a moment of embrace and rips the bust of her bustier revealing Jackson’s breast. The camera stills, but only for a moment to catch both Timberlake and Jackson in a state of shock and then the stadium lights immediate fade to black. Planned or not, the action of ripping one’s clothes is an act of aggression. The immediate fade to black and blame for the incident on Jackson and her team perpetuates rape culture in the way that it normalized Jackson’s body as an explicit sexual object meant to be censored, while also promoting victim blaming (establishing a whodunit? rhetoric) and slut shaming vis-à-vis her outfit and flashy nipple clamp. Timberlake was portrayed as the naïve and innocent one, who claimed to not know anything while also refusing to acknowledge any possible chance of responsibility.

My dream this Super Bowl halftime show is a small one. I wish for Janet Jackson to storm the stage on live TV during Justin’s performance in an all-black gritty, military-inspired wardrobe (which is still appropriate today), with big hair, attitude, and a full dance troupe so that people remember her halftime performance as what it should have been remembered 13 years ago–iconic.

[1] Acken, Lori. “Nat Geo’s The 2000s: A New Reality – Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl Stylist Wayne Scot Lukas Tells Us What Really Down.” Channel Guide Magazine, 12 July 2015,

By Destinee Forbes

Addressing Images Talk Friday, February 9th

Every term we have a meeting of the Addressing Images Discussion Group.  Actually, that makes it sound far too official and formal, what really happens is that anyone who feels like spending their lunch hour talking about fashion can drop in and join my students and me. This session opens up discussion of dress’ significance within imagery – whether paintings, prints, photographs, advertisements, film stills or drawings. It brings together dress and art historians, as well as those interested in exploring issues and meanings within representation.

Guided by PhD student Leah Gouget-Levy, a single image will be shown, giving participants the opportunity to re-examine familiar, and confront new representations of fashion and dress. We will rethink images through the lens of dress history, and consider what is shown from the perspective of participants’ own research. The aim is to provide a forum to debate, share reactions to images, and to consider ideas about fashion, dress and representation in an informal environment. This reflects our desire to share and build upon the innovative work being undertaken in this field at the Institute with the wider community, and beyond.

Taking place this Friday over the lunch hour, these sessions are open to all.

Friday 9 February 2018

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Research Forum Seminar Room, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN

It’s Complicated: Our Relationship Status with Denim


Denim is a staple in many of our wardrobes. We wear it weekly, or even daily, not really acknowledging our involved and complicated relationship with this sturdy and versatile fabric. Our relationship with denim is like dating: at first difficult and tumultuous, developing into a beautiful and loving coexistence—only to eventually end in a split (sometimes even literally).

I will be examining our relationship with shopping for denim jeans, inspired partially by Kitty Hauser’s “Fingerprint of the Second Skin” (2005).

Shopping for denim jeans is difficult to say the least, in fact, I think it is something even people who love to shop find difficult. The process is exhausting. We enter a store, decide on styles and cuts that look appealing and flattering, grab a few different sizes and washes, and head to the fitting room—only to find out that in fact your usual size does not fit, and all of the styles are too long/short, frumpy, or unflattering. Not to mention at this point, you are drenched in sweat—getting in and out of denim is physically more demanding than one would think.

After these trials and tribulations, finding a pair of denim jeans you love is blissful. This process of selecting denim is deeply personal, laborious, and absolutely an investment of time and energy, much like the process of dating.

Once finding a pair, you are now set on a much longer and stable relationship with not just the pair of jeans, but also a company, style, size, and wash. There is a beauty to ordering jeans online that you know will fit and that you will like, without going through the tumultuous shopping process.

We then love and enjoy this relationship with our denim jeans. The versatile denim pants are worn time after time, accompanying the wearer through multiple seasons and phases of personal style.

Yet, like with any garment, our denim jeans give out. They rip at the seams or are simply too faded or worn out to wear any longer. You must then bid farewell to your beloved denim, and start the process over again.

Our relationship with denim is so intimate and delicate, yet the fabric is sturdy and strong. Denim’s longevity allows us to build a deeply personal relationship with these garments. The shopping is difficult, exhausting, and dreadful—but eventually, you find a pair you love and adore until it is time to say goodbye—a lasting relationship between denim and its wearer.


