Haute History


Syllabus:  Fashion and Art in the 20th Century


Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Spring 2018


Kathleen McDermott


This course introduces students to the creative proximity of Fashion and Art--twin goddesses of the Western esthetic through history. We’ll explore a century and a half of Fashion in context and relationship to all Arts, including fine and decorative arts, architecture, theatre and costume design, and graphic and product design. Through slide presentations, active discussion, and six MFA gallery tours, students learn to identify Fashion as Art.



Class Schedule


One half of class time each week will be a slide presentation with discussion.


The second half of class time each week will be experiential:  museum trips, homework presentations by students, movie clips.


Class 1:  Slide Overview and Introduction to course


• To MFA: introduction to seeing art together


Class 2: 1870-1890:  Victorian Impressionism and Tight-Lacing


• To MassArt Library

• Due:  Your Fashion Autobiography (no grade; just for fun!) Post on Moodle


Class 3: 1890s:  Art Nouveau Curves


• To MFA to view late-19th-century objects and images


Class 4: 1910s:  Paul Poiret and the “Total Work of Art”


• Due:  In-class presentation of Art Nouveau jewelry design.  Post on Moodle


Class 5: 1920s, Part I:  Cubist Geometries in Art and Fashion


• To MFA to view early-20th-century objects and images


Class 6: 1920s, Part II:  Abstraction and Dress Freedom


Class 7: 1930s and Art Deco’s Worldwide Appeal


Due:  In–class presentations of costume designs for The Great Gatsby: 1920s day, evening, and sportswear.




Class 8: Surrealism, World War, and Rise of American Sportswear (1940s)


• To MFA to view 1930s objects and images


Class 9:  The New Look and Abstract Expressionism, 1950s, Part I


Class 10: 1950s, Part II:  America’s ‘Fashion-industrial Complex’


• To MFA to view mid-20th-century objects.


Class 11: 1960s, Part I:  Youthquake and Space Fashion


• Due:  In–class presentations on 20th-century fashion designers/Zeitgeist.


Class 12: 1960s, Part II:  Aquarian Self-Expression in Fashion and Art


• Due:  In–class presentations on mid-20th-century fashion designers/Zeitgeist  


Class 13: 1970s:  Post-Modernism and the Rise of Fashion Subcultures


Class 14: 1980s to now:  Fashion’s Culture of Celebrity and FashionArt


• Due:  In-class presentations on post-1970s fashion subcultures


Class 15: Final Class/Visual Review


• Due:  In-class presentations on post-1970s fashion subcultures

• To MFA to view contemporary art




Books, Grades, Late Work, Attendance, Moodle



Required Texts


You need these for your four homework assignments!


20th Century Fashion. Mendes and de la Haye.  London: Thames and Hudson, 1999.  Best single volume on 20th century fashion. Less than $10 on Amazon.


Survey of Historic Costume, ANY Edition (latest is the 6th edition).  Tortora and Eubank. New York:  Fairchild Books. Comprehensive work for homework assignments—great for garment details and silhouettes.  ($16 for 4th edition on Amazon)


Two recommended texts for your four homework assignments:


Style For All:  Why Fashion Invented by Kings, Now Belongs to All of Us.  Kathleen McDermott.  (Lulu Press, 2010).  Illustrated handbook of 500 years of fashion. $30 in class; $46 online Lulu.


Fashion, From Victoria to the New Millennium.  Daniel D. Hill.  Boston:  Pearson, 2011. Another comprehensive work for homework assignments—great for garment details and silhouettes; focused on 20th century.  ($40 used on Amazon)




Your final letter grade will be based on four visual reports, class participation, and attendance.


No Late Projects. 

All projects must be turned in on their due date at whatever stage they might be.  I do not accept late work.  If nothing at all is handed in on the due date, the grade will be a zero/F on the assignment.  You can turn in your completed assignment at the end of the semester; it will be reviewed and positively impact your final course grade.




• If you are late to class, it is your responsibility to ensure that I check your name off the attendance register.


• Students who repeatedly miss classes are subject to quizzes on missed information.


N.B.:  According to MassArt policy, you cannot miss more than two classes and still receive credit for the course.




Three homeworks are posted on Moodle; final presentation is on your own computer.


• Details on class assignments are posted on Moodle.

• Class assignments are uploaded to Moodle for class learning and participation.