Student Work

  • Fashion Studies (MA)

    Neil Wu

    Beyond the Looking Glass: Curating and Exhibiting Fashion History in China

    With the force of technology and social media, the increase in global fashion interest is mirrored in the uptick in fashion exhibitions appearing in museums. Defining Chinese fashion and the unfolding of fashion curation in China helps us to understand history and museum practice in the today's interconnected world. The boundary between the West and the East is becoming obscured as exchanges and communications increase on political, economic, social and cultural levels. As a result, the notions of “fashion,” “dress,” and “costume” are brought beyond the looking glass and take on a global perspective of how Chinese fashion history may be interpreted.

    Numerous museums in China boast extensive collections of well-preserved historical dress, ethnic costumes, and textiles. At the moment, these museums are facing multiple challenges and opportunities, as fashion museology is taking precedence over dress museology. The study determines the extent to which the sartorial choices of Chinese men and women through different historical periods have been shaped by political, social and cultural factors as well as international influences of Western aesthetics. It compares and contrasts how historical and modern Chinese fashion has been interpreted through costume displays and exhibitions in Chinese museums and in the West, specifically New York, since the late twentieth century. It also examines how Western fashion has been shown in China in recent years, and how national history and identity have been conserved through the medium of fashion in Asia.

    Previous studies have failed to comprehensively address Asian fashion curation practices; therefore, this study represents a contribution to the interdisciplinary field of fashion studies. It helps outline new practices of fashion curatorship, and formulate new theoretical approaches for more inclusive fashion museology. The most effective practices of curation will often combine theory and connoisseurship, or integrate materiality into abstract theory.