By Arielle Murphy


Star Wars & Fashion: A look into the galactic love affair


With Star Wars: The Last Jedi reaching over $1 billion at the box office and earning the title of the highest grossing movie of 2017, Star Wars is once again at the forefront of the cultural moment and subsequently continuing the franchises’ love affair with fashion.

From the film’s debut in the 1970s, Star Wars has been a source of inspiration for fashion, even appearing in Vogue in a 1977 spread featuring Jerry Hall and Darth Vader. The franchise’s equally iconic characters and costumes have sparked Star Wars’s influence on high fashion. Rodarte closed its Fall 2014 show with gowns featuring Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Yoda. Preen Fall 2014 channeled the dark side and featured Darth Vader’s mask on several pieces. Vetements created a spoof on a Star Wars movie poster (its film is titled Star Girls) as a print on a maxi skirt in its Spring 2016 collection. Just recently, in time for the release of The Last Jedi, Rag & Bone partnered with Star Wars to produce a limited-edition collection inspired by the films.

Beyond the aesthetic coolness of these high fashion designs, why do fashion designers look to Star Wars for inspiration and why do we race to wear our favorite Jedi or Sith Lord on our bodies? Is this pure fashion as escapism? Or perhaps the allure is Star War’s ability to paradoxically position itself both in a galaxy far, far away and at the center of the current culture. Fashions with Star War’s iconography or aesthetic inspiration can transport the wearer to an outside realm where a nobody can be the hero of the universe. But these styles also allow the wearer to embody a culturally relevant phenomenon.

From a marketing standpoint, Star Wars is sellable to multiple age groups and can piggyback off of the marketing for the film itself. However, I argue that the urge to clothe ourselves in the symbols and characters of Star Wars reveals a collective desire for escapism, association with a far-off time and place, and at the same time, the need to assert our own cultural relevance. Whether fashion imitates the austere neutral colors of the Jedi Order or the harsh blacks and shiny exteriors of the dark side, the pull to wear the Force is strong.

By Abby Fogle

Theda Bara: Hollywood’s Original Vamp and Femme-Fatale

We often associate film stars with their onscreen personas, which are inextricably linked to the costumes they wear while portraying their most iconic characters. Audrey Hepburn will forever be linked to Hubert de Givenchy’s black evening gown in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, just as Judy Garland’s blue gingham pinafore in The Wizard of Oz became a part of her lasting image. Identification between star and character can lead to typecasting and an audience expectation that a star will appear as a certain type of character. For example, Joan Crawford was the rags-to-riches girl. Crawford’s characters were often working-class girls who, through luck and hard work, were able to climb to the social ladder to their happy ending. One of Hollywood’s earliest manipulations of star into character, was Theda Bara.


Theda Bara, often cited as Hollywood’s first sex symbol, was one of the silent-film era’s most famous stars, second only to Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. Her career last from only 1914-1919, perhaps the reason why her name is not as well-remembered today as some of her contemporaries. After her first film A Fool There was (1914) her image as the vampire, in this case a woman who destroys men using her sexuality, was cemented. Fox Studios was so committed to this image that they fabricated a backstory for Theda, in which she was an Arabian princess raised in Egypt, trained in Paris, saved by director Frank Powell from the horrors of war in Europe, and brought to America. This outrageous story concocted to support her onscreen image linked Bara to her characters in the eyes of the audience.

Bara’s most famous film, Cleopatra (1917), created a Queen of Nile that mixed popular styles of the day, Egyptian motifs, and burlesque costumes to display a Cleopatra who would be both irresistible to the public, and maintain Bara’s public persona. Her costumes reflected her mysterious image. Her costumes were extremely revealing, and accentuated her voluptuous curves. Theda Bara biographer notes that “The Cleopatra costume created quite a stir because it cost $1,000 a yard and Theda seemed to be wearing only ten cents’ worth…the Plain Dealer declared that ‘Of all the Vampires of Screen There’s None So Bare as Theda’”. While Bara strove for historical accuracy in her portrayal of Cleopatra, the revealing costumes did more to enhance her existing image than transport the viewer back to ancient Egypt. Fox carefully controlled this sexy, mysterious persona, even going so far as to contractually insure that she did not appear in public without a veil. While studios would regularly control a star’s story and persona in the Golden Age of the Hollywood Studio System, Bara presents one of the earliest examples of this deception. Through her costumes and characters Bara projected the image of the Vamp and the femme-fatale, and helped to define their look in Hollywood.

