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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Susan L Gaylard
ITAL 260
Seattle Campus

Fashion, Nation, and Culture

Introduction to Italian culture focusing on fashion and manners from the late Middle Ages to today. Explores common assumptions about nation, gender, clothes, make-up, and manners, through literary and visual analysis. In English. Offered: jointly with ART H 260/JSIS A 260; W.

Class description

This course provides a broad introduction to Italian culture by examining the category “fashion” —beginning with late medieval emblems and livery, and the Renaissance emphasis on adapting one’s clothes, speech and personal style to the occasion. The early modern emphasis on manners, and the plethora of “how-to” manuals, corresponded with a rise in sumptuary legislation, and a growing identification of “dressing up” with effeminacy. We will examine the problem of disguise, with particular reference to gender and consumption, and will contextualize the English adoption of the three-piece suit as modest masculine attire. We will also consider the role of clothing in constructing Italian, French, English, and American national identity. In this light, students will study both the post-war Italian idealization of American culture, and American idealization of Italian fashion. The significance of the Made in Italy label, introduced in the 1980s, will be addressed in relation to questions of national identity, immigrant labor, and xenophobia. In closing, we will consider questions of nationhood and gender consumption raised by beauty pageants.

In analyzing literature, images, films, and material objects, we will focus on a series of questions: How can clothes constitute identity? And can clothes constitute national identity? What is the role of gender in the production and consumption of “beauty”? Which early modern elements of style and behavior remain current today, and why? What is “Italian” about Italian style? How does present-day advertising exploit conceptions of “Italian-ness”? And what is “Italian” about clothes produced by Asian workers in a sweatshop in Tuscany?

Student learning goals

Gain an overview of Italian (and Western European) culture by focusing on fashion and manners from the late medieval period to today.

Explore common assumptions about nation, gender, clothes, and make-up, through literary and visual analysis, in order to seek answers to two primary questions: “What is fashion?” and “What makes Italian fashion Italian?”

Use resources from the Henry Art Gallery and the library’s Special Collections.

Engage in a discussion that relates contemporary American concerns to issues raised in European culture since the middle ages.

Improve skills of critical analysis in both reading and writing.

General method of instruction

Large lecture and small discussion sections.

Recommended preparation

Success depends on students' commitment to: •attend class regularly •complete readings well before class, thinking about the question of the week •turn in assignments on time •respect classmates

Class assignments and grading

Short in-class written assignments: 10% Three short papers (4-6 pages): 3 x 15% = 45% Midterm exam: 20% Final exam: 25%


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Jennifer M. Keene
Date: 10/06/2009