Life Lately: November 2023

November has been a bit of an emotionally charged month for me, mostly because I’ve been preparing for a somewhat unexpected and very exciting life change. I don’t want to be super mysterious but I also don’t feel I’m ready to share it publicly just yet. So I’ll leave the news for next month’s updates.

Dealing with so many mixed emotions has meant slowing down a bit with work and instead finding time to do more of the things that soothe me. Reading is definitely one of them, as is returning to some of my favorite podcasts, practicing my Portuguese with a new online friend (which I’ve amusingly started to think of as a digital-era version of the pen-pal I always wished I had as a kid), and of course spending a lot of time around horses.

All while continuing to think about my contributions to reshaping a fashion industry that needs to do a lot of internal work—and questioning the whole purpose of fashion history especially when it comes to transforming the industry.

It is kind of obvious, then, that most of my favorite content of the month has to do precisely with fashion history. It may seem, from the surface, that I’ve been focusing on a very traditional angle of fashion history. But, as you’ll see below, even there I’ve found a lot of useful hints—if not full, actionable strategies—into how to find and give voice to some of the actors that have been silenced from traditional fashion narratives.

Our mission now is to keep doing that work, expand it to less common areas within fashion, and speak about these more diverse histories louder and louder. Raise your hand if you are ready to take on that mission!

Food for Thought

1. Book of the month

I’ve already talked way too much about our chosen read for this month’s book club. So much so that I just couldn’t choose it as the book of the month for today’s newsletter (though it’s still a good read). Instead, I’m going with Elisabeth Gernerd’s The Modern Venus: Dress, Underwear and Accessories in the late 18th-Century Atlantic World. Fresh off the press, the book studies women’s underwear and accessories and the way in which they expressed character, sociability, fashionability, and even political allegiances.

As some of you may know, underwear and accessories are often an overlooked aspect of fashion history, while fashion itself is often seen as a naturally fickle interest of women. So learning about feminine accessories and underwear might give us some clue about the importance of looking again at the parts of fashion history that we haven’t paid enough attention to—along with actual ways of doing it. But I’ll have to report back when I actually read the book.

2. Short(ish) read

I don’t often include my own work here, but this month I published an essay on The Fashion and Race Database on a subject that I’ve been thinking about for over a year: Why Indigenous knowledge is at the root of sustainable fashion. In it, I argue that what we call “slow,” “circular,” and “zero-waste” forms of consumption and production in fashion are common among Indigenous people and communities. And recognizing the Indigenous roots of some of these strategies for “sustainable” fashion is necessary to shape a truly more socially-just future for fashion. Please do give it a read and let me know if any of it makes sense—plus if you have any additional ideas or comments!

3. Podcast

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a huge fashion crush on Hilary Davidson, who is currently Associate Professor and Chair of the MA Fashion and Textile Studies at FIT. What I know I’ve never mentioned is that I’ve never been a huge fan of Jane Austen—probably for fear of being kicked off the Austen-loving circle of fashion historians. But I might start to get into her thanks to Hilary’s most recent book, Jane Austen’s Wardrobe. I also haven’t read it yet but I did listen to a fascinating interview about the book on Dressed.

My favorite part? The discussion of how Hilary pieced together her research through fragments of historical evidence that included Austen’s novels (of course) as well as her letters, fashion plates, textile samples, paintings, and a few extant garments. In my experience, fragmentary evidence is often the only way to fill in the many gaps in the writing of fashion history—especially beyond Europe and white North America—so there’s a lot to be learned from this podcast episode (and book).

4. Non-fashion stuff

To say that I was touched by Chelsea Canedy’s interview on Equestrian Voices is minimizing my emotions. I’ve talked repeatedly about the many parallels I’ve found between my journey as an equestrian and my professional life as a fashion historian/educator/consultant. And this podcast episode just confirmed it, as a horse trainer reflects on changing goals, moving away from your ego, and returning to what makes you happy. While some of the specific examples might be a bit foreign to non-equestrians, I honestly think everybody can learn something from her words. So if you have a few minutes (and some curiosity) to tune into this conversation, I very sincerely suggest that you do!

Coming up next month

While there’s still a full month of the year left, I’m trying to slow down and spend as much time as I can with my family and friends here in Colombia. On the 12th, I’ll join my dear friend Salomé from Solar Studio on an Instagram Live chat on sustainable fashion at 7 pm ET. I’ll also be hosting my monthly book club, but perhaps a bit earlier than usual, in case any attendees want to take time off for any end-of-year celebrations. And I’ll finally share the news I’ve been keeping from you for a couple months. Do subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t already to be the first to know via email!

As always, thank you, thank you for reading and until next time!

—L 🩷

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