By Olivia


Landis, Deborah Nadoolman, Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design, (New York: Collins, 2007)

Landis, Deborah Nadoolman, Hollywood Costume, (London: Victoria and Albert, 2012)



Our Silhouettes and Our Shadows

I walk over Waterloo Bridge most days, and most days I am carrying a heavy bag full of the things I need for my day: books, planner, laptop, wallet, bottle of water, etc.

One time while walking I caught sight of my shadow. It was a softened-outline and vague: I was swaddled in a long winter coat that ties with a belt at the waist (and reveals the waist that signs ‘this is a woman’s silhouette’ rather than ‘this is a murky walking blob’). My body’s shadow was tilted. I had curved my back to the left side in order to rebalance myself with the weight of the bag I carried on my right shoulder. The weight of the bag pulled this shoulder downward and it’s bulge protruded out of the side of my body… a massive lump… a drooping rotund side stomach… my mutation of human form from what I had adorned and weighed down my body with.

I’m thinking about how lifestyle, environment, need alters the silhouette.

My bag (it’s weight, size, the way I was carrying it) and coat (it’s length, thickness, style, the way I chose to wear it) altered the form and movements of my body, my posture, my walk, my silhouette.

I chose this bag for it’s functionality and autonomy. The same dark hues as my clothes, it looks like it could be a part of my coat like a bulging pocket, or a growth my coated body has produced for survival (carrying the things I need to navigate my way through that day). The bag is made of a light canvas material, so that it has little of its own weight, instead it is more the contents of the bag that make up its weight and bulky form.

In 1994, Kosuke Tsmura launched Final Home with a transparent nylon coat that consisted of 40 pockets to be filled with what one needs to survive. This version of a survivalist way of thinking about dress, and how the filled pockets of the coat could simultaneously function as a form of insulation for the wearer reflects Tsumara’s concern with what a designer can do for people in desperate situations. Each individual wearer of this coat has their own idiosyncratic silhouette and form due to their needs, for depending on what they fill the coat with and in which pockets a different outline of the body would be created.

In 1997 Rei Kawakubo created a collection for Comme des Garçons called ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’, which is more often referred to as the ‘lumps and bumps’ collection. The collection used padding to alter the silhouette of the models bodies. Stuffed protuberances seemed like swellings of the body that exaggerated the shape of hunched backs, warped monobosoms or sloping shoulders and grew from the models bodies through the clothing design. This is what I was reminded of when I noticed my lumpy shadow on Waterloo Bridge.

MoMA’s current exhibition ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’ had a display of bulging mannequins in a row that were either of bulging bodies in which the clothes adhere to such growths (for instance the pleated Modular Dress 2.0 designed by Wei Hung Chen in which the pleats can adjust and loosen alongside the growth of a pregnancy bump, or open completely so that the wearer can breastfeed) or accessories such as bum bags and baby carriers that add the protrusion to the body’s form for purposes of functionality.

The Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 sculpture series of what a woman’s body would be like if the clothing she wore actually fitted her body was also exhibited in ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’. These comic sculptures (we cannot ignore the flapper figure’s lack of arms and drooping bottom or how the bustle of the Victorian woman reveals the body of a centauress) display the changing silhouette of woman through her dress, and how fashion alters the way one might regard the human body.

Here are some of the visual notes I made while writing this article that were inspired by Rudofsky’s sculptures, the line-up of bulgy bodies at MoMA and my deformed shadow on Waterloo Bridge…



By Evie Ward

‘A Document of Modern Living’: How to become a Fashion Illustrator

How do you advise a budding artist? Encourage and suggest the correct path to fashion success? Well, it seems Harper’s Bazaar (HB) solved this problem in 1933, in ‘The Road To Fashion Art,’ its response to a reader’s letter.

Firstly, HB notes that becoming a fashion illustrator requires quite different skills from becoming a fashion creator, since:  ‘To design clothes you need about as much technique as is required for the drawing of daisies or mustaches on a telephone pad – just enough to get your idea across.’

