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Is the History of Dress Marginal? Some Thoughts on Costume in Seventeenth-Century Painting

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This article introduces some of the problems and challenges facing the historian of dress when looking at Dutch and Flemish art. It addresses three specific examples of seventeenth-century paintings in which the costume has been overlooked, misinterpreted or misunderstood: a servant’s costume in The Kitchen Maid by Joachim Wtewael, Anthony van Dyck’s portrayal of male dress; the painter’s attire in Johannes Vermeer’s Art of Painting. In each case, the discussion not only deals with surviving garments, but with their representation and an awareness of how they would have been worn. In doing so, the importance, as well as some of the pitfalls, of writing about past fashions emerge.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/136270499779155069

Publication date: May 1, 1999

More about this publication?
  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.
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