On Thursday, 5 May, members of the London branch attended a book group that was hosted by Jane Holt at the London College of Fashion Archives. Over a glass of wine or two we discussed The Dress Detective: a Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion by Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim, published in 2015 by Bloomsbury.
The group agreed that this book is a breath of fresh air for dress historians. It is heavily illustrated and written in plain English, which makes it an approachable introduction for students, amateurs, and makers interested in incorporating dress analysis and theory into their practice. The authors’ key points of Observation, Reflection and Interpretation are useful teaching aids and the checklists in the appendices are excellent tools for performing dress analysis. We also appreciated the authors’ inclusion of ‘personal reactions’ in the Reflection Checklist, which allows the ‘detective’ to acknowledge personal bias and provides a place for it in the discussion, alongside objective analysis. The six case studies demonstrate clear and well-structured applications of both theory and the checklist of questions. The key researchers listed in Chapter 1 combined with the book’s references create a thorough reading list of essential sources, which lead the reader directly to the dress analysis canon.
There were a few minor criticisms. The group thought that the section on contextual information included in the checklists could come earlier, as it often informs the answers to other questions. It was sometimes difficult to situate the detail images in their place within the garment being discussed. Additional annotated sketches, like that of Figure 2.6, could be beneficial to this end.
The group in attendance were primarily academic so student uses of The Dress Detective dominated our discussion. We were curious to know if museum professionals would also find the book useful for their practice- very comments from DATS members from the museum sector would be very welcome!!
Overall, the discussion was enjoyed by all who attended and we are very glad to have The Dress Detective in our toolkit of dress analysis.
This was a bit of an experiment to see if a DATS book or reading group would work. It was agreed by those who attended that if there was a particular newly published book that had relevance for DATS then then meeting to discuss it would be welcome but that using DATS social media forum would be the best way to share reading and key texts.
Christen Ericsson-Penfold, London College of Fashion