However, a fashion illustrator needs have far more refined abilities in this regard and must ‘draw superlatively well.’  This assertion is perhaps the key to HB’s excellent advice – that fashion illustration is a branch of that ancient technique of drawing, and as such must be learnt and nurtured.  One need only look at some of the most well-known illustrators, Eric, or Rene Gruau to see evidence of this.  Or for more contemporary inspiration scan Richard Haines’ Instagram feed and examine the way emotion and movement are captured in every line.  His work encapsulates what HB describes as every art director’s wish – not to be shown every buttonhole and seam, but to receive an illustration that is ‘a document of modern living.’  Haines’ images of men striding the city streets are proof of this – at once showing the newest styles, and capturing life as it is lived.

Richard Haines

To achieve this, you must, HB says, ‘Draw and keep drawing.’  To start: life drawing, to gain complete understanding of the body.  Next develop an understanding of colour, keep building from this, to examine gesture of every kind, for example ‘the gloved hand picking up the reins.’

As your eye becomes attuned to these telling nuances, HB advises that the budding fashion artist is ready to begin looking for ‘the quality called chic.’  With sketch book in hand, an illustrator must observe all closely – visiting fashionable locations and venues, ‘look at ankle bones, hair waves, the hang of expensive tweeds.’  Everything is a potential source, from films to restaurant customers. Of course, HB states ‘Go to Paris if you possibly can.’

Richard Haines

Only there can fashion be seen in its purest form, alongside the best in dining, socializing, art and culture.  And HB is practical too – as well as this emersion in French couture style, you must, ‘Talk to printers, engravers; learn all you can about colour reproduction, first hand.’

Richard Haines

What this master class provides is a careful guide in how to shape your talent, how to focus on drawing as a means to evoke life, to show how fashion is an expression of culture and emotion, and how to work constantly at producing the most observant images that will trigger a corresponding feeling in viewers.

By Rebecca Arnold

All images courtesy of Richard Haines


‘The Road To Fashion Art,’ Harper’s Bazaar, December 1933

Follow Richard Haines on Instagram: @richard_haines

Balenciaga’s Fabrics


Upon a recent viewing of the Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion exhibition at the V&A, as well as the focus on shapes and forms, I was particularly interested in the mentioning of Balenciaga’s fascination with fabrics. In the exhibition there featured a couple of displays of fabric swatches and samples, including a huge book with fabric samples. One of the textile boards showed a multitude of fabric choices for a single collection — so many colours, patterns, and textures. The board was used as a marker for the models for the order of the show. Rather than representing fashion and dress predominantly through its shape and overall look like we usually do, Balenciaga associated his designs with their fabric, texture and colour. On the board he detailed where the fabric was made and the name of its wearer, providing almost a personality and identity to the fabric itself.

Rather than starting with a design or a sketch, Balenciaga began with the fabric. As he said, “It is the fabric that decides.” His knowledge and interest for different cloths led him to forge very close working relationships with many textile manufacturers worldwide. In order to create the magnificent shapes of his garments, fabric was the most important aspect. Because of this, stiff materials were often needed to hold the shapes of his designs. After his careful selection of fabrics, Balenciaga preferred to start making instead of dwelling on sketches and designs. Instead, a sketch artist would work on the drawings for him, and Balenciaga would attach a fabric sample to the sketch. In the exhibition, a huge book of fabric samples is displayed in a glass case, offering a tactile tease to us viewers — the beautifully coloured fabrics shone in the display light, away from our grasp. In selecting the fabric first, Balenciaga was choosing the viewer and the wearer of the garments, whose skin these designs would be in contact with. The exhibition also had a replica dress of Balenciaga’s that visitors of the exhibition could try on, all in order to recreate the feeling of enveloping oneself in one of his designs.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is on at the V&A until February 18th, don’t miss it!

By Grace Lee

Wearing Rank: Mandarin Squares in Chinese Court Dress


I thought I would pay tribute to my stay in Hong Kong this winter and write an Asia-themed dress history blog post about Chinese rank badges.

The Chinese rank badges, also referred to as mandarin squares, are silk badges that were once embroidered or woven onto the front and back of court robes, as an indication of a wearer’s rank within the Chinese court and were worn primarily between 1391 and 1911, during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

The origin of the rank badges can be traced to square embroidered plaques containing animal and flower designs featured on the robes of Yuan dynasty (1260-1368) officials, mostly for decorative purposes. These badges were not designated as official court dress until the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The mandarin badges, indicating a court official’s rank, were to be sewn onto the front and back of their court robes. It was determined that there would be nine ranks for both the literary and military officials; different animals were designated for different ranks. Birds were associated with literary elegance and were to be used for the civil officials, whereas carnivorous mammals were associated with courage and fierceness of soldiers, to be used for the military officials. This system survived the collapse of the Ming dynasty and the succeeding Qing dynasty (1644-1911) retained the same rank badge system.

