This course introduces Italian and Western European culture by examining the category “fashion” —beginning with late medieval changes in clothing and shopping habits, and the Renaissance emphasis on adapting one’s clothes, speech and style to the occasion. We will examine the problem of gender and consumption, so as to contextualize the English adoption of the three-piece suit as modest masculine attire, and the changing role of makeup and corsets in constructing gender. We will also consider the role of clothing in creating Italian, French, English, and American national identity. Students will study both the post-war Italian idealization of American culture, and American idealization of Italian fashion.
In analyzing literature, images, films, and material objects, we will focus on a series of questions: How can clothes constitute identity? And can clothes constitute national identity? What is the role of gender in the production and consumption of “beauty”? Which early modern elements of style and behavior remain current today, and why? What is “Italian” about Italian style?