2020 Dewey Award recipient, Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Art History, Franklin & Marshall College
What can fashionable dress tell us about the art, politics, economics, and even science of an era? A lot, Amelia Rauser argues. Though it has been dismissed for centuries as frivolous and immoral, fashionable dress is a daily aesthetic practice that connects the wearer to their season, occasion, identity, and culture. It can also express ideas. As an example, Professor Rauser will discuss some of the practices and ideas bound up in the white neoclassical dress worn by women in the 1790s — a high-waisted dress you’ve seen in any Jane Austen movie, or in the recent Netflix series “Bridgerton.” This form of dress emerged both from artistic studios in Europe and sugar plantations in the West Indies, and entailed an early example of cultural appropriation when white women adopted the plaid Madras cloth and headwraps worn by women of color in the Caribbean. From this example, we can think critically about some of our own dress practices, what has endured from the eighteenth century and what is changing, and what we’re wearing now on Zoom.
Amelia Rauser, Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Art History at Franklin & Marshall College, has published extensively on the art and material culture of late eighteenth-century Europe and the Atlantic World. Her first book centered on the emergence of political caricature in the age of the American Revolution. Her latest book, The Age of Undress: Art, Fashion, and the Classical Ideal in the 1790s, was published by Yale University Press last March.