Unknown artist, Fifth rank military official badge with bear, Qing dynasty, ca. 1820s. Peking stitch on blue silk satin. 

The Ming and Qing rank badges differed stylistically and structurally, although the animal and bird iconography remained consistent. The Ming badges had a few identifying visual and physical characteristics that differed from the Qing squares. The most obvious features were the size and shape. Most Ming badges were at least 35 cm in dimension and lacked any distinct borders. The Ming badges were sewn from seam end to seam end across the front of the robes, and were slightly trapezoidal in shape, as the Ming robes were wider near the bottom. Furthermore, strict Ming sumptuary laws forbade Ming officials from using too much gold, which resulted in most emblems embroidered in satin stitch or laid floss-silk. Only the principal design was outlined in heavier gold threads.

Unknown artist, Red Silk with Crane and Cloud Design, Ming Dynasty court robe with rank badge, red silk with embroidery. Shandong Museum.

Compared to the Ming squares, the Qing badges were a lot smaller, ranging on average from 25 to 30 cm in size. Moreover, the addition of the ornamental border and the unique innovation of the ‘sun disk’ to symbolize the emperor became the standard trends of the Qing dynasty rank badges. However, the most distinctive feature was the split seam down the center of the Qing square, which most Ming squares lacked. The split in the badge was a result of the structure of the bu fu, the surcoat on which the mandarin squares were attached. The bu fu, a creation of the Qing dynasty, opened down the front, which meant that the mandarin square on the front side was made in halves, one on each side of the coat flaps; the mandarin square on the backside was made in one piece. Contrastingly, the Ming squares, both the front and back badges, were made in whole, undisturbed by the flaps, since the Ming robes were designed to open to the side.

Besides the obvious structural difference between the Ming and Qing dynasty squares, there are also various stylistic, and thematic differences in each era. To find out more about the stylistic, and technical developments of Chinese rank badges, I recommend reading works by Schuyler V. Cammann, who has written most prolifically on mandarin squares.

By Lily Mu


Wang, Zhihou. The Splendors of Costume: Special Exhibition Attire from Ming and Qing Dynasties. China: Qi Lu Press, 2013.

Haig, Paul; Shelton, Marla. Threads of Gold: Chinese Textiles, Ming to Ch’ing. Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2006.

The G-String King: A book review of Charles Guyette The Godfather of American Fetish Art by Richard Pérez Seves

Charles Joseph Guyette was a fascinating, albeit over-looked, pioneer of fetishistic art practice within the 20th century. He was primarily a costumer who designed fetish-wear specifically for burlesque, strip-tease and circus performances. Working from the 30s to the 60s, Guyette is often considered to have formed the foundation for modern fetish-wear today. In fact, his designs were deemed so scandalous that he was arrested and sent to federal prison in 1935 only to be released a year later and continue to work under various aliases. Guyette was at one point branded the ‘G-String King’ due to the popularity of his garments amongst burlesque performers, as well as being known for his shoe designs that featured 7 inch heels; a height thought to be extreme in the 30s and 40s.

Within his book, Richard Pérez Seves does an excellent job in documenting the hidden life of an extremely important man who paved the way for many fetish-wear designers in the decades to come. The popularity of Gaultier, Mugler and Dita Von Teese ultimately has its roots in the work that Guyette did in uniting the realms of fetishism and fashion to create some truly beautiful images. The book features numerous photographs of Guyette’s designs that depict the artistry and femininity behind fetish-wear as well as the inherent beauty that resides within the female form. Guyette’s burlesque pieces were made with the intentions of strip-tease and undress; each layer ultimately revealing the natural body beneath. Fetishistic clothing, while often seen as a remedy against castration anxiety, can also be seen as a celebration of the nude female figure as it places her within a position of power over her own sexuality —a position she was often barred from. This book perfectly highlights the work of a fantastic designer who needs some much-earned credit.

By Niall Billings

Further Reading:

Richard Pérez Seves, Charles Guyette: Godfather of American Fetish Art, 2017