Seeing Through Clothes

“Clothes, even when omitted, cannot be escaped,” says historian Anne Hollander in Seeing Through Clothes. To what extent has art through the ages sharpened and even shaped our awareness of being properly dressed? Beginning in ancient Greece, Hollander plumbs the connection between art and shifting notions of seemly dress or undress. In her discussions ranging from nudity in art to the metaphorical uses of garments in literature and film, Hollander provides a lively intellectual framework for seeing through fashion. We’ll follow the thread of her argument into our own time, with emphasis on questions of clothing and community: How and why do we use clothes today to conceal, reveal, distinguish, or depersonalize? What are the cultural underpinnings of the hijab? How do transgender individuals navigate new unspoken dress codes? Has the question become not how to be in fashion, but rather what fashion to be in? Throughout the week, we’ll assess images of art and fashion photography to help bring our ideas to life.

The freewheeling, anecdotal approach of our second reading, Women in Clothes, lends itself to more personal discussion about the roles clothing plays in our own lives. The book’s essays, poems, and art attest to the empowering or circumscribing aspects of dressing or dressing up. With humour and candour, contributors, including well-known authors and artists, describe how they understand style. They share stories of their fashion avatars (mothers loom large here) and memories of cherished garments, prompting us to dig into the closets of our own memories. We’ll cap off the week with a visit to a clothing exhibition at a Toronto museum.

Read more in Betty Ann’s blog post Art à la Mode.

“Behind the mirror’s reflecting surface, something is waiting to be born”

– Anne Hollander, Seeing Through Clothes



Betty Ann Jordan is the founder of Art InSite cultural tours and an arts commentator living in Toronto. In her book, sartorial flair is an egalitarian form of artistic expression that transcends language, bridges cultures, and leads to fun conversations with strangers.

Seeing Through Clothes by Anne Hollander
(University of California Press, 1993)
ISBN-13: 978-0520082311

Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton
(Blue Rider Press, 2014)
ISBN-13: 978-0-399-16656-3

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion. Details will be provided at registration.


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