Border crossings: fashion in film/fashion and film

Paul Jobling

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


This book chapter reviews the current state of play in writing and research on the nexus of fashion to film. It was commissioned for The Fashion Studies Handbook, co-edited by S. Black, A. de la Haye, J. Entwistle, A. Rocamora, R.A. Root and H. Thomas (London: Bloomsbury, ISBN 9780857851949, 2013: 166-82). For a long time, the relationship between fashion and film was overlooked or under-developed in fashion and film studies alike. Even though Oscars for costume design were introduced in 1948 for monochrome film and from 1952 for colour film, and BAFTA Nominations in 1964, many cinema critics, historians and theorists marginalised the idea of costume, tending to treat the stars in the films they analysed as if they were naked subjects. It is as if dress somehow is a distraction from dealing with the film's text and context. Professor Jane M. Gaines of Columbia University, in particular, has done much to illuminate and revise how we regard fashion in film/fashion and film, and her trenchant work on the costume designer Adrian constitutes an important methodological strand of this paper. While Gaines has been strategic in setting the bar for writing and research on the nexus of fashion to film, this is to not suggest that she was single-handedly responsible for doing so. Some of her work, for instance, is the result of a long-standing collaboration with Charlotte Herzog, viz. Fabrications: Costume and the Female Body (1990), an edited anthology of essays mostly about the role and representation of women in classic Hollywood cinema that embraces debates on the relationship of costume to narrative, the costume designer, body discipline, commerce and film, and visual pleasure. Similarly, she has been the lodestar for several other authors. Thus Stella Bruzzi's Undressing Cinema, clothing and identity in the movies (1997) deals with issues of gender, sexuality and race in British, American and European cinema, mostly after 1980; while in Fashioning the Nation, costume and identity in British Cinema (1996) Pam Cook explores the relationship of past to present, masquerade, and nationality and gender in Gainsborough costume drama of the 1940s and the designs of Elizabeth Haffenden. More recently, Marketa Uhlirova has curated the Fashion in Film Festival, whose focus in 2006, Stigma and Enigma, ranged across issues such as posing, fetishism and eroticism, while in 2008 its theme examined fashion and crime in cinema with If Looks Could Kill. Although each of these writers argues her own agenda, there is a cluster of over-arching points that unites them in the way they approach costume in cinema. In The Production of Space (1974), Henri Lefebvre postulates a compelling dialectic on spatialisation and socialisation that involves everyday practices and perceptions (le perçu), representations (le conçu), and the relationship of embodied space and time (le vécu). His ideas have been highly influential to urban theory and psycho-geography, but I want to apply them here as a productive framework for co-ordinating the authors cited in this essay and to negotiate the relationship between fashion and film in terms of production and reproduction in several ways. Accordingly, on one level I want to deal with the dialectic of le perçu, le conçu and le vécu in film as a two-dimensional or metaphysical space, interrogating how dress plays a crucial part in mise-en-scène and narrative on the extra-diegetic level as described by Genette (1980: 228-31), that is to say how the actors and the costumes they wear function as story-tellers in and of the film text. While on another, I want to examine how Lefebvre's dialectic is manifested in the border-crossing from the two-dimensional space/time of the film to the three-dimensional social and temporal spaces of the cinema theatre (or as Breton put it in the First Surrealist Manifesto [1924], the darkened room as an arena for dreams) in regard to modes of spectatorship and audience involvement with extra-diegetic clothing, and of the developmental workplace and the retail environment, considering the creation of film costume as a matter of women's writing, and the way it spills over into consumption patterns.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe handbook of fashion studies
EditorsS. Black, A. de la Haye, J. Entwistle, R. Root, H. Thomas, A. Rocamora
Place of PublicationLondon, UK
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9780857851949
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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