An Evolving Relationship between Fashion and Time

In a new blog post on the CommsWomen platform, Palmer McColl, a student at the University of Alabama, College of Communication and Information Sciences, analyses an article on on evolving relationship between fashion and time by Judith Attfield, published by Textile History.

            The article “Is Fashion History?” by Judith Attfield explores the evolving relationship between fashion and time. By exploring three of some of the most popular fashion exhibitions that opened in London during the early 2000s, Attfield seeks to gain a better understanding of fashion in the context of art, but more importantly, its place in history. The exhibitions that she discusses in this article highlight the works of prominent fashion designers such as Zandra Rhodes, Giorgio Armani, and Vivienne Westwood. Each exhibition presented unique approaches to showcasing fashion, which overall reflected the fashion industry’s desire to cement itself in the prestigious realm of art and history. However, the idea of fashion being ‘static within time’ contradicts many people’s idea of fashion, being that fashion must always be of the moment.

To better understand each of these exhibitions and their approach to educating and engaging the public on fashion, here is a quick summary of each exhibition stemming from Attfield’s viewpoint on them:

“My Favourite Dress” Zandra Rhodes (Fashion and Textile Museum)

This exhibition, running from May 2003 to May 2004, celebrated contemporary fashion and textile design while positioning fashion in an artistic light. Rhodes insisted on a more dramatic-theater display of her fashion pieces to better engage the public, which distinguished itself from more traditional costume galleries. It featured dresses from over 70 renowned designers around the world and emphasized the vibrancy and popularity of contemporary fashion at the time.

Giorgio Armani Retrospective (Royal Academy)

This fashion exhibition ran from October 2003 to February 2004, taking place in the Royal Academy’s new space, which had formerly housed the Museum of Mankind. This was a much more controversial exhibition in the eyes of many, especially Attfield’s because it blurred the lines between fashion and fine art. It emphasized the nuanced features of Armani’s designs through a visually stunning and immersive presentation. The design of the exhibition was one full of colorful and themed rooms, with subtle color blending, dramatic music, and laser beams.

Vivienne Westwood Retrospective (V&A)

Running from April to July 2004 and taking place at the V&A, the Vivienne Westwood exhibition was known for its applied and decorative arts and presented Westwood’s work in an art gallery style. This helped with enhancing the dramatic and varied nature of her fashion designs. It showcased everything from her punk designs with Malcolm McLaren to the sophisticated look of her international outerwear designs. The early punk designs were displayed alongside harsh music, while her more eloquent designs were accompanied by French classical music, which helped bring the art of these fashion pieces alive.

In conclusion, Judith Attfield’s perspective on these fashion exhibitions and fashion in general helped me get a better understanding of fashion and its relation to time. In Attfield’s words, fashion, by nature, is always evolving and yet these exhibitions she describes in her article seem to freeze it in time, thus making it part of history. This contradiction is much more apparent after realizing the number of fashion designers who seek to imprint their designs into the halls of these museums. The act of placing fashion in museums, which are traditionally seen as repositories of history, just goes to show that fashion is in fact history, although it is seen by some as a timeless aspect of art.

The full article can be read using this link.


Attfield, J. (2004). Is Fashion History? Textile History, 35(2), 212–216.

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