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Philosophy of Fashion

  • All levels
  • 21 and older
  • $315
  • 505 Carroll St, Brooklyn, NY
  • 12 hours over 4 sessions

Start Dates (0)

  • $315
  • 12 hours over 4 sessions
  • Due to public health concerns, the course will be held online, barring a subsidence
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Class Description


What you'll learn in this fashion class:

“For the philosopher,” writes Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project, “the most interesting thing about fashion is its extraordinary anticipations.” In other words, fashion is, in itself, an avant-garde: it shows us what the world will be like before that world has fully arrived. Its uncanny relation to the new is by no means the only philosophically interesting thing about fashion. 

And yet, philosophy (often coded masculine, serious, enduring) has often rejected or dismissed fashion (often coded feminine, frivolous, ephemeral) as a site of legitimate inquiry. What does it mean to philosophize about fashion? What does it mean to have or practice a philosophy of fashion?

This course concentrates on fashion as a vital, luxuriant case study for major intellectual questions. With an emphasis on the 20th and 21st century, the syllabus combines readings in the philosophy, theory, and history of fashion with a wide range of visual examples. 

Some of our central inquiries will include: 

  • When was fashion “invented”? And what does fashion have to tell us about significant problems in aesthetics? 
  • How is fashion historical and what kind of questions about novelty and futurity does it open? 
  • What does fashion have to do with modernity, with political economy, with commodity fetishism, with the saturations of media, with climate change? 
  • How does philosophy of fashion intersect with ideas about gender, class, identity, morality, politics, and sex? 
  • What are the social uses and abuses of fashion?
  • What kinds of ideas are available through different kinds of dress materials and immaterials: patterns, fabrics, forms, garments, shoes, hats, perfumes, cosmetics, and jewelry?
  • To whom does fashion belong and how? 
  • What do figures like the flaneur, the dandy, the flapper, or the Teddy Girl have to tell us about what kinds of person it’s possible to be in a quickly modernizing world? 
  • What do we make of additions like “cool,” “cute,” and “glamour” to the categories of classical aesthetics? 
  • Is an interest in fashion evidence of vain, shallow, false consciousness? 

And, if it’s not, what does fashion, with its fondness for surfaces, reveal about the depths of things? 

Readings are likely to draw on some or all of the following figures: Shahidha Bari, Benjamin, Barthes, Judith C. Brown, Butler, Carlyle, Darwin, Foucault, Yuniya Kawamura, Marx, Monica L. Miller, Ngai, Lars Svendsen, and Simmel.

There *is* no physical Brooklyn Institute. We hold our classes all over (thus far) Brooklyn and Manhattan, in alternative spaces ranging from the back rooms of bars to bookstores to spaces in cultural centers, including the Center for Jewish History, the Goethe-Institut, and the Barnard Center for Research on Women. We can (and do) turn any space into a classroom. You will be notified of the exact location when you register for a class.

Instructors will contact students approximately one week prior to the first class with reading assignments and details about the course location

Remote Learning

This course is available for "remote" learning and will be available to anyone with access to an internet device with a microphone (this includes most models of computers, tablets). Classes will take place with a "Live" instructor at the date/times listed below.

Upon registration, the instructor will send along additional information about how to log-on and participate in the class.

Refund Policy

  • Upon request, we will refund less 5% cancellation fee of a course up until 6 business days before its start date.
  • Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to 75% refund or full course credit.
  • After the first class: 50% refund or 75% course credit.
  • No refunds or credits will be given after the second class.

In any event where a customer wants to cancel their enrollment and is eligible for a full refund, a 5% processing fee will be deducted from the refund amount.

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Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

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