The History & Politics of Fashion

20 November 2023

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Fashion is a powerful statement. It is a way for us to express individuality, rebellion, subversion, conformity, cultural ties, solidarity with causes of groups, or just to wear something we quite like for no discernible reason. However, whilst it is a choice each of us make (or are not allowed to make) every day, it is rarely discussed in the vaunted halls of History lectures, university seminars or classrooms.


Yet, fashion is still absent from our studies of the past. It is partially for this reason that we chose ‘History and Politics of Fashion’ as this year’s theme for subject focus week and we were delighted by the energy and enthusiasm with which the whole school community responded to this theme. 

Highlights of the week included erudite and wide-range short-break talks by members of the department on topics ranging from Chanel and Dior’s ‘New Look’ to the History of the Suit and Black Ivy Style. These allowed students to engage with diverse topics in their 15-minute morning breaks, and it was wonderful to see such impressive attendance from across the Senior School.  

Taking a more metaphorical definition of fashion, Mr Forde delivered one of his phenomenally detailed and powerfully argued Nicholson Lectures on the topic of ‘Challenging fashionable narratives: A Reassessment of Labour’s Colonial Policy’. The highlight of this talk has to be the intense questioning of Mr Forde by eager students in the Upper School, who felt confident in politely yet strongly challenging some of the arguments made and were able to engage in an incredibly thoughtful, high-level discussion with their teacher.  

History Society, Politics Society and Young Historians also celebrated our theme. History Society debated the most important turning points in the History of Fashion whilst Politics Society analysed and discussed the political messages of Met Gala outfits from the last 10 years. It was also wonderful to see the creations made by Young Historians seeking to recreate important fashion moments from throughout History. The creativity, analysis and rhetoric on show in all of these society events is a testament to all the students who participated.  

Finally, even after the week was over, History Society were lucky enough to continue our discussion of Fashion History with a visit from ONL Victoria Wood who works at the Banbury Museum Trust. Vicki gave a detailed overview of British fashion from 1850 to the present day and also brought in sources for students to see, handle and analyse. Her talk was an inspiration and allowed us all to think about the different types of sources, including material sources, that historians work with on a daily basis.   

We would like to thank the teachers in the History and Politics Department, History Society, Politics Society and Vicki Wood for giving up their time to organise and host such exciting events throughout the week.  


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